Introducing Free “Mini-Stories” with Audio for Learning Khmer Through Listening

I’m happy to share with you a new set of free Khmer learning materials, which includes over 180 minutes of audio recordings with transcripts.

These materials comprise 60 short stories that are designed to help you pick up Khmer through listening with minimal effort.

The stories come from the collection of “Mini-Stories” that were created for the language-learning site LingQ and have been translated into many languages.

I’ve had them translated into Khmer and recorded so that Khmer language learners can now benefit from them.

You can find the materials here:

English text with Khmer translations:

https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1R54YcxL3Msu2RDeyaVsLfo1hUpdPyJpptEnR6EniweA/edit?usp=sharing

MP3 recordings of each Mini-Story:

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1pqLTHfZkpPuf8ZwJ65Q7hmDvkJk4WhFP?usp=sharing

Contact me if you have any corrections, suggestions on formatting, or would like to contribute, for example by providing further recordings for this material, or are interested in creating and sharing similar material.

It would be helpful to hear these stories recorded with a variety of voices and speaking styles, and the more materials there are like this, the better.

How the Mini-Stories work

Mike Is A Cook Question Khmer
“Mike is a cook at a restaurant. Is Mike a cook? Yes, Mike is a cook at a restaurant.”

The stories provide a source of listening input that uses language in a highly repetitive yet meaningful way that’s different from ordinary language learning materials.

This repetition, achieved through retelling the stories using different perspectives and many questions, makes them easier to understand and makes it easier to remember and pick up the new words and structures that you hear.

Understanding the stories from different perspectives and answering the questions also helps train you to think in Khmer.

To better understand how they work, let’s look at the first Mini-Story in the series, called “Mike Is A Cook”.

The story is first told in the third person, telling us about Mike:

Mike gets up at 6:00am every morning. ម៉ៃក្រោកពីគេងនៅម៉ោង០៦.០០ព្រឹកជារៀងរាល់ព្រឹក។
He makes breakfast and drinks a coffee. គាត់ចំអិនអាហារពេលព្រឹក និងផឹកកាហ្វេ១កែវ។
He drives to work in his car. គាត់បើកឡានទៅធ្វើការ។
His work starts at 7:30am. ការងាររបស់គាត់ចាប់ផ្តើមនៅម៉ោង៧.៣០នាទីព្រឹក។
Mike is a cook at a restaurant. ម៉ៃជាចុងភៅនៅភោជនីយដ្ឋាន។
He makes food for hungry customers. គាត់ចំអិនអាហារអោយអតិថិជនដែលឃ្លានបាយ។
The customers are from many countries. អតិថិជនមកពីប្រទេសជាច្រើនផ្សេងៗគ្នា។
They speak many different languages. ពូកគេនិយាយភាសាជាច្រើនខុសៗគ្នា។
Mike can meet many friendly people. ម៉ៃអាចជួបមនុស្សរួសរាយរាក់ទាក់ជាច្រើននាក់។
Mike is happy when he talks to the customers. ម៉ៃសប្បាយចិត្តនៅពេលគាត់និយាយាជាមួយអតិថិជនទាំងនោះ។

Next, we get to hear the same story told again, but this time in the first-person perspective, with Mike himself telling the story:

I get up at 6:00am every morning. ខ្ញុំក្រោកពីគេងនៅម៉ោង០៦.០០ព្រឹក ជារៀងរាល់ព្រឹក។
I make breakfast and drink a coffee. ខ្ញុំចំអិនអាហារពេលព្រឹក និងផឹកកាហ្វេ១កែវ។
I drive to work in my car. ខ្ញុំបើកឡានទៅធ្វើការ។
My work starts at 7:30am. ការងាររបស់ខ្ញុំចាប់ផ្តើមនៅម៉ោង៧.៣០នាទីព្រឹក។
I am a cook at a restaurant. ខ្ញុំជាចុងភៅ នៅភោជនីយដ្ឋាន។
I make food for hungry customers. ខ្ញុំចំអិនអាហារអោយអតិថិជនដែលឃ្លានបាយ។
The customers are from many different countries. អតិថិជនមកពីប្រទេសជាច្រើនផ្សេងៗគ្នា។
They speak many different languages. ពួកគេនិយាយភាសាជាច្រើនខុសៗគ្នា។
I can meet many friendly people. ខ្ញុំអាចជួបមនុស្សរួសរាយរាក់ទាក់ជាច្រើននាក់។
I am happy when I talk to the customers. ខ្ញុំសប្បាយចិត្តនៅពេលខ្ញុំនិយាយជាមួយអតិថិជនទាំងនោះ។

