As in other South-east Asian countries, it's not really necessary to speak the local language to get by in Cambodia. You will, however, undoubtedly have an easier and more enjoyable experience if you spend some time learning the Cambodian language - Khmer. Most Cambodians don't expect a foreigner to be able to speak any of their language and will surely appreciate if you make a little effort and can string a few sentences together in Khmer.
This web site is created mainly as a personal learning aid, but hopefully it can also be of some use for others trying to learn the Khmer language...
Khmer is a member of the Mon-Khmer group of Austroasiatic languages and is the official language of Cambodia. It is spoken by approximately 8 million people within the country, but speakers also live in the bordering countries ViÍt Nam and Thailand. Smaller communities are found in the USA, Australia, France and Laos.
Although separate and distinct from its Thai, Lao, and Burmese neighbours, Khmer shares with them the common roots of Sanskrit and Pali. As a result of centuries of linguistic and cultural interaction and their shared faith in Theravada Buddhism, the Cambodian language shares many features and much vocabulary with Thai. Khmer is also related to Vietnamese. During French colonial hegemony, many French loanwords also entered the language. Furthermore, the rapid growth of international trade and tourism over the last few years has lead to an increasing number of English words being used.
Unlike the languages of its bordering countries, Khmer is not a tonal language, which means that there are no special intonations of words in order to alter their meanings. However, the lack of tones is compensated by numerous letters and the complexity of the Khmer pronounciation.
Khmer shares many common grammatical features with it's South-east Asian neighbours. As in English, the word order follows a familiar SVO (subject + verb + object) pattern. Some notable features of the Khmer language are the lack of verb conjugations, gender inflections, different endings for single and plural and no different endings for masculine and feminine. With neither complicated verb tenses nor singular and plural forms to memorise, Khmer grammar can be absorbed relatively painlessly.
The Khmer alphabet is descended from the Brahmi script of ancient India (which was originally developed to write Sanksrit) by way of the Pallava script, which was used in southern India and South-east Asia during the 5th and 6th Centuries AD. The oldest dated inscription in Khmer dates from 611 AD. The Khmer alphabet closely resembles the Thai and Lao alphabets, which were developed from it.
Khmer consonants with subscripts:
Khmer language links:
Khmer Language Learning - Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Northern Illinois University has put together a very useful section on the Khmer language. Recommended.
ilearnkhmer.com - An interactive website with sounds and cool animations to assist you in learning the Khmer alphabets. Consists of three different levels. In first grade you will learn to read, write and pronounce Khmer consonants, vowels and numbers..
Learn Khmer - Learn how to read and write Khmer. A comprehensive introduction to the Khmer language.
Khmer for Travellers - A concise and convenient introduction to the Khmer language with useful words and phrases that might come in handy when travelling in Cambodia.
Authentic Khmer - Online Khmer/English and Khmer/French digital phrase books.
Khmer Lessons - Online Khmer lessons (requires Macromedia Flash Player version 4 or higher).
Khmer Language - Provides links and services related to the Cambodian language, including online dictionaries.
Khmer Inscription and Language - Illustrated site devoted to early inscriptions in the Khmer language.
Omniglot - A guide to the Khmer writing system.
Khmer Fonts - Cambodian Information Centre provides Khmer Fonts and Keyboard layout.