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.

Free Khmer Language Stories with Illustrations and How to Use Them with a Khmer Tutor

floating-garden-lowres-001A language learner who I shared this site’s “mini-stories” collection with suggested another great resource which you can use for learning Khmer with a tutor: a collection of free illustrated children’s stories in Khmer, available for download from the site Let’s Read! Khmer E-books.

These e-books were created by Cambodians who worked in teams in intensive one-day events as part of Let’s Read!an initiative of The Asia Foundation’s Books for Asia program to provide free reading materials for children in Cambodia and other countries in their languages.

While many children’s stories aren’t always suitable material for language learners, for example, using too much poetic language and overly fantastic or nonsensical elements, the stories in this collection appear more suitable.

The writing and dialogue in the stories reflect how people speak Khmer, using simple, natural language.

Many also feature realistic aspects of everyday life in Cambodia, such as details of the kinds of villages where many people live, combined with an element of fantasy.

For example, The Floating Garden (សួនបណ្តែតទឹក) tells the story of a girl who lives on a floating village and takes care of a garden that one day mysteriously floats away, pulled by a big fish.

In this video you can see the illustrations and listen to audio of the text:

How you can use these storybooks with a Khmer tutor

I don’t recommend as a beginner or even intermediate learner just trying to read and study children’s stories like these ones by yourself, even with an audio of the text.

The “magic” happens when you have a speaker of the language make them more understandable to you by describing the pictures, talking about the story, and elaborating on it in their own words

All of this creates a lot of comprehensible input that you can pick up the language from.

Here are some ways that you can do this with a tutor:

  • Have the tutor read the story out loud
  • Have the tutor tell and retell the story in their own words
  • Have the tutor read the story and ask you questions based on each sentence, supplying the answers if you don’t know
  • Have the tutor point and describe the pictures in detail—what things are, what people are doing, what is happening
  • Have the tutor ask you many questions about the pictures—for example, how many people or animals are there

With your tutor’s permission, you can record them so that you can listen to them reading, retelling, and talking about the stories again later, helping you to pick up more of the language.

While you might not understand much of the story when it’s first read to you, you will find that after hearing it told and described again in many ways, when you listen to it again you may understand it far better.

If you and your tutor enjoy a story enough, you can come back to it again and again, with your tutor retelling it and talking about it in different ways.

This provides you with a kind of narrow listening, where you are listening to a lot of material about a topic that you understand and hearing the same vocabulary and themes again and again.

This kind of listening is great for providing a lot of comprehensible input because it is familiar and understandable, and interesting for you personally.

You may also find that such stories help you and your tutor to communicate in Khmer about other topics, because since both of you will become familiar with them, your tutor can refer back to them when talking about other things to provide examples and explanations.

If you use these stories with a Khmer tutor, please share in the comments how it goes for you.

Story for Learning Khmer with Audio and Transcript: Buying Coffee

Buying Coffee Story Khmer smallIn a previous post I shared a set of 60 free “mini-stories” that I had translated into Khmer and recorded to help myself and other learners pick up the language through listening to comprehensible input.

Here I share a simple story about buying coffee that I wrote in English and had translated into Khmer:

Buying Coffee story – Khmer transcript and English original (Google Spreadsheet)

Buying Coffee story (mp3)

Buying Coffee – Questions & Answers (mp3)

Like the mini-stories, this story is told and then many questions are asked about each sentence in the story.

For this story, many different questions are asked for each sentence from the story: Yes-or-no questions, and who, what, when, where, and why questions.

An advantage of this kind of content is that you are hearing the same language over and over again in different ways.

All this repetition makes it easier to follow and understand the story, and also helps you to remember and pick up the words and structures that are used.

You also get to hear many common grammatical forms again and again, such as how different kinds of questions are asked in Khmer.

By paying attention to the questions and trying to answer them, you are also learning to think in Khmer.

Enjoy! Any corrections, suggestions, and feedback are welcome. As well, I would welcome additional recordings of these stories, so that learners can hear a variety of voices and speaking styles.

Buying Coffee រឿងទិញកាហ្វេ
It’s nine o’clock in the morning. ម៉ោង០៩.០០ព្រឹក
Chris arrives at his office. គ្រិសមកដល់ការិយាល័យរបស់គាត់។
He has to work, but he is too tired. គាត់ត្រូវតែធ្វើការ ប៉ុន្តែគាត់ហត់ពេក
He feels very tired because he didn’t sleep enough last night. គាត់មានអារម្មណ៏ហត់ខ្លាំងព្រោះគាត់មិនបានគេងគ្រប់គ្រាន់កាលពីយប់មិញ។
He wants to drink some coffee. គាត់ចង់ផឹកកាហ្វេ
He thinks that if he drinks some coffee, he will feel less tired and be able to work. គាត់គិតថាបើសិនគាត់ផឹកកាហ្វេ គាត់នឹងលែងសូវហត់ និងអាចធ្វើការបាន
So, he goes outside to buy some coffee. ដូច្នេះគាត់ចេញទៅក្រៅ ទៅទិញកាហ្វេ
He sees a coffee shop near the building where he works, but it is closed. គាត់មើលឃើញហាងលក់កាហ្វេមួយនៅជិតអាគារកន្លែងធ្វើការគាត់ ប៉ុន្តែហាងនេះបិទទ្វារ
So he walks down the street to look for another coffee shop. ដូច្នេះ គាត់ក៏ដើរទៅរកហាងលក់កាហ្វេមួយផ្សេងទៀត។
He finds a Starbucks and he goes inside. គាត់ឃើញហាងកាហ្វេស្តារបាក់ ហើយដើរចូលទៅខាងក្នុង
He orders a large cup of hot coffee. គាត់ទិញកាហ្វេក្តៅមួយកែវធំ
The cup of coffee costs three dollars. កាហ្វេមួយពែងថ្លៃបីដុល្លារ។
He pays three dollars for the coffee. គាត់ចេញថ្លៃបីដុល្លារសម្រាប់កាហ្វេ។
He adds milk and sugar to the coffee. គាត់ដាក់ទឹកដោះគោនិងស្ករសចូលកាហ្វេ
He goes back to his office with his coffee. គាត់ត្រឡប់ទៅការិយាល័យធ្វើការជាមួយនឹងកាហ្វេរបស់គាត់
He drinks the coffee and feels more awake. គាត់ផឹកកាហ្វេ ហើយមានអារម្មណ៏លែងសូវងងុយដេក
Now he is ready to work. ឥឡូវ គាត់ត្រៀមខ្លួនរួចរាល់ធ្វើការ។