Though English is fast becoming the second language in Cambodia specially of younger Khmers, it is still great if you know a little of Khmer. It’s a great help in learning and gaining more understanding of Cambodian culture. And…, it goes a long way when you are bargaining in the markets!
The Khmer language has 33 consonants, 23 vowels, and 12 independant vowels. The placement of the vowels in written Khmer can be confusing at first; vowels may follow or precede the consonants, or they may go above or below, or some combination of before, after, above, or below.
The Khmers have also retained French pronunciation of the Roman alphabet and of some words.
Khmer is written with no spaces between the words and with very little punctuation. Unlike Thai, Lao, and Vietnamese, Khmer is not a tonal language. When it comes to grammar, the language is quite simple. Adding a few words can make a sentence tense to past, present or future.
Learning the language can be a bit tricky, but Khmers just love it when foreigners show the effort to speak in their language. Here are some basics:
Greetings and other Basics
Hello – jum reap sour (formal) | sua s’dei (casual)
Goodbye – jum reap lear (formal) | lia suhn hao-y
See you later – juab kh’nia | th’ngay krao-y
Thank you – ow-kohn | ow-kohn charan
You’re welcome – awt ei te | sohn anjoe-in
Excuse me / I’m Sorry – sohm-toh
Yes – baat (for men) | chaa (for women)
Check please – sohm ketloy
Hi, how are you? – niak sohk sabaay te?
I’m fine – k’nyom sohk sabaay
Where are you going? – niak teuv naa?
What’s your name? – niak ch’mooah ei?
My name is – k’nyom ch’mooah ______________.
Where are you from?- niak mao pii prateh naa?
I’m from – k’nyom mao pii___________.
Addressing a Person
(Many of the pronouns are determined on the basis of the person’s age and sex in relation to the speaker)
You -niak (can be used with either sex )
Mister – lowk
Madam – lowk srei
Older sister – bawng srei
Uncle – pu
Older men or women who appear to be older than you – bawng
I understand. – k’nyom yuhl
I don’t understand. – k’nyom at yuhl
Do you understand? – niak yuhl te?
Does anyone here speak English? – tii nih mian niak jeh phiasaa awnglee te?
What does this mean? – nih mian nuh-y thaa mait?
Please speak slowly. – sohm niyay yeut yeut
Please translate for me. – sohm bawk brai ao-y k’nyom
What is this called? – nih ke hav thaa mait?
1 – muuy
2 – pii
3 – bai
4 – buhn
5 – phrum
6 – phrum muuy
7 – phrum pii
8 – phrum bai
9 – phrum buhn
10 – dop
11 – dop muuy
15 – dop phrum
16 – dop phrum muuy
20 – m’pai
21 – mpai muuy
30 – saam-suhp
40 – sai-suhp
50 – haa-suhp
60 – hok-suhp
70 – jeut-suhp
80 – paet-suhp
90 – kau-suhp
100 – muuy roy (many just use ‘roy‘)
101 – muuy roy muuy
200 – pii roy
1000 – muy puan (many use ‘puan‘)
1,000,000 – muuy lian (many use ‘lian‘)
Where is the _____? – neuv ai naa?
Bus station – kuhnlaing laan ch’nual
Train Station – s’thaanii roht plaeng
Airport – wial yohn hawh
Is it far? – wia neuv ch’ngaay te?
Is it near? – wia neuv jeht te?
Go straight ahead. – teuv trawng
Turn left. – bawt ch’weng
Turn right – bawt s’dam
At the corner – neuv kait j’hrong
Stop! – Chob!