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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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:
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!