How You Can Pick Up Khmer with Tutors or Language Exchange Partners

If you want to learn Khmer but think it’s too difficult or aren’t sure how to go about it, I recommend watching two great videos that inspired me to continue with the language by acquiring it with a tutor: “How to Acquire any language NOT learn it!” and “How to Language Exchange!

I’ve written a post based on the videos on my blog Beyond Language Learning called How to Acquire a Language with Tutors and Exchanges, and Speak It Like a Native Speaker.

It details the method that language instructor and polyglot Jeff Brown sets out, and my suggestions about how to use it based on the ALG approach that’s used in the AUA Thai Program and former Language Institute of Natural Khmer (LINK):

In the first video, Brown explains how we become fluent in languages not through things like grammar study or practice and correction, but through lots of comprehensible input: hearing the language in ways that we can understand what’s being said and pick it up.

He tells us how he gets comprehensible input from tutors and language partners, and shows us how he uses his method to acquire Egyptian Arabic and speak it within one year.

In the second video, Brown demonstrates his language exchange method, showing how to get your partner to speak the language you want to acquire in ways you can understand using actions, pictures, and stories.

With his method, you first pick up lots of basic vocabulary by having your tutors or partners give you commands in the language to do actions that they demonstrate (called Total Physical Response, or TPR), and describe pictures and ask you simple questions about them, and

Brown suggests using magazines that have many photos. Another source of illustrations, which I introduced in a previous post, is aakanee.com, which has many illustrations about everyday life and culture in Southeast Asia.

Once you acquire enough vocabulary this way, you start having them interpret or retell stories using illustrated children’s books that have a lot of pictures.

In previous posts I’ve recommended sources of free children’s stories you can find online: Let’s Read! Khmer E-books and the Let’s Read site.

The resources section of my post on Beyond Language Learning has links to more sources of illustrated stories online.

Brown highly recommends stories for language acquisition and spends most of the time in his sessions on stories, which he records to listen to again later.

Stories are powerful tools for language acquisition because they are interesting and understandable through having meaningful structures and sequences of events.

Our brains remember stories better than other kinds of information, and even treat them in some ways like real-life experiences.

Recommendations

The main thing I would recommend is not to try to repeat or speak the language you’re acquiring from the very start, as Brown does in the video.

Instead, I would recommend focusing on listening a lot first to “get an ear” for the language, learning to hear the sounds and pronunciation clearly.

This will lead to a more native-like pronunciation when you do start to speak Khmer or whatever language you want to acquire, because you’ve heard and internalized a clear “mental image” of how the language should sound.

Your speaking may not be perfect at first, but it will over time naturally converge on this mental image you’ve acquired through listening.

Achieving a very high level of pronunciation can be important for languages like Khmer, which have sound distinctions that are unfamiliar to learners who speak unrelated languages like English, and which have many speakers who are not used to hearing their language spoken by foreigners.

To avoid speaking Khmer at the start, you can simply speak and respond in your own language that your partner understands, such as English, then start to use Khmer as it comes to mind automatically without trying.

This natural speaking will start like a child learning a new language, with words and simple phrases that you’ve heard many times, and eventually grow to the ability to express yourself in longer sentences.

For things you can’t express automatically in Khmer, you can just continue to use English.

With a Khmer speaker whose English is at a similar level to your Khmer, you could both pick up each other’s language at the same time by each speaking your own language, using things like the pictures and stories to provide context and topics.

In the ALG approach this kind of communication, where each person speaks their own language and uses non-verbal tools as needed to get across meaning, is known as Crosstalk.

Audio of Free Khmer stories

In a previous post I introduced a collection of illustrated Khmer language children’s stories created by Cambodians and available as free e-books.

The stories themselves don’t include sound but I’ve found recordings of many of them on YouTube.

I recommend using the stories with a tutor who can not only read them but describe the pictures and talk about them in different ways to provide comprehensible input.

At the same time, it’s helpful to be able to hear different voices and different speaking styles when learning a language.

As you use the stories with your tutor you’ll be able to understand the text of the stories more and more, so recordings like the ones in these videos can make more understandable listening materials.

