Published: February 22nd 2011February 20th 2011
My Ka'mai Language Group
Louise, Esther, Neil, Dara, Katie, Me
So my language training is in full flow, and we've started out with basic words and phrases and some grammatical rules. However, the two things you need for learning a language, natural aptitude and memory, are two talents I distinctly lack! Thankfully our teacher, Dara, is an absolute genius. He taught himself English by reading a dictionary in a refugee camp in Thailand during the Khmer Rouge period, speaks Ka'Mai, English, Spanish, French, Thai, Vietnamese and who knows what else. It is fair to say that more than a couple of the female volunteers have developed a crush on him!
Dara is a brilliant teacher and has a knack of honing in on those words/phrases that you struggle with, pushing you (subtly but firmly) to nail it. We are learning about 30 new words a day, so I'm slowly building my vocab day by day. The other night I was able to go into a shop and in Ka'mai say hello, how are you, ask for a phonecard and a beer, pay in Reil (local currency), say goodbye and not sound like a bumbling Westerner using only charade-esque sign language! Not bad for only 6hours of lessons by that point........ahem.
When I can speak to you next on the phone/Skype I'll be sure to show off my Ka'mai....provided of course all you want to know is how to ask for a phonecard that is!
Ka'mai is actually a pretty easy language to get to grips with, as there are no past/present/future tenses, it is not tonal (unlike Vietnamese for example) and most of the conjunctive adverbs that we use in English don't exist - making sentence structure a lot easier. That said, who am I kidding, it is still pretty bloody difficult!
The great thing though is that although my Ka'mai is still very basic, a little really does go a long way. Cambodians are used to back packers and most Westeners just passing through, not really knowing any Ka'mai. So, when a 'barrang' (the Ka'mai word for 'French' but actually used as a derogatory term for any foreigner...a wonderful French colonial hangover, brilliant!) uses some Ka'mai, 99% of people are taken aback and love it! When I spoke to a local night market food vendor with some basic Ka'mai, saying hello and asking for some fried rice with veg, she blinked twice, broke out into a beaming smile and proceeded into a 30sec soliloquy...to which all I could do is smile back and ask for a Fanta!
The other day a bloke pulled out in front of Esther on his moto into the road, said “Sorry” and when Esther replied with “Ot Panyahaa”, a Ka'mai saying for a casual “No problem”, he was so surprised that he nearly fell of his bike and caused a second crash!
As you can tell from the photo of my language group friends (we are in the afternoon, the other 6 volunteers are in the morning), I've gone all Colonel Kurtz
on my barnet - I look like a cue ball, but it is so much cooler and with no hair product comes far fewer mozzies! And of course I'll achieve that much sought after all over tan......