Learn How To Speak and Write Cambodian: An Introduction To The Khmer Language: Numbers and Letters

Cambodian Khmer People

Book ka Make (Father in Law) and Mai ka Make (Mother in Law) staying cool in the heat! It's always Hot in Cambodia!
Book ka Make (Father in Law) and Mai ka Make (Mother in Law) staying cool in the heat! It's always Hot in Cambodia! | Source

Origins and History of the Khmer Language

The Cambodian language, officially called the language of Khmer (pronounced as one word like "Come Here", without the H; "ComeEar", or "ComeEye", depending on region), is a very old language.

It has it's roots from the Brahman or Brahmi system of writing, a character-based language dating back to India in Ancient Times. Proof of this is in the writings within the ancient temples of Angkor Wat.

This article is designed as an introductory tool in understanding the Khmer Alphabet and Sentence Structure while writing and practicing the language. Emphasis will also be placed on Pronunciation, which is very difficult, as many of the Khmer sounds are not native to Latin-Language speaking people (French, English, Spanish, etc.).

Cambodian Khmer Sub-Consonants: Learn To Draw Write Khmer Characters

Cambodian Khmer Sub-Consonants
Cambodian Khmer Sub-Consonants | Source

Speaking Khmer is not as hard as it looks, but I have to admit that, reading and writing it is not as easy. One of the major confusing elements of looking at Cambodian characters is that there are no spaces between the words. Although this appears to be overwhelming, it's not as bad as you think. See, when you're able to decipher the sounds for each Khmer letter then you will naturally recognize where sentences begin and end.

One important thing to point out is that the Khmer alphabet does not translate the same as Latin languages do to each other; there is no equivalent for each letter in Khmer to the English alphabet. Instead, the Khmer alphabet is a phonetic alphabet, that is, a group of sounds that have meaning and change depending on implied accents and word structure. As is the case in learning any new language, immersion and practice with native speakers is probably the best way to become competent in speaking, writing, and reading Khmer.

Before we dive into the alphabet, I'd like to mention a few interesting facts and notable points of interest about the Cambodian/Khmer alphabet and language. The first point that I would like to make is that the written language is almost entirely phonetic. That's good for us who are trying to learn it because that means that there's little change in the sounds once we learn the basic alphabet. That concept offers a level of consistency.

There are some major differences between Khmer and English. In Khmer adjectives follow the noun. In English we would say "pretty girl". In Cambodian it is just the opposite: "girl pretty". Another big distinction which makes Cambodian easier to read, write, and speak, is the fact that there are no verb conjugations. Once you become advanced you'll realize that there ways to classify tenses but to be honest, it is only used when writing formally and rarely used when spoken colloquially.

Here’s another rule that will help you in simplifying how to learn to speak, read and write Cambodian: there are no articles such as "a", "and", and "the", etc. Another interesting element within the Cambodian language is that there is no specific verb "to be" as there is in most of the Latin languages. Cambodians simply say, “She Pretty” instead of “She Is Pretty”. Hopefully knowing some of these facts about the Cambodian language will make you more eager to learn it and make it easier during the process.

Google Maps: Cambodia

A markercambodia -
Cambodia
[get directions]

Cambodia, Southeast Asia

Cambodian Khmer Vowels

Since there are no charts like this available on the web, I drew the vowels myself!
Since there are no charts like this available on the web, I drew the vowels myself! | Source

Types of Vowels

Perhaps the hardest part about learning how to speak Cambodian is pronunciation. There are many sounds that we Westerners have never been exposed to both in listening as well as speaking. It will take practice and most likely you will always have a slight accent compared to a native speaker. When you can speak Cambodian fluently, however, you'll notice that native speakers will appreciate you trying and will overlook your accent. Many will try to help you improve on your pronunciation. You will feel very proud knowing that you are appreciated by people who speak a language from the other side of the world!

The vowels within the Cambodian alphabet can be short or long and have more than one sound depending on how it is used. The long vowels tend to be dragged out while short vowels are quickly cut off as they are spoken. Unfortunately for us, many of these sounds are not represented in any of the sounds of the English language. There are simple vowels and complex vowels, as well as consonant combination vowels. If you check the chart below you will see simple vowels (a single character) and complex vowels (combination of 2 or more characters). Consonant Combination Vowels are just that; a combination of a consonant and vowel.

I spent a little bit of money on Amazon looking for the best book related to this topic. I have to tell you that there are few books out there, and even fewer that are useful resources on learning how to speak Khmer. What I can say, is after reviewing many books and workbooks, the best I have found so far is actually written by a Non-Cambodian American, Richard K. Gilbert. His book, Cambodian For Beginners is relatively easy to use if you put the time and effort into learning the language. You should definitely get the companion CD's so that you can hear a native speaker pronounce the sounds of the language. His suggestions through transliteration of Khmer pronunciations is untouchable! I highly suggest that you purchase this book if you are serious about learning Khmer, step by step in an organized fashion.