The Brave Tory (តូរីដ៏ក្លាហាន)

តូរីដ៏ក្លាហាន |Tory Dor Kla Han| អំណានរឿងសម្រាប់កុមារ New Khmer Story Telling 2018

និទានរឿងតូរីដ៏ក្លាហាន Tori Brave khmer story (very loud background music)

Green Star (ផ្កាយបៃតង)

និទានរឿង ផ្កាយពណ៍បៃតង khmer story

The Quest to Find Light (បេសកកម្មស្វែងរកពន្លឺ)

រឿងនិទាន រឿងបេសកកម្មស្វែងរកពន្លឺ khmer story

The Floating Garden (សួនបណ្តែតទឹក)

រឿង សួនបណ្ដែតទឹក, The River Vegetables Garden Float, khmer Legend, khmer Fairy Tales

THE GIANT MICROPHONE (មេក្រូយក្ស)

រឿង មេក្រូយក្ស |រឿងនិទានកុមារ |New Khmer Fairy Tale 2018 The Giant Speaker

កានិទានរឿង មេក្រូយក្ស khmer story (background music very loud)

Wunnie, The Heroine (វីរនារីវុនី)

វីរនារី វុនី |រឿងគំនិតអប់រំសម្រាប់កុមារ|និទានព្រេងខ្មែរ |រឿងខ្មែរសម្រាប់កុមារ|Khmer Story Amnan

THE NATURE PRINCESS ព្រះនាងធម្មជាតិ

និទានរឿង ព្រះនាងធម្មជាតិ Natural princess khmer story

BIG-EYED BEE ឃ្មុំភ្នែកធំ

រឿងឃ្មុំភ្នែកធំ/ Big-Eyed Bee_khmer/ S_H Smile

Cambodian Folk Tales | រឿង ឃ្មុំភ្នែកធំ | រឿងនិទានសម្រាប់កុមារ | រឿងអប់រំខ្លី (pops)

PRACH AND SATHAE ប្រាជ្ញ និង សាថេ

រឿងប្រាជ្ញ និង សាថេ​ | រឿងអប់រំសម្រាប់កុមារ | Cambodian Tales for Kids

Kids Fairy Tale Story About Brach And Sathe​ រឿងនិទានខ្មែរ ប្រាជ្ធនិងសាថេ (loud music)

THE STORYBOOK PRINCESS ព្រះនាងតមសំណួរ

ព្រះនាងតមសំណួរ | Five-question Queen | រឿងនិទានសម្រាប់កុមារ

 

Experimental Videos for Learning Khmer with Annotated Illustrations

khmer language description annotated video coffee shop

In another post I introduced Aakanee.com, a website full of great content for learning Khmer through listening, as well as content for the Thai and Isaan languages.

There are hours of descriptions in Khmer of illustrations of everyday activities as well as Khmer festivals.

Learners who understand some Khmer already should be able to listen to and understand the descriptions while looking at the illustrations, and pick up Khmer vocabulary this way.

Unfortunately, none of the content so far is as useful in itself for Khmer beginners and learners who don’t know any Khmer.

The descriptions are too fast and complex and without enough clues for a beginner to efficiently listen and connect what they’re hearing moment by moment with what they’re seeing.

As a beginner, what you could do with the images is show them to a Khmer tutor or other native speaker and have them describe them in simple language while pointing to what they are describing in the image.

By seeing them point to what they are talking about you can connect what you are hearing with the image and be able to pick up the language.

An experiment

As an experiment I’ve tried to adapt some of the existing content so that it might be more useful to beginners and even more advanced learners.

I’ve taken a couple of frames from the Southeast Asia illustrations and created videos that annotate them in sync with the corresponding recording describing the frame.

Whenever the speaker refers to something in the frame, you see it circled or highlighted.

I’ve also added some images that appear to show things that the speaker refers to but doesn’t appear on screen.

Here are a couple of the videos I’ve made and posted on the Natural Khmer Language / Learn Khmer Naturally YouTube channel:

Source: https://www.aakanee.com/AC-Khmer/O/SEA-FriedRice-Sakanan-01.html

Source: https://www.aakanee.com/AC-Khmer/O/CoffeeSoftDrink_Sakanan_03.html

I haven’t continued with this project as I’ve found it rather time-consuming to annotate each image, but I want to share what I created so far to see if anyone finds it useful.