Finally, we hear the story again, but this time, each sentence of the story is followed by a question, with the answer given right after:

Questions: សំណួរៈ
1) Mike wakes up at 6:00am every morning. ១) ម៉ៃក្រោកពីគេងនៅម៉ោង០៦.០០ព្រឹក ជារៀងរាល់ព្រឹក។
Does Mike wake up early? តើម៉ៃភ្ញាក់ដឹងខ្លួនពីព្រលឹមឬ?
Yes, Mike wakes up at 6:00am every morning. បាទ ម៉ៃភ្ញាក់នៅម៉ោង០៦.០០ព្រឹក ជារៀងរាល់ព្រឹក។
2) Mike drinks a coffee. ២) ម៉ៃផឹកកាហ្វេ០១កែវ។
Does Mike drink a tea? តើម៉ៃផឹកតែឬ?
No, Mike does not drink a tea, he drinks a coffee. ទេ ម៉ៃអត់ផឹកតែទេ គាត់ផឹកកាហ្វេ។
3) Mike drives his car to work. ៣) ម៉ៃបើកឡានទៅធ្វើការ។
Does Mike drive his car to work? តើម៉ៃបើកឡានទៅធ្វើការឬ?
Yes, Mike drives his car to work. បាទ ម៉ៃបើកឡានទៅធ្វើការ។
4) Mike’s work starts at 7:30am. ៤) ការងាររបស់ម៉ៃចាប់ផ្តើមនៅម៉ោង៧.៣០នាទីព្រឹក។
Does Mike’s work start at 7:00am? តើការងាររបស់ម៉ៃចាប់ផ្តើមនៅម៉ោង៧.០០ព្រឹកឬ?
No, Mike’s work does not start at 7:00am. ទេ ការងាររបស់ម៉ៃមិនមែនចាប់ផ្តើមនៅម៉ោង៧.០០ព្រឹកទេ
It starts at 7:30am. វាចាប់ផ្តើមនៅម៉ោង០៧.៣០នាទីព្រឹក។
5) Mike is a cook at a restaurant. ៥) ម៉ៃជាចុងភៅនៅភោជនីយដ្ឋាន។
Is Mike a cook? តើម៉ៃជាចុងភៅឬ?
Yes, Mike is a cook at a restaurant. បាទ ម៉ៃជាចុងភៅនៅភោជនីយដ្ឋាន។
6) The customers are from many different countries. ៦) អតិថិជនមកពីប្រទេសជាច្រើនផ្សេងៗគ្នា។
Are the customers from one country? តើអតិថិជនទាំងអស់មកពីប្រទេសតែមួយឬ?
No, the customers are not from one country. ទេ អតិថិជនទាំងអស់មិនមែនមកពីប្រទេសតែមួយទេ។
They are from many different countries. ពួកគេមកពីប្រទេសជាច្រើនផ្សេងៗគ្នា
7) The customers are friendly. ៧) អតិថិជនទាំងអស់នោះរួសរាយរាក់ទាក់។
Are the customers friendly? តើអតិថិជនទាំងអស់នោះរួសរាក់ទាក់?
Yes, the customers are friendly. បាទ អតិថិជនទាំងអស់នោះរួសរាយរាក់ទាក់។
8) Mike feels happy when he talks to the customers. ៨) ម៉ៃមានអារម្មណ៍សប្បាយចិត្តនៅពេលគាត់និយាយជាមួយអតិថិជនទាំងអស់នោះ។
Does Mike feel happy when he talks to the customers? តើម៉ៃមានអារម្មណ៍សប្បាយចិត្តឬ នៅពេលគាត់និយាយជាមួយអតិថិជនទាំងអស់នោះ?
Yes, Mike feels happy when he talks to the customers. បាទ ម៉ៃមានអារម្មណ៍សប្បាយចិត្តនៅពេលគាត់និយាយជាមួយអតិថិជនទាំងអស់នោះ

All of the Mini-Stories follow this basic structure of the story told twice from different perspectives followed by a series of questions, but the higher levels add more variations.

For example, instead of just first-person then third-person, the first two stories might be told with a different pair of perspectives, such as third person singular, then third person plural, where another character is included.

Questions go from simple yes/no questions in the first level to questions asking who, what, when, where, and why.

In later stories they also can shift perspective, for example by putting the story in the past or in the future.

To pick up words and structures in a language and use them naturally, you need to hear them many times and often in different contexts.

