Learn Khmer

Khmer ancient script
Date: By: Rikitikitavi
Category: Language, Tourist Info
Tagged:.

Even with a small Khmer vocabulary you will be liked by many in Cambodia, they enthusiastically improve your pronunciation and teach you a few more words to reward your efforts.

The Khmer language is non-tonal, but the language has a complex pronunciation, with 33 consonants (some seemingly identical, some in difficult to pronounce consonant combinations) and about 24 vowels and diphthongs.

Khmer is written in a beautiful script, which is derived from Sanskrit. We have tried to approach the proper pronunciation of words and sentences without having to use phonetic charts. Pronunciation is based on the English language.

If you would like to learn more about reading and pronunciation, have a look at ancientscripts.com’s excellent article on the Khmer script.

Rikitikitavi in modern Khmer script
Rikitikitavi in modern Khmer script
Rikitikitavi in classic Khmer script
Rikitikitavi in classic Khmer script

Greetings

Khmer traditionally greet each other with a gesture called a ‘sompheah’, very similar to the Thai ‘wai’. Younger man seem to have adapted the western handshake.

Hello (formal)
Hello (informal)
How are you?
I am fine
Excuse me
Sorry
Johm Riab Sua
Sua s’dei
Sohk sabbye tey?
Khnyohm sohk sabbye
Som toh
Ot toh

Ancient Cambodian script
Ancient Cambodian script

Short answers

Yes
No
Thank you
No, thank you
Baat (used by men), Jaa (used by women)
Ot tey
Ahr coon
Ot tey ahr coon

Phrases

Sentences are usually constructed in the following order:
Person – verb – noun – adjective

Khnyom djong njahm mahobe chnganj na
(I want eat food delicious very)

Do you speak English?
Do you have …(noun)?
How much? (price)
I already have it
Can I have the bill, please?
Ta neah nieh yey anglay?
Ta neah mean … (verb)?
Tlai bon mahn?
Khnyohm mean hye
Sohm kot loi?

Persons

I
you
we
khnyohm
neah
yeung

Verbs

Have
Can
Go
See
Walk
Want
Speak
Buy
Rent
Look
Eat
Sleep
Know
Understand
meanh
baan
tau
keunj
daarl
djong
nieht yey
teng
jewel
meul
njahm
gain
skoal
yol

Adjectives and adverbs

Cheap
Expensive
Hot
Cold
Beautiful
Big
Small
Happy
Hungry
Thirsty
Very
Same
Disgusting
Delicious
tauk
tlai
k’dau
troh chey
s’aat
tom
toit
sabbye
klearn/have
srea dtuhk
naa
doach
k’puhm
chnganj – a difficult one, the ch is as in ‘ch’urch, the ng is as in lo’ng’ , a as in b’a’r and the nj as in the Spanish se’ñ’ora. Don’t give up on this one, there is to my knowledge no other way of expressing that you have enjoyed the food.

Transport

Taxi
Bus
Bicycle
Motorbike
ta-xi
laan krong
khong
moto

Food

Food
Rice
Noodles
Vegetables
Fruit
Curry
Soup
Restaurant
mahobe
bai
mee
bonlai
pley cher
karee
soup
resturawn or the tong twister phowj-janitaan

Drink

Water
Coffee
Tea
Drink
dtuhk
kaa fey
dthai
puc

Accommodation

Guesthouse
Hotel
I’d like a single room
I’d like a double or twin room
Cold water
Hot water
Fan
Air conditioning
TV
Fridge
Telephone
sonta keye / pteya somna
ohtel
Knyom sohm bantohp samruhp muy niak

Knyom sohm bantohp samruhp pii niak

dtuhk troh chey
dtuhk k’dou
gawng hahl
machine troh chey
tou-ra-tour
tou-t’kor
tou-ra-sap

Directions

Straight
Left
Right
Stop
Fast
Quick
Slow
trong
chaweng
s’dam
chop
leuhn
roh hah
yoot

