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.

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.

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.

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.