Learn How To Speak and Write Cambodian: An Introduction To The Khmer Language: Numbers and Letters
Cambodian Khmer People
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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
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.
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Cambodian Khmer Vowels
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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, 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. Cambodian For Beginners
Independent Cambodian Khmer 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
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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