I was able to use my limited understanding of spoken Khmer, as well as looking up a few things from the pages on Aakanee.com, to know how to annotate the videos in sync with the audio.

I’m wondering in particular how understandable this material might be to a beginner or lower-level Khmer learner, and if they would be able to pick up a lot of the language efficiently from this kind of annotated material.

Unfortunately with Khmer, as with most languages, there appears to be virtually no video content as of yet for adult beginners to pick up the language from efficiently with the help of visuals and non-verbal communication.

This is something I hope to change very soon!

Free Khmer Language Story for Learners with Audio and Transcript: A Picnic

picnic-2039993Here’s yet another story that I’ve had translated into and recorded in Khmer to go with the collection of “mini-stories” I shared and the ones about buying coffee and smartphone addiction.

Here are the links to the story and audio:

A Picnic story – Khmer transcript and English original (Google Spreadsheet)

A Picnic story (mp3)

A Picnic – Questions & Answers (mp3)

Like the other stories, the short story is told and then retold with the circling technique, asking a lot of questions about each sentence, right after each sentence.

Note that the English and Khmer translation do not always match word for word. You can use the English as a guide for the general meaning of each sentence, but it’s best to let the meaning of words become clear by hearing them again and again in various contexts.

A Picnic ពិចនិក
It was a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon. អាកាសធាតុក្តៅនិងមានពន្លឺថ្ងៃនៅរសៀលថ្ងៃសៅរ៍
Bob and Alice were taking a walk outdoors. ប៊ប់​និងអាលីសកំពុងតែដើរលេងនៅខាងក្រៅ។
Because the weather was so nice, they decided to have a picnic. ដោយសាអាកាសធាតុល្អខ្លាំង ពូកគេសម្រេចចិត្តធ្វើពិចនិកមួយ។
So they went to an indoor market to buy some food and they brought it to a park. ដូច្នេះពួកគេបានចូលទៅក្នុងផ្សារទិញម្ហូបអាហារខ្លះ ហើយពួកគេយកម្ហូបអាហារនោះទៅសួនច្បារ។
They sat down on the grass and began to enjoy their meal. ពួកគេអង្គុយនៅលើស្មៅហើយចាប់ផ្តើមញ៉ាំអាហារ។
This is delicious, Alice said as they ate. «ម្ហូបនេះឆ្ញាញ់» អាលីសនិយាយនៅពេលពួកគេកំពុងញ៉ាំអាហារ។
Yes, Bob agreed. “All of this food tastes great.” «បាទ» ប៊ប់យល់ស្រប។ «អាហារទាំងអស់នេះមានរសជាតិឆ្ងាញ់អស្ចារ្យ»
Suddenly, dark clouds filled the sky and it started to rain. ភ្លាមៗនោះ ដុំពពកខ្មៅដាសពេញមេឃហើយវាចាប់ផ្តើមភ្លៀង។
In less than a minute it was pouring. មិនដល់មួយនាទីផង វាក៏ចាប់ផ្តើមធ្លាក់ភ្លៀង។
Bob and Alice quickly packed up their food and headed back to the market to take shelter. ប៊ប់និងអាលីសខ្ចប់អាហាររបស់គេយ៉ាងប្រញាប់ហើយធ្វើដំណើរសំដៅផ្សារវិញដើម្បីជ្រកភ្លៀង។
They sat down at a table inside to finish their meal. ពួកគេអង្គុយនៅតុមួយក្នុងផ្សារញ៉ាំអាហារពួកគេអោយអស់។
They were soaking wet from the rain. ពួកគេទទឹកជោកដោយទឹកភ្លៀង
The food was also wet, but it was still delicious. អាហារក៏ទទឺកសើមដែរ ប៉ុន្តែ វានៅតែឆ្ងាញ់។

English recordings of the story for English learners

The following videos have English recordings of the story that learners of English can use to practice listening as well as speaking and thinking in English through answering the questions. Khmer learners of English can use the Khmer translation to understand the story better.

