Does North Korea President Speak English

Background Information

North Korea’s enigmatic leader, Kim Jong-Un, has typically drawn much media attention regarding his international relations and various policy decisions. Many people have questions about the current president’s communication skills, specifically whether or not he can understand and/or speak English.
In February 2018, President Kim Jong-Un became the first North Korean leader to visit South Korea in over 60 years. The two days of talks between North and South Korea were a breakthrough in diplomacy, thanks to the new direction taken by Kim. During the visit, Kim spoke to South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In, who speaks both English and Korean. Though Kim is reported to have spoken in Korean dialects, South Korean statesmen reported that his English proficiency was “very good.”

Relevant Data

Prior to his meeting with President Moon Jae-In, Kim attended the prestigious International School of Berne in Switzerland from 1996 until 2000, when he was 15. As a student of the school, he received instruction in English, which he could have used for further study if he’d chosen to pursue the school’s International Baccalaureate program.
In addition, Kim’s older brother, Kim Jong-Chul, attended the same school. Though his brother didn’t complete his entire program at the school, he was known to have a working knowledge of spoken English. His brother’s fluency provides additional support to the information that Kim Jong-Un must have learned some English while in school in Switzerland.

Perspectives from Experts

Kim Jong-Un is said to have a mixed childhood, growing up in both North Korea and Switzerland. His time abroad in Europe, experts say, was likely the impetus for his English proficiency. His very public presence at North and South Korean peace talks is evidence, as well.
English has grown to be an increasingly important language in international affairs, so it would be essential for Kim to be able to understand and speak at least a basic level of English. International negotiations are largely conducted in English, which is the most widely spoken and understood language on the planet. Additionally, English is the de facto language of international business, so the assumption can be made that Kim, as North Korea’s leader, needs to understand English.

Own Insights and Analysis

Having a working knowledge of English as the international language of business and politics gives a leader incredible power in expanding their country’s influence and agenda. Experts assume that Kim has at least a superficial understanding of the language, and his presence and participation at the negotiations between North and South Korea is evidence that he has, at least, a conversational fluency.
Kim must have an understanding of, if not fluency in, English in order to read and interpret news from international sources and to understand speeches from global leaders. As North Korea’s leader, Kim must also be able to effectively negotiate with international statesmen in order to further his country’s agenda.


To gain some knowledge of Kim’s English proficiency, his past has been examined by various sources, including interviews and school records. Additionally, his brother’s level of English fluency was also taken into consideration. His brother studied at the International School of Berne, and was known to be able to speak at least a few sentences of English.
His reported level of understanding during the North-South negotiations is also proof of his language proficiency. He held conversations entirely in Korean, though some exchanges were reported to have been carried in English between him and South Korean leaders.


Though Kim and other North Korean leaders have been reported to have conversational English, the country still utilizes interpreters when needed. On several occasions, interpreters have been present to help both Kim and American diplomats understand each other better during their negotiations.
Though Kim may have a knowledge of English, he still relies on the use of interpreters for more precise translation. This includes information from media reports and global news sources, as well as understanding and navigating the nuances of difficult conversations.

Public Perception

Despite their intense devotion to their leader and his support amongst his people, the citizens of North Korea have a general feeling of mistrust towards those in the West. This mistrust is why they often know very little information about their leader, and why they have few facts about his language proficiency.
That said, there is evidence to suggest that Kim Jong-Un can understand and speak at least some English. His experience abroad in Switzerland likely allowed him to learn and master the language, as well as giving him the opportunity to understand its importance on a global scale.

Attitude towards English

Though North Korea has its own official language, English has become more widely accepted in the country thanks to the amount of information available on the internet. English classes taught by North Korean teachers have become commonplace in the country, and are popular amongst young people.
Despite the willingness of the people to learn, Kim Jong-Un has yet to make an official statement on the matter of speaking English. His silence may be due to numerous reasons, including his mistrust of any influencers from the Western world.

Economic Benefit

For North Korea to open up to the international world it is essential for their leader to have a working knowledge of English. English proficiency can open a variety of economic opportunities for North Korea, allowing the country to interact with more businesses from around the world, as well as attract tourists from other countries.
Having English as an option would help North Korea to negotiate with foreign companies from a position of strength, rather than a position of weakness in matters of business. This would not only benefit the nation economically, but would also give the citizens more access to quality goods and services, as well as better opportunities for work.


English fluency is also seen as an important skill in North Korea’s healthcare sector. This is especially true since their current healthcare system is unreliable, and often lacking in many areas. Many North Korean citizens have limited access to healthcare, and those in rural areas are often at even greater risk.
Having access to updated medical information in English could open up doors to better, more modern treatment options. English proficiency would also enable North Korean doctors and healthcare professionals to better understand the latest treatments and medical techniques, enabling them to provide a higher quality of care for their patients.


English proficiency would also benefit North Korea’s current educational system. English can open the door for North Koreans to access to a much wider variety of information than is currently available.
In addition, learning English can provide many North Korean students with the opportunity to study abroad, giving them access to global educational opportunities. English fluency can also help North Korean students to stay abreast of modern trends in education and improve their critical thinking skills.

International Relationships

English fluency could also benefit North Korea’s international relationships. Diplomatic negotiations with other states have greatly shifted since the Korean Peninsular Summit in 2018.
Having a working knowledge of English could help Kim to not only increase diplomatic ties with the western world, but also strengthen North Korea’s ties with their Asian neighbours. This could help Kim bridge the divide between North and South Korea, as well as facilitate better trade and a more secure relationship with China.

Cassie Grissom is an American journalist and author living in Seoul, South Korea. She has been studying the Korean peninsula since 2011, and her work focuses on understanding human rights issues in North Korea. In addition to her work as an author, Cassie is an active advocate for human rights in North Korea. She regularly shares stories about life in North Korea with international audiences to raise awareness of the plight of its citizens.

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