Kim Jong Un Was Nervous About Bad English Skills Before Trump Meeting: South Korean Aide

Kim Jong Un's language skills were a topic of much debate as the world awaited his historic summit with President Donald Trump in Singapore in June 2018.

But according to a former aide to South Korean President Moon Jae-in, the young dictator was nervous about what he considered to be his lack of proficiency in English.

Tak Hyun-min, who previously worked for Moon, told the Kyunghyang Shinmun newspaper that Kim voiced his concerns to Moon when the two met at the truce village of Panmunjom on the North-South Korean border on April 27, The Korea Times said.

"I am worrying about my lack of English proficiency," Kim told Moon, according to Tak. During the 30-minute conversation between the two leaders, Kim said he "can speak German well," in contrast to his English skills.

Kim lived in Switzerland for several years, as did all the children of Kim Jong Il—the former North Korean leader, who died in 2011. He is said to have studied English in his time there, but apparently the lessons did not stick as well as he may have hoped. Kim is thought to have returned to North Korea permanently in the early 2000s.

At both of the summits between Kim and Trump—first in Singapore and later in Hanoi, Vietnam—interpreters followed the leaders throughout. In the lead-up to the first meeting, media reports suggested the 35-year-old Kim can speak enough English to hold an informal conversation but not enough to carry out complex diplomatic negotiations.

Dennis Rodman, a former NBA star who has spent significant time in North Korea with both Kim and his father, told CNN during the Singapore summit that the young leader "understands bits and pieces. If you're talking about basketball, yes he understands that."

Experts noted that interpreters were more important than ever for the meeting between Kim and Trump, given the former's weak language skills and the latter's penchant for going off script with rambling comments.

Kim appeared to acquit himself fairly well on both occasions. For example, he apparently understood Trump's comments to the press following their dinner in Hanoi. As the president praised the "great ideas being thrown about" at the previous night's meal, Kim acknowledged his words with smiles and nods, ABC News reported. The positive reaction continued as Trump lauded the "very strong" and "good relationship" between the two nations.

Tak told Kyunghyang that Moon described the April exchange with Kim as a "friendly" conversation. The aide, who previously worked as a protocols official for the president before leaving his post in March, now works as a non-standing presidential adviser, The Korea Times said.

Kim Jong Un English Trump meeting
North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un is pictured during a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin on April 25, 2019 in Vladivostok, Russia. Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images