Numbers

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
30
40
50
60
70
80
90
100
500
1000
10,000
56,238
muy
pee
buy
boon
bprahm
bprahm-muy (five-one)
bprahm-pee
bprahm-buy
bprahm-boon
dohp
dohp-muy
dohp-pee
dohp-bei
dohp-boon
dohp-bprahm
dohp-bprahm-muy
dohp-bprahm-pee
dohp-bprahm-buy
dohp-bprahm-boon
m’peye
sahm-sap
seye-sap
hah-sap
hok-sap
jet-sap
bpairt-sap
gau-sap
muy-roy
bprahm-roy
muy-puan
muy-murn
bprahm-murn, bprahm-muy-puan, pee-roy, sahm-sap, bprahm-bei


Learn Khmer Now

If you want to learn more Khmer, check out Vanna’s Learn Khmer Now blog. Vanna also offers Skype lessons for very reasonable prices – ideal if you would like to learn Khmer when you are outside of Cambodia.
Vanna has a BA in English from one of the top universities in Phnom Penh, and she has 4 years experience in teaching foreigners the Cambodian language.


Khmer Language app

Cambodian Language Guide & Audio by World Nomads
Cambodian Language Guide & Audio
by World Nomads

A very useful iPhone/iPad app with audio to help with learning the Cambodian language. (Links directly to iTunes)


Translations

I have added this post on the Khmer language to help tourists and other visitors to Cambodia with their first steps in the language. I am not a linguist, and am far from fluent in the language – I only recognise a couple of the letters of their script. All translations on this page are done with help from our wonderful staff. For these reasons, I cannot keep up with the numerous translation requests we receive.
In case you have any translation needs from English to Khmer or the other way around, here are some sources that may help you:

Google Translate from English to Khmer
Pyramid Translation Service


by Rikitikitavi





33 comments


  1. Jason chan said on 3 October, 2012

    I like to learn Khmer.I m Chinese fm Malaysia.


  2. dennis said on 21 October, 2012

    1. good morning.
    2. we are from cambodia.
    3. peace and all good.


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 21 October, 2012

      Hi Dennis,
      Good morning: Aroon Sua s’dei
      We are from Cambodia: Yeung mau pee Kampuchea
      Peace and all good: Santeekpheap nung l’or teang oh
      Hope this helps!


  3. Emily said on 26 October, 2012

    Hello I was just wondering how do you write sisters in Khmer as I would like to get a tattoo with my sister ?


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 27 October, 2012

      Hi Emily,
      The word for ‘sisters’ in Khmer is បងប្អូនស្រី
      You pronounce it as ‘bong pa-own srey’ and literally means ‘older younger sister’.


  4. Diana Thompson said on 29 October, 2012

    I’ve just started teaching in Srok Khmae and would love some help with this beautiful language..
    Please tell me how to say “Happy Birthday”
    also: “Where can I buy…”
    and: “Good morning children”


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 30 October, 2012

      Hi Diana,
      Happy birthday = sua s’dei koorb komnaed
      Where can I buy … = nou tee na knyom ahrt teng …
      Good morning children = aroon sua s’dei kohn
      I hope you will impress your students with these phrases.
      Enjoy your stay in this wonderful country!


  5. Nilesh said on 19 November, 2012

    Hi,i like this site too much. Now i am searching how to write khmer alphabet and its pronunciation, please help me if you can.


  6. Alan said on 20 December, 2012

    Hello,
    Is Khmer a difficult language for native English speakers to learn? How does it compare to Malay (which I found easy to learn) and Thai (which I found impossible to learn)??

    Thank you. I enjoyed your site and will come to visit often.

    AC


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 24 December, 2012

      Hi Alan,

      Thank you for your lovely message!

      Khmer is not an easy language (at least for me) to learn. Fortunately it is not a tonal language (which makes the Thai language so difficult), neither is the grammar complicated (which is what makes the Malay easy to learn).

      However, I find the wide range of sounds, including ones that sound identical to my ear, difficult to remember. Also, I am unable to read the language, which makes it hard. This is also the case with the Thai language, whereas Malay is easy to learn because they use western script.

      Do give it a go, it is very rewarding when you do manage to pronounce words and phrases correctly!

      Best of luck!


      • Alan said on 28 December, 2012

        Hi Riki,
        Thank you for that valuable information. Do you know if there are any intensive Khmer schools in PP?
        Thanks! Alan


        • Rikitikitavi

          Rikitikitavi said on 28 December, 2012

          Hi Alan,
          Shamefully I do not know of any Khmer language schools in Cambodia. Most people interested in learning the language hire a private tutor. Check local newspapers classifieds for available tutors.


