Learning a language is hard work and takes determination and perseverance. If you’re travelling around a lot as well, you might not have time to learn or practice it enough to be perfect. Long story short, that doesn’t matter. Learning even just a few basic words will help make traveling easier by preventing you from getting lost or ordering the wrong food! To help you get started, here are a few basic Khmer phrases that will help you get by while travelling in Cambodia.
Khmer 101: Basic Khmer Phrases
Khmer, or Cambodian, is spoken by most people in Cambodia as well as many in northeastern Thailand and southern Vietnam. Compared to Thai and Vietnamese, Khmer is said to be relatively easy to learn due to the lack of tones and phonetic pronunciation. So Westerners, you have no excuse! Although English is slowly becoming more common in big cities like Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, learning these basic phrases will gain appreciation and smiles from the Cambodians. You never know, an extra serving of noodles might be given to you just because you ordered (or tried to) in Khmer.
Yes – Baat (men)/ Chaas (Women)
No – Dteh
Please – Suom mehta
Thank you – Or-koon
Sorry/excuse me – Sohm dtoh
Where is the restroom? – Bang-kon noun aina?
I need a doctor – K`nyom trouv krouh peit
I’m lost – K’nyom vung vehng plouv
Never mind – Meun ai teh
Basic Greetings in Khmer
Basic greetings are the most used phrases when you learn a new language so they are super easy to remember! Using these whenever you come across a local will show that you are a polite and respectful person. They are also a great conversation starter if you need help or any local recommendations!
Hello – Jum-reap soo-a
Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening/Night – Arun/tiveah/sayoanh/reah-trey sour sdei
How are you? – Tau neak sok sapbaiy jea teh?
Goodbye! – Joom-reap leah
Basic Khmer for Eating and Ordering Food
Personally I always find ordering food the most daunting but it really isn’t. When you know these basic phrases, the waiters really appreciate you trying and often like to practice their English with you! It’s great fun so just embrace it and don’t be embarrassed to make mistakes. The only thing you must get right is any allergies or dietary restrictions you might have, so you can clearly communicate with waiters and avoid unnecessary illnesses.
I would like ___ – Khnyom sohm___
Not too spicy please – Sohm kohm toe hal pek
This is delicious – A nih ch’ngun nah
The check, please – Sohm ket luy
Basic Khmer for Shopping
All you need to know when shopping are these phrases. Use them confidently and haggle yourself a bargain!
How much does this cost? – T’lay pohnmaan?
That’s expensive! – T’lay!
Can you give me a discount please? – Som jous thlai bahn teh?
Basic Khmer to Impress and Gain Street Cred
Moo ay, Bpee, Bay, Boun, Bpram, Bram moo ay, Bpram bpee, Bpram bay, Bpram buon, Dahp (one to ten)
How do you say ___ in Khmer? – ___ khmer tha mat?
Where is the ___? – Noev eah nah___?
Have a nice day! – Mien tingay la-aw!
Cheers! – Leuk dach!
If you’re REALLY serious about learning Khmer, here are a few tips:
Like many Asian languages, it is much harder to learn them through literature so social interaction and independent learning is the way to improve. If you want to learn properly while living or traveling in Cambodia, dedicate time to doing these three things.
Invest in Khmer lessons and an online course/app – Mixing one to one tutoring with independent work is the quickest and most effective way to learn. Not only will you be interacting with someone and using your new language, but your independent learning will ensure you’re repeating what you’ve learnt enough so you remember it!
Hang out with the Locals – As with any language, the formal language that you learn is very different from the colloquial tongue that locals will use. Go out with friends and learn how to speak more naturally. Don’t forget to carry a small pocket vocabulary book for those odd unfamiliar words.
Practice Makes Perfect! – As well as with local friends, get into the habit of watching TV with Khmer subtitles, watching music videos and learning songs, learning to read simple books and reinforcing your learning with language apps. All of these will ensure you’re using your new language every day until it’s a part of your long-term memory.