South or North: Language Differences Between the Two Koreas

You can’t separate a language from its cultural background. Especially when you are picking up Korean, you need to have some historical knowledge of the Korean peninsula.

For starters, Korea is not one country. There are two Koreas, North Korea and South Korea. Although they speak a similar language, there are subtle differences in both the written and spoken word that every student taking Korean classes in Singapore should know.

Why the difference in language between the two Koreas?

The language divide stems from a historical divide between the two Koreas, as far back as 1945. In 1945, when Japan surrendered and gave up colonial rule over the Korean peninsula, it was decided that the peninsular would divide into the North and South Zones. The ruling of South Korea and North Korea fell under the United States and the Soviets, respectively.

From then on, with different ideologies, the two Koreas have been apart. But how did this impact the spoken and written word for the two countries? With Russian and Western influence, North Korea and South Korea’s languages have borrowed words from their past colonial powers. Also, vastly different governmental policies between the South and the North have led to a rise in different dialects between the two Koreas.

How exactly is the Korean language different for North Korea and South Korea?


This is a small yet tricky difference. While North Korea and South Korea’s standard languages share the same type and number of phonemes, how these phonemes are pronounced are noticeably different.

Although a seemingly small matter, you would find that some Korean letters can be disregarded entirely when being pronounced by either people from South or North Korea. For your reference, the standard pronunciation in South Korea is based on Seoul’s dialect, while the standard pronunciation in North Korea is based on Pyongyang’s dialect.


The different vocabulary sets used by South Koreans and North Koreans have been primarily influenced by the English and Russian languages, respectively. But if you have been indulging in South Korean dramas and variety shows, you would have realised that the South Korean language has had more influence from the surrounding communities and countries.

As a matter of fact, in North Korea, citizens are discouraged from loaning words from other languages. So don’t be alarmed when you listen to different vocabulary variations spoken in Seoul and Pyongyang, even when the words could mean the same thing!


Now that you know the key differences between North Korean and South Korean languages, you might ask, what do these differences mean for you as a Korean learner?

Fret not, if you’ve taken Korean courses in Singapore, you should be able to converse with a Korean speaker, regardless of whether the speaker comes from the North or the South. However, if you are considering a career in professional interpretations, note down these subtle differences! These tips are crucial for you to accurately and appropriately translate information to your target audience.

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