As usual, any comments, corrections, and suggestions are welcome.

Using the Circling Technique to Help You Pick Up Khmer

In recent posts I’ve been sharing a lot of free Khmer stories that you can use with a Khmer tutor to help you pick up the language through listening.

I want to talk more about one very powerful technique that you can have your tutor use when reading these stories or talking about other things in Khmer to help you understand, acquire, and remember Khmer words and Khmer grammatical structures.

Known as circling, this technique was popularized and developed in TPRS (Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling), a method of teaching languages through comprehensible input by telling stories.

Circling basically means the teacher or tutor asks various questions about a statement that they’ve just made.

The statements and the questions that they ask about them are all in the language they’re teaching—in our case, Khmer.

Some examples of circling questions

Let’s look at some examples of circling using one of the Let’s Read! stories in Khmer from the collection I introduced in a previous post: នំធំ១ (One Big Cake).

One Big Cake Elephant
នំធំ១ (One Big Cake) published by The Asia Foundation (CC BY 4.0)

The story starts with the picture to the right and this sentence:

ដំដំមាននំធំ១ ។ (Domdom has one big cake.)

With circling, your tutor would say this sentence and then ask you questions about it.

The simplest questions are yes/no questions, for example:

តើដំដំមាននំធំមួយទេ? (Does Domdom have one big cake?)

To this you can answer “បាទ/ចាស” (male/female “yes” in Khmer), say “yes” in English, or just nod, and the tutor can confirm, saying “បាទ/ចាស ដំដំមាននំធំ១ ។ “(Yes, Domdom has one big cake.)

They could also ask many questions for which the answer is no, for example:

តើដំដំមាននំតូចមួយទេ? (Does Domdom have one small cake?)

តើដំដំមាននំធំពីរទេ? (Does Domdom have two big cakes?)

តើ ដូណាល់ ត្រាំ មាននំធំមួយទេ? (Does Donald Trump have one big cake?)

To all of these you could answer “ទេ” (no in Khmer), say no in English, or just shake your head.

Then the tutor can confirm, saying, for example, “ទេ ដំដំមិនមែនមាននំតូចមួយ” (No, Domdom does not have one small cake), and ask another question or restate the correct sentence.

They can also ask either/or questions, for example:

តើដំដំមាននំធំមួយឬនំធំពីរ? (Does Domdom have one big cake or two big cakes?)

They can turn the sentence into “wh” questions that it has the answers to:

តើនរណាមាននំធំមួយ? (Who has one big cake?) Answer: ដំដំ (Domdom)

តើដំដំមានអ្វី? (What does Domdom have?) Answer: នំធំមួយ (One big cake)

តើដំដំមាននំប៉ុន្មាន? (How many cakes does Domdom have?) Answer: មួយ (One)

If you don’t know the answer, they can just give the correct answer.

The questions also help the tutor know how well you understand what they are saying in Khmer, so they can adjust and make sure that you can understand better.

Have fun communicating

As you can see a lot of questions can be generated even from one very simple statement.

This doesn’t mean that your tutor needs to every conceivable question.

Circling questions can become boring if they’re overdone and it becomes like a drill.

It should be fun and interesting and the focus should be on communication—the tutor is telling the story and helping you understand it, and checking that you do understand it.

As your tutor asks these questions, they should be using other tools to help communicate what they are saying, since they will both be making the statements and asking the questions about them all in Khmer.

They can use intonation to emphasize parts of the sentences they are asking the questions about, and even telegraph through this what answer they expect.

They should also use pointing and gestures to show what they’re talking and asking about.

For example, with a question like “តើដំដំមាននំធំមួយឬនំធំពីរ?” (Does Domdom have one big cake or two big cakes?), they can point to Domdom the elephant when they say ដំដំ (Domdom), show one and two with their fingers when saying the numbers, and point to the cake when they say (នំធំ) “big cake”.

Use the pictures

If you are a beginner especially, your tutor should be talking a lot about the pictures, pointing to and describing them in detail so that you can pick up words.

The tutor can also use circling to ask questions about the things they say about the picture.