  7. Ashley said on 2 January, 2013

    How would you read the words in cambodian ending in:
    ei
    ai
    ia
    and also, how would you pronounce the word with a ‘ ?
    Thank you, Ashley


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 6 January, 2013

      Hi Ashley,
      Due to the large number of sounds in the Khmer language, it is impossible to translate it correctly into English script. I have opted for the nearest possible sounds in English. The only way to learn the correct pronunciation is by hearing it from a Khmer speaker.


  8. Alan said on 4 January, 2013

    Hi Riki, Thank you for that advice. I think a private tutor is a very good idea. On another topic, do you think the wild forest ox called Kouprey is still living somewhere in the forest of Cambodia? Or do you think the Kouprey is extinct and now gone from the earth?

    Thanks, Alan


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 6 January, 2013

      Hi Alan,
      You are welcome :)
      From some internet research, I found that the Kouprey is very likely extinct; they have not been spotted since 1983. According to WWF, they are critically endangered. Have a look on our post on national symbols of Cambodia for links to two articles and a video of the Kouprey.


  9. Helen Keenan said on 7 January, 2013

    Hi Riki
    I’ve just moved to Phnom Penh for 6 months. I will visit as much as I can during this period and hopefully a few weeks after and I certainly intend to visit Rikitikitavi in Kampot at some point : ) I’d like to know how I tell people I’m a vegetarian. Or simply that I don’t eat dead things. This would make my life so much easier as I’m living in the not so touristy part of town and thanks to your webpage only have a few words. Many thanks!!!


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 22 January, 2013

      Hi Helen, welcome to Cambodia – we hope you love it here as much as we do!
      Here are some phrases that may help you:
      “Khnyohm kreu chea neak boor” which roughly means ‘I eat like a monk’ or “Khnoyhm ot nyam sait teang oh” which means ‘I do not eat all meats’.
      Safest is of course giving a description of what you would like to eat; I have added some food vocabulary in the post to help you.
      Good luck and perhaps we’ll be able to catch up one day.


  10. Roy said on 18 January, 2013

    How do you say “take care”


  11. Migg said on 5 February, 2013

    Hi Riki
    How would I say “beautiful flower” in khmer?

    Thanks…


  12. Terence said on 4 March, 2013

    Is there any iPhone or iPad apps for translator?


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 18 March, 2013

      Hi Terence,
      There is a handy (and free!) app from World Nomads available for iPhone and iPad. I have created a link directly to the app store at the bottom of the post. I hope it works for you.


  13. Corbijn said on 6 April, 2013

    What does Phoumea Tak Lolok mean?

    It is a beautiful song I found. If anyone knows what the song is about or lyrics in English please share.

    Thank you for your help.


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 12 April, 2013

      Hi Corbijn,

      I did not know this song, and I could only find instrumental versions of the song online. I would guess that ‘Phoumea Tak Lolok’ is translated to ‘Burmese wave’ (wave as found on oceans).

      Can anyone else give us insight into the meaning and perhaps the entire lyrics?


  14. Nigel said on 30 August, 2013

    Thank you so much for this post! Im trying to learn some basic Khmer before going to Cambodia to meet her parents, and this site has been so helpful with getting pronunciations a little bit better, I know i will still be woefully ignorant of the language but i have to learn some to at least get around the capital. Thank you again


    • Nigel said on 30 August, 2013

      I missed an entire sentence sorry, i had meant im going to Cambodia to see my girl friend and meet her parents.


  15. Rikitikitavi

    Rikitikitavi said on 12 September, 2013

    Nigel, we are pleased to hear you found our post helpful. We hope you have a brilliant time in Cambodia!


  16. Ray said on 1 October, 2013

    Hi
    I’me a pretty tall white person visiting Cambodia soon and I have been told they have a term for ‘giant white man’. What is the term? Something Barang?
    Cheers


    • Rikitikitavi

      Rikitikitavi said on 28 October, 2013

      Hi Ray,
      The Khmers used to call the French ‘Barang’ during the colonisation era. This term is now used for any Caucasian foreigner in Cambodia.
      I do not believe it has anything to do with height.
      Enjoy Cambodia!


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