Learning English in North Korea

In Pyongyang 1989, a man greeted Theodore Dalrymple in an open square, asking if he spoke English.

“I am a student of the Foreign Languages Institute,” he said. “Reading Dickens and Shakespeare is the greatest, the only, joy of my life.”

Dalrymple says, “I think I understood at once what he meant. In Dickens and Shakespeare, even the poorest and most downtrodden person speaks in his own voice. His utterances are at least his own, and are the product of his own brain. In North Korea, with its endless speeches in the most rigid of langues de bois, to speak in your own voice was impossible. All speech is either compulsory or forbidden.”

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