Learn Khmer

When you travel in Cambodia, you need to know some basic Khmer (Cambodian language).

I find it easier to use the standard English International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) to show the pronunciation.

When I first arrived in Cambodia, I was given some textbooks and websites from the priests and volunteers but none of the materials have a standard pronunciation scheme for this language so I decided to listen to the local people instead and document their pronunciation using English IPA (British accent / Daniel Jones).

Yes, this is what linguists usually do and I just learn from them.  😊   

Now, I have developed a list and have selected a few words which may be useful for you.

English IPA is what I specialise in and what I teach. If you are interested in learning English IPA, contact me at learnxtravel@gmail.com.  😊

Note that there are different accents. The list below shows the most common Khmer pronunciation.


Note in Khmer, the /p/ sound is not aspirated and the /r/ sound is similar to the Spanish /r/. When you say it, you put your palms together like what the monks do to show respect.

The /d/ sound is not a voiced sound.  
How are you?

/sɒk sə bɑɪ te/?  
Note: /k/ is silent; /b/ is not voiced; /t/ is not aspirated. Cambodians sometimes say /sɒk sə bɑɪ/ as a sentence. It can also mean ‘Godspeed’. 

I remember when I left Kampong Cham for Phnom Penh, the staff at the church in Kampong Cham said /sɒk sə bɑɪ/ to me.
I am fine./sɒk/
Again, the /k/ sound is silent.
I am not fine.

/ɑ: sɒk/
This is a very dangerous answer because they will ask you why and you will then need to explain in Khmer.  😀

I learnt this expression when one of my students answered me /ɑ: sɒk/.  After I heard it, I asked him why in English.  He then knew he was ‘in trouble’. 😀 He couldn’t explain that in English.  😀  He probably felt more /ɑ: sɒk/ than he was before. 😀
Thank you./ɒ ku:n/
/k/ is not aspirated.

/ɑ: te/
The /ɑ:/ sound is quite short. /t/ is not aspirated.
Yup, that’s right. It does sound like ‘bro’ in English. There is no plural form in Khmer.
You can find this word in Cambodian names too. Usually, when you see a name or hear a name with the sound /sreɪ/, you know this is a girl’s name.

Want to know more about the naming convention in Cambodia? Check out my other blog here: https://learnxtravel.com/2019/11/30/cambodian-names/
How much is it?

/ðlɑɪ pɒn mɑ:n/?
Khmer doesn’t have the /ð/ sound but this is the closest pronunciation I can get. It is not exactly /t/ and it’s not /d/ either.  When I pronounced it as /ð/, my students were happy that I got it right.

Remember, when you pronounce it, it is not a voiced sound.    

Again, the /p/ is not aspirated.  

I highlighted this one because as a foreigner, if you don’t speak any Khmer, the vendors will charge you a ‘foreigner’ price. But if you can speak Khmer, they may charge you a ‘local’ price.  The difference may be very slight but if you are travelling long term, it does make a difference.  

So, learn this phrase by heart and learn to count.

/t/ here is silent. I put it here to indicate that /aɪ/ is a short vowel sound.

/ɑ:/ sound is quite short.

/prɑ:m mʊɪ/
We need to do some simple maths here. Basically, it stops at five.  From six onwards, you need to count like this: 5+1 = 6 so it’s 5, 1 /prɑ:m mʊɪ/

/prɑ:m bɪ/
5, 2

/prɑ:m baɪt/
5, 3

/prɑ:m bu:n/
5, 4

Again, the /d/ sound is not voiced and the /p/ sound is not aspirated.

/dɒp mʊɪ/
Again, simple maths time. From eleven onwards, it is 10 + n. So it’s /dɒp mʊɪ/ 10, 1 here. This applies to 11 to 19.

/mə pɑɪ/
/p/ is not aspirated.
Have no money

/ɒ mɪen lʊɪ/
I said it once when I got on a city bus in Phnom Penh with no change. Find the whole story here: https://learnxtravel.com/2020/01/05/buses/

When I was on a tourist minivan, the driver stopped at a petrol station and he said to all the tourists on the minivan /ʤɑ:m/.  Of course, nobody understood except me and another Cambodian on board. But now, you understand. 😊 Click here to find out more about transportation in Cambodia: https://learnxtravel.com/2020/01/05/getting-around/


Note the /j/ sound. This is not the letter ‘j’. Many of my IPA students confuse the two when they first learn IPA.
I wait for you.

/knjɒm ʤɑ:m net/  
I said this all the time when the PassApp drivers called me. Usually, they can’t speak English and I only know basic Khmer so what I did was, I said this to them and then asked some locals near me to help me speak to the PassApp drivers. 

More about PassApp here: https://learnxtravel.com/2020/01/05/mobile-apps/
A little bit/dɪg dɪg/
/d/ and /g/ are not voiced sounds.

Now, when you travel to Cambodia, you can tell the Cambodians /knjɒm nɪjeɪ kmɑɪ dɪg dɪg/ which means ‘I speak a little bit of Khmer’. 😊

And now with this basic knowledge, you may want to explore some off the beaten paths in Cambodia. Check out my blog here to find out some off the beaten tracks: https://learnxtravel.com/2019/12/14/off-the-beaten-path/ 😊

Check out the 10 different ways of travelling around Cambodia and talk to the drive in Khmer on PassApp or Tuk Tuk 😊: https://learnxtravel.com/2020/01/05/getting-around/


Contact me for an English IPA lesson: https://learnxtravel.com/contact-us/

Check out my testimonials here: https://learnxtravel.com/

Check out what my previous lesson with the kids in the village looked like: https://learnxtravel.com/2019/06/29/if-they-can-do-it-you-can-do-it-too-you-can-even-be-better/

Bookmark this page, keep referring to it, learn these words by heart and share it with your friends.  Then you all can /nɪjeɪ kmɑɪ dɪg dɪg/. 😊

P.S. If you are really interested in learning Khmer alphabet, check out my YouTube video in which a kindergarten teacher taught me how to read Khmer alphabet:

Listen to that! I couldn’t say these letters well. 🙁 I am glad the kindergarten teacher was so patient. 😀
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