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 classic Khmer script
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.
How are you?
I am fine
Johm Riab Sua
Sohk sabbye tey?
Khnyohm sohk sabbye
Ancient Cambodian script
No, thank you
Baat (used by men), Jaa (used by women)
Ot tey ahr coon
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?
Adjectives and adverbs
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.
resturawn or the tong twister phowj-janitaan
I’d like a single room
I’d like a double or twin room
sonta keye / pteya somna
Knyom sohm bantohp samruhp muy niak
Knyom sohm bantohp samruhp pii niak
dtuhk troh chey
machine troh chey
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
A very useful iPhone/iPad app with audio to help with learning the Cambodian language. (Links directly to iTunes)
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