For example, with the picture above they can point and say “ដំដំជាដំរី” (Domdom is an elephant) and then ask “តើដំដំជាដំរីឬសត្វកវែង?”   “Is Domdom an elephant or a giraffe?”

Another way the tutor can use questions with the pictures is to do things like asking where something is, for example, “Where is the red hat?”

A more advanced learner could say where it is, but a beginning learner could just point to it.

The tutor can confirm, saying something like “Yes, the hat is on Domdom’s head.” or “Yes, Domdom is wearing the hat”, providing even more language.

It’s clear even with this simple picture and one sentence an enormous number of questions can be generated that use many common Khmer words and Khmer grammar.

Advantages of circling

Circling has a lot of advantages:

  • It provides massive meaningful repetition of language
  • This repetition helps you better understand what is being said
  • By understanding better and getting a lot of repetition you can pick up words and structures more easily
  • By answering the questions you are focused on meaning, which helps you learn to think in the language
  • You hear many grammatical structures again and again
  • By hearing a lot of questions you pick up how different questions are formed in the language

Focus on listening and understanding first, not speaking

As a student, I would recommend you focus on listening and understanding Khmer at the beginning and not trying to speak much.

We become fluent not through speaking, but hearing and understanding a lot of messages in a language—what is known as comprehensible input.

Listening a lot first allows you to internalize how Khmer is pronounced and used, giving you a foundation so that as you speak more and more you will automatically begin to speak Khmer clearly and accurately.

With the circling questions, you can respond to them in whatever way works at your level.

You can use your first language, you can use gestures or pointing, and you can use the Khmer that comes to mind for you without effort.

At first this Khmer speaking will be simple things like yes/no answers.

Eventually you will start to be able to give one- or two-word answers, and then with much listening you will start to speak in partial and complete sentences.

Hearing and answering a lot of circling questions with things that you can understand like interesting stories and pictures can help you get to this level more efficiently.

Khmer audio recordings with circling questions

The Khmer mini-stories and other stories I have shared on this site all have a lot of circling questions that follow the stories:

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

Story for Learning Khmer with Audio and Transcript: Buying Coffee

Another Free Khmer Language Story for Learners with Audio and Transcript: Smartphone Addiction

If you already have some understanding of Khmer can use these on your own to practice listening.

Over 250 Free Khmer Language Storybooks with Pictures

Let's Read Website - Free Khmer Children's Books

In a previous post I introduced a set of a dozen illustrated Khmer children’s stories, e-books created as part of the Let’s Read initiative to provide free stories to children in their own languages.

As it turns out, there is much more Khmer material from the same project.

If you go to the main Let’s Read reader site and select Khmer (ភាសាខ្មែរ) from the language menu on the left, you’ll find over 250 books in Khmer at various reading levels.

Some have been written in Khmer, and others have been translated from other languages into Khmer.

In my previous post I suggested ways that you can use storybooks like these with a tutor so that you can get comprehensible input in Khmer—hearing the language in ways that you can understand and pick up words.

Besides just reading the story to you, you can have the tutor retell it in Khmer in their own words, read it again and ask you questions about each sentence, describe the pictures in detail and ask questions about them, and talk about the pictures and stories in relation to their own life and experiences.

With their permission, you can also record their reading and descriptions to listen to later and review while following along with the storybooks to get more Khmer listening practice.

Focus on listening and understanding before reading

Especially if you are a beginner with Khmer, I would recommend not focusing on the written language but first getting a grasp of the spoken language though a lot of listening before spending much time at all on the Khmer alphabet and reading.

With these stories the written part should be mainly a guide for your tutor to read and elaborate on so that you can gain understanding of spoken Khmer and pick up words.

Reading Khmer becomes far easier when you recognize most of the words you read through having heard and understood them many times in a variety of contexts and have a clear idea in mind of how they are pronounced through listening.

Using the stories as a beginner in Khmer

There are a lot of stories in Khmer in the Let’s Read! collection that have clear pictures and very simple texts that use a lot of repetition of words.

You can find many of them by choosing Level 1 in the reading level menu.

You may find these simple stories particularly helpful if you are a beginner in Khmer.

