Young North Koreans are showing a growing appetite for learning foreign languages to improve their job prospects – and enable them to understand television programs broadcast by neighboring countries.
Kim Jong-un reportedly made learning foreign languages compulsory from the age of four after he came to power in 2011, but today many of the country’s elite parents are paying extra tuition to improve their children’s chances of being accepted into university Chinese or English courses.
“Many people believe that those who work in [foreign] trade has [even] a better standard of living than provincial party cadres, so there is more interest in language skills,” said a source in Ryanggang province.
“If you’re good at a second language, you can get into a good university and get a good job, so the willingness of parents to enroll their children in special foreign language courses is fierce.”
As economic reforms lead to a growth in private enterprise, the demand for North Koreans who can communicate with the outside world has increased. “Parents who want their kids to have good language skills and get a solid job will do anything, including selling household items, to make sure they have the support,” the source said.
Writing on NK News, a defector noted that Chinese or English is a skill associated with “good families” who might go to college and apply their knowledge. The majority of the population are “less likely to be motivated to learn a foreign language because they cannot use it in the real world”.
Chinese, rather than English, is often the language of choice – especially for students who live in border areas, according to the Ryanggang source.
In addition to ambition, it seems entertainment has a role to play. The source said North Koreans living near the border with China want to be able to understand TV programs broadcast by their neighbor. .
“Some students stay in their schools during summer vacation so they can study Chinese,” the source said.
A version of this article originally appeared on Daily NK