The different perspectives and many questions provide a lot of repetition to help you achieve this, and they train you to think in Khmer.

Using the Mini-Stories to learn Khmer

The LingQ Approach

The LingQ website and app are built around listening to materials in the language you’re learning with transcripts that you can study by highlighting and saving words to learn what they mean and review them.

The approach advocates spending a lot of time listening repeatedly to interesting content in the language you’re learning on your smartphone or MP3 player, and spending some time on the site reviewing the transcripts and learning new words to gain better understanding of what you’re listening to.

The idea is by becoming familiar with the language, its patterns, and how words are used through listening a lot first, you will gradually be able to speak more and more without a lot of effort.

The freemium site covers and includes content for many languages, but like most Southeast Asian languages, Khmer is not among them yet.

You can replicate the LingQ approach somewhat using the transcripts of the Mini-Stories in Google Sheets.

For example by using Chrome’s Google Translate plugin, you can highlight an word or phrase you don’t know in Khmer and get an English translation.

By repeatedly listening to the recordings while looking up unknown words in between, the meaning of what one is listening to should become clearer and clearer over time.

It’s probably possible to start as a complete beginner with this approach and these kinds of recordings and gain a good comprehension of them, however, many total newbies to Khmer who don’t know a related language may find this daunting, especially having to deal with the Khmer script.

For these beginning learners, it may be advisable to start with simpler listening materials and other exposure to become more familiar with the language first.

Compatibility with the ALG approach

While using the Mini-Stories as part of learning Khmer can be compatible with the Automatic Language Growth approach that was used by LINK (Language Institute of Natural Khmer—unrelated to LingQ although the acronym is pronounced the same way), there are some aspects of the ALG approach that should be noted.

Both the ALG approach and LingQ’s approach put great emphasis on learning through comprehensible input by listening to the language one is learning in a way that’s both highly interesting and understandable.

While the LingQ approach encourages using translation to learn new words, ALG advocates picking up words through context, especially real-life experience and meaningful happenings, for picking up words, and wants learners to avoid entirely the use of translation in their language acquisition.

The goal of ALG is to have learners of any age, starting from scratch, come as close as possible to native-like abilities in their second language, being able to use it practically as well as if it were their first language.

ALG argues that using abilities gained with maturity to study and think about language interfere with this, and explains why adult language learners tend to do worse than children.

In this view, using translation to understand and learn a language would produce a different and less native-like representation of language than learning through context.

It should be said that LingQ’s use of translation is about understanding the overall meaning of interesting texts, rather than focusing on memorizing individual words.

It thus has common ground with the ALG approach in the idea that words should be learned through hearing and understanding the word in context many times.

The difficulty in applying the ALG approach of learning a language from the start without looking up or translating words is that, as with most languages, very little material or teaching exists in Khmer that is interesting for adult learners while providing enough context to pick up the language.

LINK provided teaching like this, however, it closed in 2016.

One compromise in learning using the Mini-Stories could be to become familiar with the stories by reading them first in English (or the various translations if they exist in one’s native language), and then later listening to them in Khmer.

This would boost one’s comprehension of the stories while avoiding the use of direct translation.

Research finds that we generally remember the meaning of what we read and hear, while most details like the exact wording are discarded from memory.

That suggests such an approach of more indirect use of translation might largely avoid the problems that ALG seeks to avoid of prematurely making connections with words in one’s native language.

Using the Mini-Stories to teach English in Cambodia

If you are teaching English in Cambodia, your students may find the English versions of the Mini-Stories useful.

You can find them on LingQ.com and download them (registration required):

As with learners in many countries, many Cambodian students may have studied English academically and therefore know a lot of vocabulary and grammar but struggle to naturally understand and speak the language.

Listening to materials like the Mini-Stories, with their use of variation and repetition, and especially their use of questions and answers, can be helpful in training these learners to think in English.

Limitations

This set of Mini-Stories, while not being tied to any specific country’s culture, contain a lot of content that’s based in experiences in Western or developed countries, and as such it’s not really reflective of everyday life for most Cambodians.

This may actually be beneficial for many foreign learners who may find the content more familiar than content originating in Cambodia, and thus comprehend more, but it would be good to have further content like this that also reflects everyday life and situations in Cambodia

Although not in the format as the Mini-Stories, a lot of listening content discussing life in Cambodia this is available from Aakanee.com, which I introduced in a previous post.

Contribute

It would be helpful to have more recordings for these stories so that learners can hear different speakers of Khmer and different styles of speaking—for example, male and female, young and old, fast and slow, soft and cute or loud and exaggerated, and so on.

