Learning Khmer

The Khmer Language | I like studying the Khmer Language.

The Khmer Language | I like studying the Khmer Language.

Learning the Cambodian language has been one of the most challenging things I've ever done. I never learned a secondary language in high school, so taking this on has been a new experience for me. I still wonder sometimes what my best approach to learning language is, because it seems so different, than let's say learning a topic like science or history. There seems to be so many moving pieces that have to fit together. 

Looking past the challenge of it all, there is such a beautiful reward on the other end. It will be so exciting to be able to hold a solid conversation without being dependent on a translator. So far, I've been blessed with a community that can speak good English and I LOVE helping them develop their second language so that they can have more opportunity. Everyday life, however, is a different story. I can get around with small chit-chat, but I long to have normal conversation with my neighbor (who still thinks I'm or be able to encourage kids while we go on family walks in the evening. And, most importantly, we have two growing boys -- one who is Cambodian and the other who thinks he is in many ways. LOL. We would love for them to be fluent in every way. So far I have managed to stay one step ahead of Aaron and it has been helpful to work with him on his homework in the evenings. Our hope is that this will encourage him to value this part of who God has created him to be and equip him for what God may have in store for the future.

I have two teachers and spend several days a week studying with them and then spend time studying on my own. Several months ago, I began learning how to read and write in addition to learning how to speak. This has helped tremendously in my pronunciation, but it also has slowed things down considerably. The Cambodian written language consists of script so learning the ins and outs, the rules, punctuation has been quite challenging. But there is something about it I love so much. 

I thought I'd share a few facts about the language that you might find interesting. It was fun to compare to the English language when I learned these things.

The Khmer alphabet consists of 23 vowels and 33 consonants. Depending on the consonant used, the paired vowel may have a different sound. There is also a foot or subscript to each consonant that can be paired with any other consonant to make for some very confusing/hard-to-remember words! In addition, there are 14 independent vowels (I think). Lots of symbols to learn!

I've had my moments where I've felt discouraged, but I just remind myself...a little at a time. I wouldn't say learning a language is a natural gift for me, but I am thankful for the opportunity to do it. 

Bonding in Saang.

While my memory is still fresh, I wanted to share about staying overnight in Saang. Saang is where In His Steps does 75%+ of their ministry. It's about 40 minutes outside Phnom Penh (capital city of Cambodia) given there is no traffic. The drive by moto isn't too bad.  In fact, I really enjoy it! It's funny, because I don't think Cambodians are used to seeing a foreigner on a moto, so I get a few of those people that stare, so in return, I talk to them in the few random Khmer phrases I know. It's amusing.  Later, I'm planning on doing a moto series (photos). It's amazing to me what people can stack and strap on their moto.  Everything from a large ice chest, to large bails of hay to their entire family of 6 -- a moto becomes a way of life. I felt successful driving a moto when I was able to drive myself, then drive Noelle around. I even was able to put two others on the moto. That was fun.

Arriving in Saang was so exciting! The guys (Cambodian staff of In His Steps) didn't have English class that night because the kids had school off, so we got to hang out. I watched a Volleyball game, went to the "Saang Carnival" and drove through swarms of gnats. I had so much fun. Spending time with these guys was water to my soul. It is frustrating I can't have heart to heart conversations with them yet, but I feel a bond sprouting, and that's what is important.  There are also a few other guys out there that are either orphaned or abandoned. Each of them has a sad story. Parents committing suicide or dying from preventable disease -- it's sad to see them having to navigate that, but I am so thankful that In His Steps has the Foundation Center. This has become a safe haven for these young men. They receive everything they need including education and English lessons. One of the reasons I was out there was to interview and gather information to develop stories for the In His Steps website. One guy I really loved talking to was John. John is about 15 and has lost both of his parents. Sad story, but I can tell you that he's happy at the Foundation Center. He loves being there and appreciates the wholesome environment he lives in. It's hard to put in words how my heart goes out to the people here. God has called us here, and I am so thankful. 

Sleeping in Saang, well, not so much. Most Cambodians that live in the countyrside sleep on the floor. It's just normal. We slept in the Foundation Center on a straw mat covered by a pink mosquito net. It was hot, and my body did not like the hard surface. In fact, I would wake every 30 minutes or so to wake up my arm or some other body part that had fallen asleep. Then I turned on my side and repeated the process 30 minutes later. When 5am rolled around, I was awakened to Gong Kia (IHS staff member) worshipping to "How Great is Our God." Wow. His passion for Jesus was evident. Sitting outside, I watched as he practiced guitar and relentlessly worshiped His God. A few minutes later everyone else rolled off their mats and began to get ready for the day. I tried to help, but I don't think I'm quite cut out for folding mosquito nets. It's like folding the sheet that goes over your mattress, but more difficult, like times 100. Then the guys began their morning routine which included time in the Word, chores, and a bath. 

Now, a Cambodian shower is interesting. Cambodians are generally modest in what's done in public, so that includes taking a bath. We use these scarves called Kromas. They wrap around your mid-section and everything shower-wise is done without that thing falling off. It's a science. So what would you do if you saw a pasty white man walking down a dirt street with a Kroma wrapped around him with a bunch of dark Cambodians? Create a picture in your mind and you have Jacob. :)

The rest of the day comprised of evaluating classes taught, tons of photography and gathering information to help develop the website. Spending time there was not a one-time event. I hope to get out there at least 2-3 times a week. I've started relationships  that I plan to develop, and there is something special happening in Saang that I can't explain, but I will tell you, God is moving is and doing something big in many lives. It's incredible to participate.

Here are a few photos I took while I was out there. Enjoy the journey.

A water barrel at the Foundation Center.

Gong Kia preparing his lesson for the day.

The beautiful sunset at the Foundation Center.

Kids doing acrobatics in the hay.

Some of Gong Kia's students learning from their home.

A few of Sopheak's students.

Lunch time at the Foundation Center. A perfect picture of prayer.

Soksabai! Hear Our First Khmer Conversation. Hilarious.

Last week we started our Khmer lessons with Keriya.  Keriya is our Cambodian language tutor.  She will come 3x a week and teach for an hour at a time.  This past Tuesday was our first lesson and for our homework, we had to record a conversation between Noelle and I.

Please listen. It will change your life. And you will laugh really hard.

Just click on the picture to download the patient.