“Such a miracle can only occur in North Korea” and other popular phrases from an authentic DPRK phrasebook.

When traveling to other countries, it’s important to have at least a small grasp of the language. This is true of the remote nation of North Korea too, in fact maybe more so.

Now, you might be thinking, “Don’t they just speak Korean like South Korea does?” Well, yes and no. The basic language is the same but there are differences in pronunciation and grammar. More important than the language, though, is how it’s used, and it should come as no surprise that conversation in the North and South halves of the Peninsula can be very different.

So, just like the title of a book bought by our writer Masanuki Sunakoma in 2012 while visiting the secretive nation, Let’s Speak North Korean!

Unfortunately, because this is a North Korean/Japanese book, the meanings, and especially the pronunciations (which are rendered in Japanese katakana script) may be distorted due to the indirect translations. For finely tuned pronunciations, please refer to supplementary material.

That being said, Let’s Speak North Korean claims to be more enriched with “expressions used when sightseeing in Pyongyang city” compared to any other phrase book. Since it’s straight out of the DPRK, we’re inclined to take it at its word.

The book kicks off with the basics such as “good morning” (an-nyonhashimunika), “Let’s meet again tomorrow” (neiru tashi man-napushita), and “good night” (an-nyonhi chumushipushiyo).

So far, so good.

From there, we get to the section on Celebration, and in North Korea what else is there to celebrate aside from the Supreme Leader?

Just a few slots down from “happy birthday” (seniru chukkahamunida), we learn the important phrase, “I humbly pray for the longevity of our great leader and comrade Kim Jong-il.” (widehan ryondoja kimu-joniru donjiwi mansumuganuru samuga chugonhamunida).

Oh… wait a minute.

It’s really important to note that this book was originally written in 1995, and it would seem that an updated edition hadn’t been made at the time to reflect our great leader and comrade’s passing in 2011. So, it might be wise to avoid that last one, since it might be taken the wrong way. Perhaps you can play it safe and just swap “il” with “un” instead.

It’s useful to know local expressions too, so you don’t end up sounding like a stiff. For example, you don’t want to just say “that was fast” like some poindexter. Instead you should say “that was faster than a monkey-driven rocket car” and the North Korean equivalent of that would be “that is really the speed of Chollima” (chonmaru chonrimasoku toimunida).

That might not sound so slick, but the mythical horse known as Chollima is especially popular in North Korea after, Kim Il-sung invoked its name in the slogan “rush as the speed of Chollima” to encourage a speedy rebuilding after the fighting of the Korean War. So, name-dropping that gallant steed will get you sounding like a dutiful prole in no time!

▼ A large statue of Chollima in Pyongyang

Now that pleasantries are out of the way, it’s time for some practical North Korean in use. First up is the dinner table.

In this section you can learn how to say; “This is just as delicious as the rumors said! Crisp and refreshing and aromatic!” (yokushi tuttonbadero pyorumashimunida! sankehamyonsodo chinhan masuru nemyo hyangiro pusumunida!).

The phrase could technically be used for any food, but the context of the phrase book would strongly suggest it’s referring to North Korean kimchi. If you hadn’t heard the rumors about it yet, you’re welcome in joining us and Let’s Speak North Korean in starting them.

Also, despite its image, North Korea is actually lenient towards alternative diets and you can feel free to customize your order with phrases such as: “I don’t eat pork. I’ll have chicken or pheasant.” (nanun tejigogiru anmokusumunida. takukogina kwonkogiru chushipushiyo.)

Finally, there’s a wealth of other useful phrases for the advanced North Korean learner:

● “Comrade Kim Il-sung was the most outstanding leader of our time.” (kimu-iruson donjinun urishidewi kajan koru churuhan suryonishiyossumunida)
● “With the passing of Kim Il-sung, humanity has lost a legendary hero and great leader.” (kimu-iruson donjiwi sogoro inryunun chonsorujokuyonun, widehan suryonuru irossumunida)
● “It is truly a miracle that Pyongyang was so beautifully reconstructed in such a short time.” (chonmaru pyonyanshiga charupun kigane kurokke arumudapuko fururyunhage konsorutengosun kijogimunida)
“Such a miracle can only occur in North Korea, under the leadership of our great leader Kim Jong-il.” (iron kijogun ojiku widehan ryondoja kimu-joniru donjiwi ryondoru pannun chosonesoman isurusu innun irimunida)

Again, you may want to tailor some of those phrases to whomever the Supreme Leader is at the time of your stay. Otherwise, they ought to serve you well, whether you’re breaking the ice at parties or beseeching mercy on the firing line.

Finally, by the time you reach page 43, you’ll know just what to say when the benevolence of modern-times’ greatest leader and the world’s finest-smelling man Kim Jong-un grants you permission to leave. Simply say: “Thank you for the kindness and hospitality you have given us during our time visiting (sightseeing in) North Korea.” (uriwi choson panmun [kowangowan] kigan tanshinduri uriru chinjori tehejushinde tehayokamusaru turimunida)

There’s a whole lot to learn in Let’s Speak North Korean and it should be helpful for anyone planning a trip there in the near future. When there, you can also probably pick up the latest edition, which he expect includes phrases such as “The world loves it when we launch missile after missile into the sea.” and “There was something hard in my Pheasant McNugget. Can I have a refund?”

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