Many foreigners in Cambodia find Khmer, the native language of most locals, so difficult that they never get past a very basic level of communication — if they learn even that much. Speak Like Khmer, a language school in Siem Reap, is here to help expats get a grasp on the Cambodian language.
Speak Like Khmer offers Khmer language lessons for everyone from absolute beginners to those considerably more advanced. Though that first step into a classroom environment may be scary, don’t let that stop you. The school’s friendly, encouraging teachers will expand your vocabulary and improve your pronunciation and understanding of the language. Just as important, their sincere enthusiasm and immersive approach to teaching will build your confidence.
Speaking with Cambodians is the only way to actually improve your Khmer skills. At Speak Like Khmer, you’re greeted in Khmer as soon as you walk in, and at every step thereafter a real effort is made to communicate in Khmer as much as possible. The constant flow of Khmer really kickstarts the language-learning process.
Speak Like Khmer’s classroom is a fun and relaxed environment, but there is structure and there is homework! As an alternative to group classes you can choose one-on-one lessons, good for those who are a bit shy or more advanced.
The school also offers lessons in reading and writing Khmer. If the spoken language is daunting, the written version is even more so. Khmer’s alphabet has 74 different letters, more than any other language, and when you look at that alphabet you realize just how alarmingly different it is from anything using Roman letters. But thanks to patient and methodical guidance from Speak Like Khmer’s teachers, I found that after a few weeks the written words began to make sense, which exponentially facilitated my overall grasp of Khmer. The school provides study materials and has a lending library of books so you can practice reading at home.
Lessons are $8 for a one-to-one and $6 for group classes. If you want to keep your skills sharp while you’re abroad, they even offer classes over Skype. In addition, Speak Like Khmer leads cycling trips around Siem Reap, a fantastic way to acquaint yourself with both the town and the language.
Khmer is challenging, and let’s face it, it’s not useful in many other places. But while you are in Cambodia, learning the language is possibly the best way to gain a deeper understanding of the people. It also demonstrates a basic level of appreciation and respect that will definitely be appreciated and reciprocated. You will be laughed at a lot as you come to grips with the nuances of pronunciation, but it’s encouraging, friendly laughter — one reason it’s such a fun language to learn.