An important part of traveling – we would maybe suggest the most crucial – is to engage with the local people of the places we are passing by, trying to understand their way of seeing the world, mingling with their lifestyle and breaking cultural barriers. But of course the first one is always communication. So why not making an attempt to learn some words of Khmer language to start experience Cambodia in a more genuine and engaging way?
Who would not like to exchange some words with these funny children?
So first thing to know is that Cambodians always have a formal and an informal way of saying things. For instance:
Hello, formal – Chomreab sour
Hello, informal – Sous dei
For the majority of situations, including when you are talking with someone on the street or buying something from a shop, the informal version is perfectly fine, but in case you are invited somewhere or talking to older people it will be more polite to use the formal way. Also age is important in terms of social relationships, so normally people address others depending on their age difference. There are endless ways of addressing in Khmer, but as a general rule of thumb you can call younger people by oun, same age or slightly older by bong (like older brother or sister), people with more or less the age to be your parents by ming (if it’s a woman) and poo (if it’s a man), and if older than that you can call them om. Now back to some of the basics:
How are you? – Sok sabai?
Thank you (very much) – Akun (chran)
What’s your name? – Chmuuh ey?
My name is… – Khnhom chmuuh…
I’m from… – Khnhom mau pi…
Please (before asking something) – Som
Sorry – Som toh
No problem – Kmean panhaha té
Happy to meet you – Khnhom sabai ban chub nhék
How old are you? – Ter neak ar yu pun man?
Goodbye, informal – Lee hai
Good bye, formal – Chom reab lea
Have a nice day – Som ouy sok sabbay
Yes – Bat (if it’s a man saying) and cha (if it’s a woman saying)
No – Auté
How much? – Pun man?
One more please – Som muy tit
The bill please – Som katloi
This/that – Ini/inu
Here/there – Tini/tinu
Hot/cold : kdao/tror cheak
Cheap/expensive – thork /thlai
Near/far – Juht/Chngaay
Already/not yet – Howie/at tuan té
Beautiful – Sa art
Delicious – chhnganh
I – Khnhom / You – Neak (if you want to indicate possession you can add robos before: My or mine – Robos khnhom ; Your or yours – Robos neak)
The general construction of a phrase is Subject + Verb (+ other verbs)+ Object/Complement. Examples:
I love you – Khnhom srolanh neak (srolanh is the verb to love)
I like eating rice – Khnhom chol chet nham bai (chol chet is to like, nham is to eat and bai is rice. Fun fact: eating rice in Cambodia is so important that even eating as a general concept is many times said nham bai)
For the negative you can build the phrase by Subject + Aut + Verb + Object + té. Example:
Sorry, I don’t understand – Som toh, khnhom aut yul té (yul as the verb to understand)
And for past you can add ban before the verb. Example:
I ate rice – Khnhom ban nham bai
Some verbs you can start using in phrases: chong – want, have – mean, need – trov kar, buy –tinh, drink – phoek, know – doeng/ches/skol, wait – tchamp, ride – chi, go – tow, can – tché.
And some basic numbers: 1 – Muy, 2 – Pi, 3 – Bai, 4 – Boun, 5 – Pram, 6 – Pram muy, 7 – Pram pi, 8 – Pram bai, 9 – Pram boun, 10 – Dop, 100 – Muy roy, 1000 – Muy puan, 10000 – Muy meun.
And of course, the classic:
Cheers – Tchul muy
Hope this small guide had help you starting to learn some Khmer language and inspired you to talk more with the locals, eating street food or taking the local buses while traveling are always great ways to start it!