Hearing a language spoken by multiple speakers is very helpful for acquiring the language, especially when the sounds of the language are very different from one’s own, as is the case with Khmer for speakers of Western languages.

If you are interested in contributing or sharing recordings or other material like this, please get in touch.

Free Khmer Language Learning Materials

If you’re learning Khmer and looking for resources to help you pick up the Cambodian language, you must check out the site aakanee.com.

This site contains a large and growing collection of resources for picking up Khmer and other languages, namely Thai and Isaan, through listening to and understanding content in the language.

For Khmer learners, the site features a collection of nearly 30 hours of audio by two Khmer speakers giving detailed descriptions of illustrations about everyday life in Southeast Asia.

If you’re at an intermediate level or even are a beginner who knows some vocabulary, you should be able to follow the recordings while looking at the corresponding pictures and pick up language from them.

The speakers talk about the pictures in great detail and also give additional commentary on life and customs in Cambodia relating to the illustrations.

The site also has a collection audio recordings of Khmer speakers talking about different topics and telling stories about their lives.

Even more advanced learners will probably be able to pick up a lot of new vocabulary from the recordings on this site.

There are also transcripts of many of the recordings, and even a growing dictionary and corpus.

For complete beginners who want to pick up Khmer through comprehensible input without other study, the audio materials are likely to be too advanced to pick up language from efficiently at their level.

They might instead have a tutor describe pictures they like and record these descriptions. They can have their Khmer tutor point to what they are talking about in the picture so they know what they are talking about.

Besides the illustrations there are collections of images of everyday vocabulary and communication situations. So far these don’t have accompanying recordings, but they could also be used with a tutor or any Khmer speaker who can provide descriptions.

The site was inspired in part by the Automatic Language Growth (ALG) approach, which was used by LINK (Language Institute of Natural Khmer) to teach Khmer in Phnom Penh until it closed down in 2016, and the AUA Thai Program, which has been teaching Thai in Bangkok with the method since the mid-1980s.

The Automatic Language Growth Approach to Learning Languages

This new video tells the story of ALG, or Automatic Language Growth, the language learning approach used at LINK (Language Institute of Natural Khmer) in Phnom Penh which originated with the AUA Thai Program in Bangkok, Thailand.

You can learn more about the video in the post on Beyond Language Learning, and find a script of the video with further details on the site’s page about Automatic Language Growth.

You can learn more about LINK and how it used the ALG method to help students effortlessly pick up the Khmer language on this site’s page about the Language Institute of Natural Khmer.

 

Pick up Khmer with Free Khmer Language Lesson Videos

Free Khmer Lessons - Natural Khmer YouTube channelThe Khmer language school LINK, or Language Institute of Natural Khmer, closed down in 2016, but its YouTube channel remains online with more than 60 videos that you can use to help you pick up Khmer.

What makes these different from almost all other language teaching videos is that they’re designed for everyone, regardless of first language, to pick up the language from without translation.

The Khmer teachers do this by using a lot of non-verbal communication like pictures, drawings, props, and gestures to make the meaning of what they are saying understandable.

With this kind of understandable experience with language, known as comprehensible input, we can learn languages without conscious study.

This is the basis of the Automatic Language Growth approach used by LINK, which suggests adults can learn languages as well and as easily as children routinely do with the right experience and approach.

If you’re unfamiliar with this approach, the best way to understand it better is to just watch some of the videos, starting with their sample beginner classes, or their set of 60 lessons:

These lessons cover many topics from Khmer family words to Khmer numbers to cultural differences like Cambodian and Western breakfasts.

Some of the videos have conversations where a Cambodian person speaks Khmer and a foreigner speaks English or French:

In the ALG approach used by LINK, conversations like this where each person speaks their own language are known as Crosstalk.

With Crosstalk, each speaker uses non-verbal communication as needed to make themselves understood, and as participants understand more and more of each other’s language the need for non-verbal communication decreases.

(This playlist has just the videos with Crosstalk, while this one has the other videos that use Khmer only:)

In all these video lessons total around two to three hours. While this isn’t enough content to learn a great deal of Khmer from, this content is still a way for beginners and even more advanced learners to pick up vocabulary and hear how it is used in context.

In the near future, we may see much more highly understandable content like this, perhaps even enough that one can learn a lot of the language just by watching it without any other study and practice.

Beginner Khmer Lesson Videos

If you’re new to the Khmer language, there are some videos that provide a great introduction to the language of Cambodia entirely in the language.

