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Should we foreigners learn to speak Khmer?


You've probably had this topic before so I apologize if I'm being redundant.  I have been a resident in Cambodia (Siem Reap) for about 4 years now, though I've only been tuning in here for a year.  I took Khmer lessons for 8 months 3 years ago and my Khmer teacher turned me loose saying, "You know the basics plus 650 words of vocabulary and your accent is great, Alex.  Now just go into the community and practice, practice, practice."  And there's the rub.  When I spoke to a Khmer and they answered I couldn't understand their response.  I am now in a relationship with a Khmer and we live on the family compound (two+ years!) and my Khmer speaking is so bad I refrain from speaking at all.  I think I know what the problem is and my Khmer family have an opinion as well.  I would be interested in hearing your experience with the language of Cambodia.  Do you think it is important for us (foreigner residents) to learn Khmer?  Have you learned it?  How did it go?  Was it worth the effort?  How so? 
Thanks for your input.

That's not much difficult to learn Khmer but if you hired the one who just teach you for money, you will not be able to use it correctly. Khmer language is a bit complicated because sometime, you want to speak to one thing by using different ways.

I think u are doing the right thing with a sleeping dictionary. best of luck

I think it is really important for foreigners living in any country to make an honest effort to learn the local language.  It seems especially weird for many English-speaking foreigners to be coming to Cambodia to "help" by teaching English without much concern for learning any Khmer.  It is not always easy and some will take to it more naturally than others, but I applaud your effort and encourage you to keep trying. 

I do not live in Cambodia currently - I have traveled there for about one month a year for almost a decade; in recent years I decided to dive in and get serious about learning Khmer, and this past year when I had time to do so, I spent 4 months working intensively at a school in Phnom Penh (Khmer Friends, which I very warmly recommend if anyone is looking for a good place for one-on-one lessons there or by Skype). I also struggle with conversational Khmer, but I have worked with good teachers and made much progress, and I am reading and writing now in Khmer and will continue to learn.  Don't give up!


I agree with your "philosophy" on this issue.  I mean if you're going to live in a country whose language is different from your own it's almost a matter of respect that you at least try to learn how to communicate with your "adopted fellow countrymen," you know?

Thanks for your encouragement.  I actually re-started lessons again, this time with one of my sisters-in-law (Khmer) who is a school teacher, but speaks very little English.  I just finished my second lesson 10 minutes ago..........I'm exhausted!  I'm determined to stay with it though.

Thanks again,

Alex C.

Alex, one thing I should add - I have noticed that ordinary Khmer as used by the averge person differs from the formal Khmer you first learn perhaps even more than we are accustomed to in English.  When speaking with Cambodians I often get the comment that I speak very clearly... which I take to mean I learned my Khmer in school, not in the street! There can be a significant adjustment between the different ways of speaking.  Asking people to speak a little more slowly sometimes helps me when that is a problem.

More information?  is it really so hard?    do you at least discuss price in Khmer?

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