Again, your tutor shouldn’t merely read the stories to you, but do things to make the Khmer understandable to you as a beginner in the language and give you a lot of meaningful repetition so that you can pick up the words.

For example, they should point to the pictures a lot to make it clear what they’re talking about, and also describe what’s in the pictures in their own words.

They can also make their own drawings and use gestures and actions while using the words to indicate the meanings of words.

There are some other techniques that they can use as well, which I’ll describe in more detail in another post.

However you approach it with your tutor, remember to have fun!

Another Free Khmer Language Story for Learners with Audio and Transcript: Smartphone Addiction

candy-crush-1869655Here’s another story that I’ve had translated into and recorded in Khmer to go with the collection of “mini-stories” I shared and the one I wrote about buying coffee.

Entitled “Smartphone Addiction”, this one is a somewhat silly story about an obsession with mobile games taking its toll on a relationship.

I had written it without a particular country or culture in mind, but I’m told that it’s relatable from a modern Khmer perspective, as smartphone use has become so widespread and popular in Cambodia as with many other countries, with even many older people becoming highly attached to their devices.

Here are the links to the story and audio:

Smartphone Addiction story – Khmer transcript and English original (Google Spreadsheet)

Smartphone Addiction story (mp3)

Smartphone Addiction – Questions & Answers (mp3)

Like the other stories, the short story is told and then retold with a lot of questions about each sentence, right after each sentence.

This technique makes the story easier to understand because there is a lot of repetition of language, and gives you practice in listening to Khmer as well as thinking in Khmer by listening to and answering the questions.

Smartphone Addiction ញៀននឹងទូរស័ព្ទដៃទំនើប
Tom was addicted to his smartphone. ថមញឿននឹងទូរស័ព្ទទំនើបរបស់គាត់។
Every day, he would spend 16 hours playing games on it. រៀងរាល់ថ្ងៃ គាត់ចំណាយពេលលេងហ្គេមក្នុងទូរស័ព្ទដៃ១៦ម៉ោង។
One day, as he was engrossed in a new game, a message popped up on the screen. ថ្ងៃមួយ នៅពេលគាត់ញក់នឹងហ្គេមថ្មី មានសារមួយលោតឡើងលើអេក្រងទូរស័ព្ទ។
It was a text from his girlfriend, Julie. វាជាសារពីមិត្តស្រីរបស់គាត់ជូលី។
“I’m leaving you,” it read. “You spend all your time on those stupid games and never any time with me. Goodbye.” សារនោះសរសេរថា«ខ្ញុំចាកចេញពីអ្នក» អ្នកចំណាយពេលទាំងអស់របស់អ្នកទៅលើហ្គេមឆ្កួតៗនិងមិនដែលមានពេល សម្រាប់នៅជាមួយខ្ញុំទេ លាហើយ»។
Tom was stunned. ថមស្រឡាំងកាំង។
He had been spending so much time playing games on his phone, that he had forgotten that he even had a girlfriend. គាត់បានចំណាយពេលលេងហ្គេមច្រើនពេកតាមទូរស័ព្ទ គាត់បានភ្លេចថាគាត់ធ្លាប់មានមិត្តស្រី។
And now she had dumped him. ហើយឥឡូវនាងបោះបង់គាត់ចោល។
Tom realized that he had to make a change in his lifestyle. ថមបានដឹងខ្លួនថា គាត់ត្រូវតែផ្លាស់ប្តូររបៀបរស់នៅរបស់គាត់។
So, he deleted all of the games from his phone. ដូច្នេះ គាត់បានលុបចោលហ្គេមទាំងអស់ចេញពីទូរស័ព្ទ។
He promised Julie that he would quit playing games on his phone, and they got back together. គាត់សន្យាជូលីថា គាត់នឹងលះបង់ឈប់លេងហ្គេមតាមទូរស័ព្ទ ហើយពូកគេត្រឡប់មកត្រូវគ្នាវិញ។

English recordings of the story for English learners

The following videos have English recordings of the story that learners of English can use to practice listening as well as speaking and thinking in English through answering the questions. Khmer learners of English can read the Khmer translation to understand the story better.

Again, any comments, corrections, and suggestions are welcome.