Independent Cambodian Khmer Vowels

Source

Independent Vowels

There are an additional 11 more vowel symbols within the Khmer alphabet. Independent vowels are different then regular vowels in that they stand alone and do not need consonant accompaniment. Below is a chart which I drew to show you these 11 independent vowels:

Khmer Cambodian Punctuation

Source

Photos My Wife Took While In Cambodia in 2008

Click thumbnail to view full-size
My Wife In a Temple at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok KhmerTemples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok KhmerTemples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok KhmerTemples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok KhmerHand Carved Apsara Srey in the Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok KhmerElephant Rides in Cambodia Srok Khmer!Buddhist Monks in Cambodia Srok KhmerMonkeys are everywhere in Cambodia Srok Khmer! Watch out; they are mean and like to steal food!Cambodian Khmer Market Place Southeast AsiaResting in the heat in Cambodia Srok KhmerRent a motorcycle moped in Cambodia Srok KhmerA Cambodian Khmer FarmerTrying to stay cool when it's almost 120 degrees F in Cambodia Srok Khmer!Me, Mony, and my Cambodian Khmer Mother In-lawMony Khmer my Cambodian wife.My Cambodian son at the beach.More Temples in Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok KhmerMy Cambodian Khmer Brother In-lawAngkor Wat Temple Cambodia Srok Khmer
My Wife In a Temple at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer
My Wife In a Temple at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer
Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer
Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer
Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Hand Carved Apsara Srey in the Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer
Hand Carved Apsara Srey in the Temples at Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Elephant Rides in Cambodia Srok Khmer!
Elephant Rides in Cambodia Srok Khmer! | Source
Buddhist Monks in Cambodia Srok Khmer
Buddhist Monks in Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Monkeys are everywhere in Cambodia Srok Khmer! Watch out; they are mean and like to steal food!
Monkeys are everywhere in Cambodia Srok Khmer! Watch out; they are mean and like to steal food! | Source
Cambodian Khmer Market Place Southeast Asia
Cambodian Khmer Market Place Southeast Asia | Source
Resting in the heat in Cambodia Srok Khmer
Resting in the heat in Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
Rent a motorcycle moped in Cambodia Srok Khmer
Rent a motorcycle moped in Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
A Cambodian Khmer Farmer
A Cambodian Khmer Farmer | Source
Trying to stay cool when it's almost 120 degrees F in Cambodia Srok Khmer!
Trying to stay cool when it's almost 120 degrees F in Cambodia Srok Khmer! | Source
Me, Mony, and my Cambodian Khmer Mother In-law
Me, Mony, and my Cambodian Khmer Mother In-law | Source
Mony Khmer my Cambodian wife.
Mony Khmer my Cambodian wife. | Source
My Cambodian son at the beach.
My Cambodian son at the beach. | Source
More Temples in Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer
More Temples in Angkor Wat Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source
My Cambodian Khmer Brother In-law
My Cambodian Khmer Brother In-law | Source
Angkor Wat Temple Cambodia Srok Khmer
Angkor Wat Temple Cambodia Srok Khmer | Source

Khmer Numbers 1-10

Source

Language Institute of Natural Khmer (LINK)

Are you looking to learn Cambodian Khmer the Natural way? Check out "LINK" the Language Institute of Natural Khmer. You can learn to speak Khmer the Natural way. Check out the video below and be sure to visit the site!

Learn Khmer Cambodian Now! Start Here!

© 2011 JS Matthew

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Comments 84 comments

Андрей Третьяков 4 months ago

Hi! I need help with the Khmer script of the 19-th century. If anyone could help, please get in touch with me via the e-mail inscriptor@creounity.com

Thanks a lot in advance!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello anna and thanks for clarifying that information. I deleted your first comment so no worries about the spelling errors. I appreciate your comment!

JSMatthew~


anna 2 years ago

Apologies for the typos in previous comment. I meant to type there is indeed a verb TO BE. It is KU JEA. Also there are 2 words for AND. They are HAOY or NUNG. Great article.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 2 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you Liz. I will contact you regarding your offer.

JSMatthew~


Liz 2 years ago

Hi J.S.

We are currently seeking an expatriate Khmer interpreter at the International Committee of the Red Cross. If you are interested, you can contact me at lharris@icrc.org and I can explain further...


Adriana 2 years ago

Buna treaba Learn How To Speak and Write Cambodian: An Introduction To The Khmer Language: Numbers and Letters! Super site: ora exacta.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello kayla. I hope this can help you learn Khmer Cambodian! Thanks for stopping by!

JSMatthew~


kayla 3 years ago

I have always wanted to speak cambodian.


Sonia 3 years ago

Dear JS, thank you ++++ for your support. So far we are doing well with committed students with different profiles coming to us, from complete beginners to more advanced students who want to speed up their understanding of Khmer and listening skills. Along with the Khmer language, comes the culture, as our teachers tells stories related to the daily life in Cambodia (Beginner level) to more complex topics (at noon and 6pm every day, in both Intermediate and Advanced levels, the teachers would comment the headlines in one of the daily Khmer newspapers - very interesting).

