Bridging the North-South communication gap in Korea

Working with two charitable organizations, Cheil Worldwide developed an app that helps children of North Korean defectors cope with language differences as they adjust to life in South Korea.

After 60 years of separation, the languages used in North and South Korea have drifted apart. According to a 2012 study by the National Institute of the Korean language, North Korean defectors understand only half of the language used in the South.

Cheil Worldwide partnered with DreamTouchForAll, a non-profit education organization, and Community Chest of Korea, a charitable organization, to develop an app called "Univoca: South Korean-North Korean Translator".

Working like a digital dictionary, the app includes 3,600 words used in Korean-language textbooks for high school students. It also demonstrates the meanings of South and North Korean words with examples.

When the user scans an unfamiliar word with a smartphone camera, the translated text appears. Users can also manually input text for translation and suggest words that should be added to the app.

North Korean university students were involved in the initiative and helped with basic translation. Then an advisory committee consisting of teachers and doctors from North Korea worked on proofreading. Cheil’s team of art directors created images for words that are not easy to explain.

The language gap between the two Korean countries is as deep as the history of separation, challenging young students from the North to fit into the South Korean society, according to Cheil, quoting a North Korean doctor.

The Ministry of Education estimates the number of North Korean student defectors is consistently rising. The number has jumped from 966 in 2008 to 2,183 in 2014. Since the separation of the two countries, the languages have evolved to be 40 percent different in daily life and 60 percent different for business, Cheil claims.

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