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Friday, January 9, 2015

Khmer 101

At the market. (Photo credit: Ely S.)

I always wondered what it would be like to know another language. I figured it would be pretty awesome - you could have "secret" conversations with people and do all sorts of neat stuff. A year of Spanish taught me a bunch of things about how other people speak, but I still never felt like I could really hold a conversation with anyone in a second language. Learning another language for real was ever after on my bucket list!

At Adventist Frontier Mission's summer training last year, I spent a week finding out how to learn and become fluent in a second language. It was fascinating! I learned all sorts of things that have been valuable to me here as I try to learn how to understand the jibberish that people speak all around me. :)

It is quite an experience to plant yourself in the middle of people who speak a totally different language (and often very little or no English at all). It is humbling, to say the least; it is quite lonely at times; and it can be fascinating to learn little words here and there until you can start understanding at least the gist of what a conversation is about.


I have a long way to go before I can even hope to be mostly fluent in Khmer. But it's been neat to use the limited vocabulary I have to go to the market and speak with the sellers there, figuring out how to find things and get what I need. I learned important classroom words that often were of more effect with my 6th-graders than any English words would be. I got to visit with some little seller girls at Angkor Wat earlier this year, and that was definitely a brain-testing experience! (I wrote about the experience; you can read it here.) Listening to the Khmer church service and Sabbath School are also great language-learning opportunities, where I can try to look up Bible verses, sing songs, and figure out what the people are talking about.

With that, I will give you a short Khmer vocabulary lesson...

For starters, the French phonetics the Khmer use to spell out words in English are different than what we're normally used to. My student names are good examples of this (Sophall is So PALL; Thy is Tee; Punhah is Pbun YA; Chek is Jake; Pov is Pauw; etc). Everyone seems to have different English spellings for Khmer words. If you're trying to learn new words, spell them the way you think they sound! But of course, the best way to actually pronounce the words right is to know the Khmer spelling. That really adds a lot of understanding, as I've been discovering, while learning the consonants and vowels.

So, when I spell the following Khmer words for you, it's probably not going to be the same as someone else's spelling at all (and I'm exaggerating the spelling even more than how I normally do, so you can pronounce it better). But hopefully it'll give you the right idea!

Formal "hello/welcome" greeting - Jim reap sua (with your palms together in front of you).
How are you? - Sok sabay ot?
Thank you! - Akun!
You're welcome. - Min ay te.
Where did you come from? - Dtouw nek mo bi na? (or just "mo bi na?" for short; less proper)
I'm really scared. - Knyoum clayt (ay = eye) nah.
I like mangos. - Knyoum joljet svay.
What are you doing? - Dtouw nek twer avway?
Happy Sabbath! - Recreeay tngay borisot!
God bless you. - Som Preah pra tiempo dal nek.

Boa - color
Preah vihear - church (building)
Ba aym - sweet (tasting)
Loy - cool, awesome, neat!
Sa at - pretty, clean
Mut payek - friend
Ji moto - motorbike
La ah - good
Daik - sleep
Chngayn - delicious, yummy

Muay - one
Pbee - two
Pbai - three
Pbuen - four
Pbram - five
Pbram muay - six
Pbram pbee / pbram pbaul - seven
Pbram pbai - eight
Pbram buen - nine
Dopb - ten

Ma pbay - twenty
Sam sap - thirty
Sai sap - forty
Hau sap - fifty
Hok sap - sixty
Jet sap - seventy
Bet sap - eighty
Gau sap - ninety
Roy - one hundred
Boen - one thousand

I enjoyed spending time with the girls at Angkor Wat.
(Photo credit: Dan Serns)

Pathfinder leadership campout - a week of
re-culture-shock when I was surrounded by almost only Khmer.
(It helped me to understand more, though.)

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