THE banners have been hanging in the wind and rain for 15 days now, but only five
children have turned up to ask about training for the new Esperanto language course.
Esperanto teacher Chhim Sokha has been forced into a new approach: offering the course
That has only encouraged mockery and derision. "Even if they came to my house
to teach me for free I wouldn't learn," said Mao Saran, 27. Reflecting, Saran
decides he might learn it if he had a girlfriend, so he could whisper "words
of love" so that other people couldn't understand.
Chan Mach reckons Esperanto might be a good idea for spies or secret police. Another
student, Tep Sok, said: "In Cambodia Esperanto is a dead language. I would rather
learn Cham [spoken by the small Islamic community], not Esperanto."
Learning foreign languages is big business in Cambodia, and an issue seeped in history.
English and French were included in school curricula before the Khmer Rouge era of
1975. After 1979, Russian and Vietnamese were taught. People could only learn English
and French secretly during much of the 80s, but now the two languages have been reintroduced
into the school syllabus.
However, most Cambodians know little about Esperanto.
Esperanto was created by a Polish eye doctor in 1887 with the aim of promoting it
as an international language. Its roots are derived from words commonly found in
Encyclopedia Brittanica says that Esperanto is the most successful of the international
artificial languages, with over 100,000 speakers.
However, "Kamboga Esperanto Associo" director Chhim Sokha reckons there
are millions of speakers now around the world.
Undaunted by the apparent lack of interest from Cambodians, Sokha - in addition to
making his classes free - is going to ask different ministries and departments to
nominate students to learn the langauge.
Sokha began learning the language in Ho Chi Minh City, and continued when he returned
to Cambodia in the late 80s. He first opened an Esperanto class in 1990, and claims
to have taught 1,000 Khmers the strange language.
Sokha, who also speaks English, German, Spanish, Vietnamese and French, launched
his "Kamboga Esperanto Associo" in 1993. Since then, he has mostly taught
curious Cambodians privately at his home.
"Anything that is easy to learn is also easy to lose," he said.