Cambodians primarily speak Khmer, which unlike most languages in the region is not tonal, but makes up for it with a large assortment of consonant and vowel clusters. Young Khmer prefer to learn English over other European languages and you will find people who speak anywhere from basic to fluent English in major towns and cities. In market situations, most Khmers will know enough English to complete a basic transaction, though many vendors carry calculators into which they punch numbers and show you the screen to demonstrate the price.
Some elder Khmers speak French from the colonial days, but partly because of the Khmer Rouge era (in which those speaking foreign languages were targeted for extermination), to actually encounter anyone fluent in French is rare in most parts of the country. German and other European tongues can be found in the tourist centres (but are even rarer than French) and Japanese is also a popular language for tourist industry workers.
Knowing a few Khmer words, while unnecessary, will help you earn some respect while in Cambodia.
- If you are male the word for 'yes' is pronounced 'baht' as in the sound of a sheep followed by a hard T.
- If you are female the word for 'yes' is pronounced 'jah' as in the first part of 'jar'.
- The word for 'no' is pronounced 'otDay' with a short 'ot with an emphasis on the D following.
- The word for 'thank you' is pronounced 'awkunh' sounds a little like raccoon.
- To express greater thanks (thank you very much), use the word 'awkunh ch'ran'.
- The word for 'hello' is pronounced 'sue-saw-day' with sue as in a woman's name, saw as in a thing you cut with, and day as in sunday.
- The word for 'sorry' is pronounced 'somtoh'.
- The word for 'toilet' is pronounced 'dakuhn' or 'pahkuhn' Similarly to how you would pronounce the kunh in thank you, but with a short 'ba' in front.
- Scooter/mopeds with carriages pulled behind are called a 'tuk-tuk' better pronounced with the U sound from the back of your throat, like tulk-tulk.
- Scooter/mopeds by themselves are pronounced 'moto' with an emphasis on 'mo'.
- Rickshaws are called 'cyclo'. The cy is pronounced like the word see.
Hello. - (Chum riep sueh)
Hello. (informal) - (sues dei)
How are you? - ? (sok sabbai te?)
Fine, thank you. - (la'or, arkhun)
What is your name? - ? (Lok chmuah ey?)
My name is ______ . - ______ . (Knyom chmuah _____ .)
Nice to meet you. - (Reek ree-AY dae bahn skoal loak )
Please. - (Soum)
Thank you. - (Aw khun)
You're welcome. - (Muhn ay te or Unjuhn)
Goodbye - (chum riep leah)
Goodbye (informal) - (leah sen heuy)
I can't speak name of language [well]. - [ ]. (khnyom ot seu cheh niyeay pia'saa khmae te)
Do you speak English? - ? (Cheh niyeay pia'saa Anglais baan te?)
Good morning. - (arun sour sdei )
Good afternoon. - (tiveah sour sdei )
Good night. - (reah-trey sour sdei )
I don't understand. - (Min yul dtey)
Where is the toilet? - ? (Bangkun now ey nah?)
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