Univoca App. The first South Korean-North Korean Translator

When people think of North Korea the first thing that comes to mind after mass starvation and cult of personality leaders is the fact it's been isolated from the rest of the word for more than half a decade. The implications of this are wide ranging, but perhaps most interesting is that the Korean language has changed since the separation of the two countries. As a result, North Korean defectors often find themselves in their homeland but unable to speak the language. An example from the press release: South Koreans simply use the English term "penalty kick" when playing football, while their counterparts in the North say a word meaning "11-meter punishment" in translation.

But that's only one of many examples. Language experts put the difference between North Korean and South Korean languages around 40-60% depending on whether it's everyday or business settings. When a North Korea defects they find themselves only understanding around half of what is being said.

To help with this phenomenon, Cheil employees and volunteers collaborated to translate 3,600 words from text books. The app, called Univoca, helps North Korean defectors communicate in South Korea, translating the older language into newer terms. They partnered with DreamTouchForAll, a non-profit education organization, and Community Chest of Korea, a charitable organization, to bring the app to life.

It's super simple to use, too. When a user scans an unfamiliar word with their smart phone camera, the translated text appears. They can also enter text for translation and make suggestions or requests for new words to be added to the ever growing dictionary.

Even cooler is the fact that North Korean defectors helped develop the app by doing basic translations form their own experience. A committee of teacher and doctors proof read the dictionary, and Cheil's art directors even created images for words that were hard to explain.

The app is currently updating and evolving.

As an idea this app is so simple, and yet so profound. It's not only helping teach a language, but it's bridging a gap between one group of people who have been separated so long now their cultures have diverged.

Fantastic idea.

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bryan flake's picture

In all of the countries to compare languages, I would never think that the Korea's would have different languages. Your example with the soccer terminology shows me exactly how different there language really is. It is sort of a deep thought to consider that both sides would need a translator to be able to communicate with one another; especially considering that they were a unified nation less than seventy years ago.

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