Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Same, Same But Different

A popular phrase that I often hear over here is 'same, same but different.' This phrase is becoming more true to me today as I had 3 hours of language lessons by two different teachers. Over the past week and a half, I have had a private tutor called Chheut who teaches me for 2 hours each morning. This week I started my daily free lessons at LEC (Language Exchange Cambodia). LEC is located about 15 minutes from my home and was actually set up by an Indonesian family who live in Cambodia and is well known among the NGO and international community as the place to go to learn Khmer. So off I went on Monday to inhale further language study!

LEC's Office

Today my head is spinning as I'm discovering there is so much slang in the Khmer language. (I'm sure new immigrants to Canada probably say the same thing when they are learning English!) My private tutor teaches me a few ways to say the same thing and my other teacher (nyeck crew ---Khmer for female teacher) at LEC is giving me other words to say the same thing. It is 'same, same but different.' I think my brain is going to explode from trying to remember all of these words which mean the same thing. There is a formal way of saying things that you would use when you are writing and then there is an informal (slang) way that the majority of Khmer speak---the latter is what I am learning. The one good thing about this is that you don't need to remember people's names. So for those of us who have poor memory recall, all you need to know is older (bong) or younger (Own) and uncle (Pou) for the tuk-tuk driver and you can are off to a good start. The trick though is figuring out who is older or younger. All Asians (sorry for generalizing) generally look younger than their age and so we all call each other 'own'.

Cheata, my 'Nyeck Crew (teacher) at LEC

Trying to learn a second language when one is still working on mastering their own language is quite a challenge. In North America, or least in Canada, we don't normally open our mouths in a wide or broad way. Not sure if you get what I mean but here, I feel like I have to do mouth exercises and contortions to get certain sounds and open my mouth wide to pronounce certain words. However, progress is being made so thanks for your prayers.
Louise a British national who is good friends with one of my other friends having her language lesson

Come September 1st, I will be switching over to LEC and ending the private tutoring. LEC's teaching methods are a bit more organized and better in reinforcing what I have learned by training us to 'think' in Khmer versus translating the words back into English.  I am forced to practice on the spot asking questions and responding to questions by a variety of people. They even give homework so my challenge is to find someone to practice with as most of the time I am spending time meeting with English speakers. I've started to enlist Mickey my tuk tuk driver as one of my 'practicing targets' and suggested from now on we speak only in Khmer. One of my other missionary friends has also been helping me with the pronounciation and last night we were having a good laugh speaking to each other in Khmer. However we both figured that when we go back to Canada, we now have a second language to talk in if we don't want other people to know what we are saying. That could come in handy in certain situations! :-)

All this to say, please continue to pray for God to give me the gift of the Khmer tongue, for good memory retention and for people that I can practice with on a regular basis. My pastor's wife recently sent me a wonderful quote by author Frances Chan from his book 'The Forgotten God' that serves as a good reminder that apart from Him I can do nothing and this includes grasping this language and all the slang in the variety of ways it is spoken. Referring to the Holy Spirit, France Chan writes:  "I don't want my life to be explainable without the Holy Spirit.  I want people to look at my life and know that I couldn't be doing this by my own power.  I want to live in such a way that I am desperate for Him to come through." This is the prayer of my heart not only for my own personal pilgrimage here in Cambodia but for the work of Ratanak International. Not by might, not by power, but by the Spirit of God! (Zechariah 4:6)


  1. Oh well, we all want to learn Khmer, Lisa, so don't count on keeping secrets when you're back in Canada! :-)

    Praying indeed for you to speak in the Khmer tongue as the Spirit enables you, telling in the Khmer tongue the mighty works of God.

    Love and blessings, Linda Ruth

  2. ha, ha, LR you are hilarious! Some times secrets are good! Thanks as always for your prayers!

  3. Hi! I just moved to Phnom Penh and was wondering where the LEC office is. I'm having a hard time finding it on the internet. Thanks for your help!