Language Training

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February 20th 2011
Published: February 22nd 2011EDIT THIS ENTRY

My Ka'mai Language GroupMy Ka'mai Language GroupMy Ka'mai Language Group

(l-r) 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 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......

Big love,



22nd February 2011

Re Language Training
Okay so what is Ka'mai for 'Bear'? That's what we need to know. And be careful if you see your teacher with a bowler hat. He looks well like a certain Bond villain.
23rd February 2011

Hi Peter your blogs make me laugh out loud. The Robert Sutton French teacher, who's name I have not retained, would be gobsmacked at your command of the language. Torin looked over my sholder and he asked me to tell you that he misses and he loves you very much, to the moon and back again xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx He did all these kisses himself.torin Its been raining for the last 3 days in BOT not a great recipe for half term holidays. Love Mum
24th February 2011

I can't believe you're drinking Fanta these days
Well Pugs, as I helped teach you English all those years ago (I was a very precocious 3 year old, folks) I can certainly recognise the enormity of the task facing Dara. Nevertheless, I think we could all learn a lot from him and continue to develop our language skills as we move through life. Take our mother, for example; she now says "lol", apparently!
28th February 2011

Good to hear from you.
Pete, Just picked up the e-mail about your blog. Excellent stuff and glad to hear its all going well. Just a small criticism about the "sartorial " look mon ami. Er how can I put needs a bit of work. I'm getting all nostalgic for Vietnam again now, particularly the traffic. When cycling in Hoi An the sheer exhilaration and terror of making that first left turn!!!!! Off to Canada in June starting with a stay in Toronto then a train trip across the country to Vancouver for a few days sightseeing there. John F is applying for job(s) in the new "structure" but it seems to be a Redbridge stitch-up with all the top posts going to them. Take care and steer clear of those Dengue mozzies!

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