These YouTube videos are demonstrations of beginner classes at LINK (Language Institute of Natural Khmer), a school that taught Khmer using a natural approach of picking up the language through listening to interesting comprehensible input.

The videos contain a lot of basic vocabulary, phrases, and concepts from everyday life in Cambodia, and are worth watching repeatedly.

Here is the first one:

Even if you are a total beginner in Khmer, you will find that with repeated viewing, the meanings of more and more words start to become clear.

You might find that you even understand some words on the first viewing, but if you feel like you don’t understand anything, don’t be discouraged.

Focus on what’s happening and what the teachers are communicating with their pictures, just making guesses rather than focusing on trying to work out the language.

After watching a few times this way and perhaps coming back to it after a day or two, you may be surprised to find that many things suddenly make more sense.

Here’s another video with a similar beginner class demonstration:

If you watch this video after viewing the first one a number of times, you may find that some words “click” for you when you hear them again in a slightly different context.

You may be wondering: why not just give translations of the words to teach them?

One main reason for this is the approach used by schools like LINK, called Automatic Language Growth, which is intended to provide the foundation from which you can develop a very high level of fluency.

Really knowing a word and being able to use it fluently like a native speaker means among other things, being able to pronounce it clearly, understand its correct usage, and having it come to mind without having to translate.

These things come not from simply knowing a translation for the word, but from having many understandable experiences with that word that come from hearing it in a variety of contexts.

The focus of the teaching at schools like LINK is to provide these kind of experiences in abundance.

With this in mind, the approach also recommends a “silent period” listening to a new language with understanding for many hours, without trying to produce it or analyze it by doing things like comparing it to one’s first language.

By allowing speaking to emerge naturally and gradually without forcing it, you can avoid the problems many adult learners have in second languages such as unclear pronunciation and “broken” grammar.

As words become clearer over time through understandable experience, you will eventually start to be able to produce the language correctly and with good pronunciation without conscious effort.

This blog will look at methods and resources to get these understandable experiences in Khmer.

While the school has since closed, LINK’s YouTube channel remains and beyond their sample beginner classes is a lot more content, which we’ll take a look at it in another post.

To learn to speak Khmer fluently, you need comprehensible input

If you want to learn and become fluent in Khmer—or any other language—you need to hear a lot of the language spoken in ways that you can understand what is being said.

This kind of understandable exposure to language is known as comprehensible input.

We get comprehensible input when we can understand what is being communicated, even if we don’t know all the words and grammar being used.

For example, even if we don’t know a language at all, we can understand what a speaker of that language is saying if they use gestures and drawings to get across the meaning as they speak.

With enough of this input, we will start to understand what words mean, and eventually be able to use these words ourselves.

Dr. Stephen Krashen, who popularized the concept of comprehensible input, demonstrated it with two short German lessons:

With these lessons, he showed the difference between incomprehensible input and input that’s made highly comprehensible to beginners using things like gestures and context.

Here’s a similar demonstration that uses Khmer to show the difference between incomprehensible and comprehensible input:

Experts have called comprehensible input the foundation and sine qua non of language acquisition, meaning that without it, nothing is possible.

It is essential to get many hours of comprehensible input if you want to become fluent in a language.

For a few years, a school taught Khmer using an approach based entirely on comprehensible input, giving students hours of understandable communication and experiences entirely in Khmer.

Known as LINK, or the Language Institute of Natural Khmer, the school, based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, posted many videos of their teaching on their YouTube channel, such as this sample beginner class:

The teachers use non-verbal communication like drawings, gestures, and actions to make what they are saying understandable, even to someone who knows no Khmer.

This way, if you are interested in what is being communicated, you can pick up the language without effort.

Unfortunately, the critical role of comprehensible input in language learning is often overlooked in second language teaching, especially for adults.

Many, if not most, language schools and programs focus on study and practice of the language, leaving students on their own when it comes to getting lots of comprehensible input.

What’s more, many online videos intended to teach languages like Khmer provide very little comprehensible input.

They often simply teach lists of words with translations, instead of letting you hear these words in context, using images, sounds, and interesting stories and examples that would let you pick up their meanings and pronunciations naturally.

Sadly, LINK closed down in 2016, so the school is not available anymore as an option for anyone who wants to pick up Khmer through comprehensible input.

This current site is intended to provide information on how to get comprehensible input in Khmer, sharing the best methods and resources.

Bookmark and follow this site and watch for more! Get in touch if you have any resources or ideas to share. And link to and share this site if you find it helpful.