We look forward to showing you what we do when you next come to PP. All friends of the Khmer language and of Cambodia are most welcome!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 3 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello Sonia! I checked out your site and I have added a link to your YouTube video as well as your site. You are doing a wonderful thing there and I am happy to share it in this Hub! Thanks.

JSMatthew~


Sonia 3 years ago

Thank you for your great article. Very interesting. We actually started a new school to teach Khmer to Foreigners a couple of months ago. It is called LINK, Language Institute of Natural Khmer, and we use a method based on listening and understanding. It helps a lot in hearing well the sounds, and then speaking Khmer correctly. We have now three levels: beginner, intermediate and advanced. All newcomers get a free our trial class, to see if they like the method. To all interested, please do come to visit us (Sovannaphumi School, Street 200 in PP) so we can talk about all aspects of learning Khmer and compare our experiences, or go to our website www.naturalkhmer.com

Looking forward to hearing from you, and, again, well done for your great article!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

I have to agree with you nurul that speaking is easier than reading and writing. I don't have much trouble drawing the characters but being able to memorize them, what they mean and how they sound is difficult! It's a work in progress. I'll check out your food blog and feel free to check out my Cambodian Khmer Recipes: http://hubpages.com/food/Cambodian-Khmer-Southeast...

I appreciate your comment and glad you found this useful. Thanks!

JSMatthew~


nurul 4 years ago

Very useful page. Thank you!! I find learning to read and write much harder than speaking. My spoken Khmer is still less than basic after 4 months here. And my reading and writing is worse. But I love the language as well as the people here and it is well worth the effort to learn!

I have a food blog:

nurulsculinaryadventures.com

Stop by if you're interested!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello again Dahlia Flower! I appreciate all your comments! I always wanted to study linguistics and become a professional interpreter. Maybe it's not to late! Thank you for reading and leaving insightful comments on my Hubs! I really appreciate it!

JSMatthew~


Dahlia Flower profile image

Dahlia Flower 4 years ago from Canada

This is such an interesting hub. I took a couple courses in linguistics way back. It really interests me and I wish I'd started at a younger age.

You have a lovely wife there.

Now I must read on...to find out what you were doing in Cambodia. I saw a title which might be the one to read.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thank you sunbun143! I worked hard to put this together so I really appreciate your comment! I speak (with a bad accent) enough to get by but I understand more than I can say. I always love going to my wife's friend's parties and they talk about me not knowing that I understand! It is funny when I respond back with something witty!

I am lucky because I am close to my in-laws and they speak Khmer exclusively, although they do understand English. They are "old school". For the record, I can draw the characters but the only word I can write from memory is "khnom" (me, I, myself). You're welcome for the encouragement and I look forward to sharing more in the future.

I am in the process of putting all my recipes into one article and I linked your Sour Soup recipe to it. I am not sure when I will publish but I will let you know! Thanks for stopping by! I appreciate all your comments!

JSMatthew~


sunbun143 profile image

sunbun143 4 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

Wow this is a comprehensive and well-researched article. I have a feeling you speak the language better than I do since my knowledge and pronuciation is very basic and I do not know how to read or write it. I can communicate with my family in Khmer but that's it. Bravo to you for learning your wife's language! And thank you for encouraging me and linking to my hubs!


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Thanks alocsin! You are right that it is not a tonal language. It does change from region to region, but being there is only one dialect and Cambodia a very small place, most speakers have no problem with understanding each other. The funny thing is that in Khmer, they often use the "rolling R" similar to Spanish as in "Carro" I have been told that "whites" (like myself!) and Chinese minorities have the worst accents! It is very different from most Asian languages as a whole, yet very similar to Thai. I guess it is complicated! Thanks for commenting and voting up. I appreciate it. I am looking forward looking into the program you mentioned in your Hub: http://hubpages.com/education/Best-Language-Learni... Thanks for stopping by!

JSMatthew~


alocsin profile image

alocsin 4 years ago from Orange County, CA

I've read that most of the language is not tonal, unlike many of the languages of Southest Asia. Although the Phnom Penh language has developed a minor tone to make up for the gliding r. Voting this Up and Interesting.


J.S.Matthew profile image

J.S.Matthew 4 years ago from Massachusetts, USA Author

Hello Mark!

You are very lucky to be in Srok Khmer! I agree that it is very hard to learn. I guess exposure and practice are the only ways to become proficient. I am not yet able to carry on full conversation but I usually know what is being talked about. The Huffman book is the first I bought. It was used and expensive, not to mention quite large! I found it a bit difficult but I do use it as a reference. You have accomplished quite a bit! It is awesome that you are so gifted in language. Language is a foundation for peace. I appreciate your comment and will check out your Hubs! Thanks for stopping by!

JSMatthew~


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