A Change of Guard

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Monday, 5 December 2011

Three decades on, Koreans and Chinese replace Russians in learning the Khmer language

Cambodian and foreign students posed in front of the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Sunday, 04 December 2011
Posted by Serath
By Pin Manika

PHNOM PENH, Dec 4 (Cambodia Herald) - When the Ministry of Education established Khmer classes for foreigners in 1993, most students were from the Soviet Union.

"At that time, there were about 100 students who came to study, mostly Russians,'' said Seong Phos, a Khmer linguistics scholar at the Royal University of Phnom Penh who was one of three teachers assigned to teach the language to foreigners.

The public university's program for teaching Khmer as a second language still exists, although these days most of the students are Koreans.

Students are required to study four levels, each lasting three months and costing $200. Level 1 involves basic Khmer reading and conversation skills. Students learn how to write short sentences and listen. They also learn all 21 vowels and 33 consonants.

Level 2 is devoted to the structure of the language, adjectives and other aspects of the language while Level 3 covers grammar and Level 4 is about Khmer culture.

"I want to teach English in Cambodia. So, if I know Khmer, it will be easier for me to work and live here, and my teaching will be clearer and stronger to the student," a Level 3 student from Spain who has been in Cambodia for six months.

Khmer language classes are particularly popular among Chinese, including those who study in China, and Koreans.

"There are a thousand people living in China who can speak, write and understand Khmer, and five universities in China which teach Khmer,” said a second year student from Yunnan province who is studying Khmer at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

The student, who plans to return to China next year to complete her thesis, said in broken Khmer that she decided to study the language because her goal is to work in Cambodia given the country's rapid economic development.

"If I know Khmer, I will be prioritized. I can use the language to find a job in Cambodia as an interpreter, or teacher," she said.

Peng Ni, another Chinese university student from Yunnan who has been learning Khmer at the Cambodian university for six months, said the language was challenging.

"I find it difficult to listen to the Khmer language," she said. "It is very difficult for me to catch the ideas. I also find it hard to remember Khmer words because most Khmer words are more than two syllable unlike in Chinese where all words have only one syllable."

Chan Vathana, a teacher at the Khmer for Foreigners Program, said that while students came from many countries, most were Korean in the fields of business, diplomacy and religion.

He said that some students who complete the program take thousands of Khmer textbooks back to their home countries to teach.

“It has helped as a lot, but there have also been some negative impacts. They come to us because they want benefits. They come to work and spread their cultures and religions. This will affect our employment rate, and it will destroy our culture and religion,” he said.

Thea Sok Meng, the head of the Khmer Literature Department of the university, said many students from Japan and Korea have graduated with bachelor degrees in Khmer Literature which require students to read and write as well as understand and speak the language.

Some have gone on to do master degrees, he said. Most work as interpreters for the government or foreign embassies.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess khmer words is not dying or in any kind of crisis like seng theary mentioned in her article awhile back. Khmer language is not only surviving well but also multiplying and expanding to foreign countries.