This is for people that want to learn Khmer. I’m not sure if anyone who is setting off on the process will end up reading this, but it’s worth a shot, eh? I’ve found a variety of resources that have helped and some that, er, haven’t as much. I’m not particularly consistent in my approach, so that means I’ve tried a bit of everything.
Cambodian for beginners by Richard K. Gilbert is often considered quite useful and thorough. It has CD resources and a phone app too. They all need to be purchased separately so can be a bit expensive. Also, when you’re not familiar with learning new languages (I’ve only done school level French before), it can be a bit confusing. Ten months into my language learning, however, I’ve found it helpful to go back to. It clarifies some of the aspects of grammar and pronunciation that I’m confused about (like, when reading a consonant cluster, is the vowel sound based on the first or second consonant? The answer, it appears, is yes.)
Internet based courses
The Foreign Service Institute in America has hundred of language courses, with probably tens of thousands hours worth of audio all together. However, they are in the public domain because they are old. They are not whizzy and snappy, so the youth of today will find persevering with them difficult. Also, some of the courses are better than others. All the FSI courses (as well as the U.S. Defense Language Institute and Peace Corps courses) are hosted on Live Lingua Project. They can be found elsewhere, but this site is really helpful. They have added bookmarks to the huge PDF files so you can easily access where you left-off. You can also download all the PDFs and audio files too. Another nice feature is that it also has a little recording widget, so you can record yourself doing the drills and listen back to it. Yes, it’s as torturous as it sounds, but it is helpful.
FSI published two courses and some supplementary material:
- FSI Cambodian Basic Course: it has 452 pages of material and 791 minutes of audio, apparently. There is also a second book, with 365 pages, but no audio.
- FSI Contemporary Cambodia Course: 670 pages, 2306 minutes. It’s pretty vast.
- FSI Contemporary Cambodia: Grammatical Sketch: some nice bedtime reading, no doubt. I will probably try to read it over the summer (let’s be honest: no, I won’t).
- FSI Contemporary Cambodian Glossary. Both of these supplementary books can be found here.
As you can see, it’s an immense resource. Having 3,097 minutes (51 hours) of audio at your disposal for free is obviously really helpful. Surely, there’s nothing that can ruin this! Well, it’s still useful, but be warned of three things: the resources are old so maybe a bit outdated; the accent is a strong Phnom Penh accent and the Khmer spelling is poor/outdated.
These courses were created in the late 1960s and early 1970s and for diplomats. Therefore, accent wise, it might be the equivalent of English learners listening to Katherine Hepburn and reading Enid Blyton to improve their skills. The lessons can be a bit sexist and old-fashioned in their values, too.
The country has gone through a massive upheaval since these resources were created, which has affected economic classes and accents (most people in Phnom Penh now were not living there before 1975). Also, the Phnom Penh accent has particular markers, such as dropping the r sound in words and adding a slight tonal inflection instead. One of the speakers on the audio does this. This is fine if you want a Phnom Penh accent, but it should also be something that you should know before you start it.
Don’t rely on the Khmer spellings to be accurate. For instance, England/English (said anglay, like the French) is written អង្លេស, however it should really be អង់គ្លេស. I was a bit frustrated to have written the word about 60 times in order to learn it, only to have learnt it wrong.
The Center for Southeast Asian Studies in the University of Illinois has a very dated website. Despite the Office 95 look of the pages (it uses split frames, for goodness sake), the resources are quite helpful.
It has audio files for each letter of the alphabet, including the vowels in the different series. These are quite helpful, especially when trying to work out some of the distinction between ី, ែ and ៃ or ិ and េ or all the other fairly indiscernible differences in the vowels.
It also has reading resources, songs and poems. It’s quite nice to have a collection of cultural elements.
I know often people don’t trust it or think it’s inaccurate but Wikipedia has been really valuable. The page on the Khmer alphabet is useful when trying to quickly find out what the diacritical markers do. The Khmer language page gives a helpful overview on grammar and syntax. However, it is the page which shows how the IPA is standardised on their pages which has been the most helpful (Help: IPA for Khmer). Not only does it list the pronunciation of each letter, but it links to the relevant page that discusses the pronunciation of that particular phoneme. This can be exceptionally helpful in working out the trickier letters. (Like when working out what your teachers mean by a “silent b” when pronouncing ប. What they actually mean is that it is a voiced bilabial implosive. The article also helpfully breaks down what this means for people like me: those who have no clue.)
This is a classifieds website for Cambodia, but actually has a pretty extensive language site with it (AKOnline). It has vocabulary lists sorted into categories. Also, the vocabulary has audio too. It has some grammar pages as well, discussing classifiers and words used with verbs (to mark tense, etc.)
It has a directory that links you to other resources.
This is the one I prefer to use. It’s quite thorough and it sometimes (although not always) links you to words that you might be trying to write.
Society for Better Books in Cambodia
Although a lot of it is still a work-in-progress, it does have some good resources. The best resource is the plethora of fonts and a Khmer keyboard that can be downloaded (here).
This one gets its own special area, as it’s more to list some channels and playlists I use.
These were produced by the now closed LINK language school in Phnom Penh. I only discovered them yesterday so they’re a bit basic. But they’re helpful in listening to pronunciation and building fluency. Also, it’s nice that I can understand a lot of what is being said, even without watching. They’re quite fun and the teachers seem warm and friendly (like most Khmer people, to be fair).
It goes over some grammar points (which are also found in Cambodian for Beginners). It’s good to have the Khmer pronunciation with it, too.
This guy called Jeremy Fortenot (I don’t actually know him) has put together extensive vocabulary videos, sorted by topic. He also has recordings of the Bible in a year in Khmer. That may not be your bag, but it can be helpful, especially as you are getting more advanced.
This teaches you the alphabet and the sounds and is done in the same way children learn it at school. It can be a bit repetitive, but, again, is helpful when trying to perfect your sounds and remember the many, many characters in the Khmer alphabet.
Memrise is quite good. It already has Khmer courses and you can create your own. (I’m slowly building up my own vocabulary bank, with about 800 words on it so far. However, it’s been a long process and a lot of mistakes have been made, so I doubt I will publish it anytime soon.) The Khmer language with audio is quite a good course. If you happen to attend G2K (a Khmer school in Phnom Penh), some of your word lists have courses on it too.
I hope this list is helpful. If you have found anything else, let me know, please. I am looking to continue with my studying when returning to the UK and I want to aim for fluency (because, why not?).