Learning Khmer

As soon as we came to Cambodia, Andrew registered himself to a Khmer (pronounced as K-mai) class so he could learn the language as soon as possible. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to attend the classes in consistency because of his work (meetings after meetings!) but he really tries hard to keep up with learning the language. When the girls started school, I looked into a place where I could learn Khmer too and started taking a class since the end of September. I’m bilingual (English and Korean) and you’d think picking up a third language should be no sweat. In reality, I’ve been doing nothing but sweating since I started taking the class. There are 33 consonants and 24 vowels. The letters are so beautiful that I feel like I’m making an artwork whenever I write the words. But there are two groups of consonants to which each of the 24 vowels have different sounds. So, in essence, there are 48 vowels. And many vowels sound very similar, although my teacher insists they’re all different. I mean, how different are “uh-ugh” and “uh-ugh”? Yes, many Khmer vowels come with two sounds (like ah-ee or ey) and even come with a final consonant (like om…yes, this is considered a vowel).

It’s been about 3 weeks since I started taking Khmer class and I have to say that it’s already paying off! Last week Thursday, I got a call from someone who spoke in Khmer and I couldn’t understand a thing he was saying. I respectfully said, “I’m sorry, I don’t understand.” Then he hung up and called again in 2 minutes. I pressed the phone closer to my ear this time, as if that’ll help me comprehend his Khmer. Then I heard words like “security” “sala” (school) and “goun” (children) and a lot of other Khmer words. I said, “Sala? Goun? Oh my God! My children!”

My girls always come home at 3:30 but on that day, they had an early release (12:20) and it completely slipped my mind! When I went down, Serena and Reina were with the security guard and I bowed 90 degrees to him while saying, “Ah-koun Chroun! Ah-koun Chroun!” (meaning “Thank you!).

Though Khmer is definitely not easy, I can’t wait till I really learn the language. The stories of people in Cambodia are waiting to be told. Until then, I’ll focus on communicating with my security guard and picking up my children on time!

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