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Learn Khmer: Part 1: Greetings & Sounds

Updated on December 16, 2012


Khmer is the language that Cambodians speak. Cambodia is a country located in Southeast Asia near Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam. The culture, as theorists say, is a blend of Asian Indian and Chinese cultures. Hence, the language sounds will often sound like those of the Indian and Chinese languages. In addition, Cambodia was also colonized by the French for a short period in the early 1860s, and thus, words that the Khmer language never had were taken from the French language.

Note: Cambodia is the name of the country. "Cambodian" is the word that is used to describe people of this ethnicity. The language, however, is called "Khmer." It is acceptable to describe a person as Khmer, but it is NOT acceptable to say, "I speak Cambodian." Nonetheless, many people still say the phrase. Just know that it is incorrect grammar.

Khmer Sounds

*A lot of Khmer sounds do not exist in the English language. Some of their consonants are what I call "blended" sounds.

For example, I will write the number 2 in Khmer in this way:

(b+p)ee = two (in Khmer)

This is because in Khmer, there is no pure "B" sound like in the English word "bee" and no pure "P" sound like in the English word "pee." The "(b+p)" indicates a blend of a "B" and a "P" sound.

Here is another example:

(d+t)ai = tea (in Khmer)

Khmer does have a pure "T" sound like in the English word "tie," but for this particular word, there is a blend of a "D" sound like in the English word "die" and the "T" sound.

*Pronouncing the word with only a pure "T" sound will change the word's meaning from "tea" to "Thai," as in the language of the people of Thailand.

Here is another example:

(j+ch)aa = yes (in Khmer, for females)

Khmer does have a pure "ch" sound like in the English word "challenge," but saying this word without the blended "J" and "ch" sound but, instead, with only the pure "ch" sound will change its meaning to "fried food."

  • chaa = "fried food"

Here is another example:

(v+w)aii = to hit (in Khmer)

There are no pure "V" or "W" sounds in Khmer. An English speaker could simply say "vaii" or "waii" and still be understood, but some Cambodians will notice the lack of a true Khmer accent. Thus, the blended "(v+w)" sound is always more pleasant to hear.

Here is another example:

(g+k)aa = small cup (in Khmer)

There is a pure "K" sound in Khmer like in the English word "kid," but as you might have figured out by now, the blended "G" and "K" sound is what is best for this word.


The Khmer phrase for "hello" is:

SUER S(d+t)ey <-- notice the blended "D" and "T" sound in the phrase

*The word "SUER" should sound like the English word "sewer." However, at the very end of the word, the "R" should be cut short. It should still be there, but barely heard.

Suer S(d+t)ey, when literally translated, means "happy" or "good," but Cambodians use it as their greeting, so in this sense, it means "hello."

The Khmer phrase for "good morning" is:

Aa Ruon Suer S(d+t)ey

Notice that the phrase "suer s(d+t)ey," which means "good," is included in "good morning."

The Khmer phrase for "good afternoon" is:

Sai Yuan Suer S(d+t)ey

Notice, once again, that "suer s(d+t)ey" is included in "good afternoon."

The Khmer phrase for "good evening" is:

Ria (D+T)rey Suer S(d+t)ey

The phrase "suer s(d+t)ey" is also included in "good evening."

If you want to ask someone, "How are you?"

Sok Sa (B+P)ai (D+T)ae?

*Adding the word, (d+t)ae, at the end of a sentence, in Khmer, often changes the sentence to a question.

And If it just so happens that you are doing well, you can reply, saying:

Sok Sa (B+P)ai

*The phrase "sok sa (b+p)ai" is also commonly used as a greeting. It can mean "hello," but it is a more casual form of greeting someone compared to the phrase "Suer S(d+t)ey."

[If you guys need more help with Khmer sounds, because they are not easy for nonnative speakers, feel free to check out the video below so you can hear what the words sound like.]

Learn Khmer Video: Part 1: Greetings & Sounds


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    • profile image

      anonymous 3 years ago

      áž” for a "pure B" sound.

    • joteo profile image

      Joseph Teo 4 years ago from Siem Reap, Cambodia

      I have visited a number of videos teaching the khmai language, I must say your videos especially on the blended sounds in the language distinguishes itself, my thanks

    • profile image

      steve choo 4 years ago

      Thanks, Lilly. You are a great teacher. I visited Phnom Penh from April 30 to May 3, 2013. Fascinated with the Khmer language. Have checked out many other youtube videos to learn the language and found yours to be most suitable for me, although others are useful in various ways. Am going to Phnom Penh again on May 25 and am looking forward to testing out what I have learned from you and others. Time permitting, could you upload more videos on the Khmer language for enthusiasts to learn? Thank you very much, Teacher.

    • J.S.Matthew profile image

      JS Matthew 5 years ago from Massachusetts, USA

      I am learning Khmer and I find it more difficult to write than to speak. I have written some Hubs on Khmer food and Cambodia Srok Khmer. It really is a great language and culture and is interesting to learn. Nice to meet a Khmerican on HubPages! My wife is from Cambodia and I hope to visit Angkor Watt someday. Nice Hub! Voted up and shared! Welcome to HubPages! I think you will love the community here!


    • Mistyvermin969 profile image

      Mistyvermin969 5 years ago from Los Angeles

      Great hub!