The Korean Hockey Team Might Be Lost in Translation


North and South Korea are making history by playing as one team in women’s hockey for the upcoming Winter Olympics. However, there’s more at stake than just potential political tensions: the two countries are separated by a common language.

The so-called “Hermit Kingdom” has not borrowed any English or foreign words, while South Korea has freely borrowed from English. Although the two languages share a majority of words and grammatical structures, at least a third of their words are different. This is especially true in the case of terms that are important to hockey. In an effort to aid communication, the team’s Canadian coach Sarah Murray has developed a three-page dictionary. It translates hockey terms from English to Korean to North Korean.

However, it is Murray’s South Korean assistant coach who has made the real difference by translating for the North Korean players. Murray explains that she can’t fully coach in English because of the language barrier.

The team, formed just 11 days ago, was off to a rocky start at first. 12 North Korean players abruptly joined the existing 23-player South Korean team. In a poll, 70% of South Koreans were against the prospect. Murray even said that she was reluctant at first, and that the two countries sat at different tables at lunch. When Murray asked them to sit together, she was amazed at how quickly they’ve adjusted to each other. She notes that “Hockey really does bring people together.”

At their first game against Sweden this past Sunday, the Korean team lost 3-1. Not bad for two countries without a hockey ranking. (Sweden ranks at number 5 in the world.) Instead of their national anthems, they stood to the traditional folk song “Arirang.”

Women’s hockey isn’t the only sport where North Koreans will make an appearance. The International Olympic Committee has allowed a total of 22 athletes will play across a variety of sports. They will walk under the “unification flag” that shows the Korean peninsula.


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