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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Have backpack, speak English, make money

Have backpack, speak English, make money

A sharply dressed, gold-accesorized Cambodian man in his early 20's showed up at

a guest house where Western travelers hang out. Kang So Saty was out recruiting for

English teachers.

"I have two schools now, and it's hard to find enough foreign teachers,"

said the owner of the Australian English School (AES), who opened up AES II just

two months after the first.

Private English schools are getting to be very big business. "I've become very

successful in a very short time," says the owner of Darareaksmeay Language Center

Van Kimchhan. "Next month I hope to buy a car, also I now have a lot of girlfriends."

Kimchhan said his school's roll was growing every week and he expected next year

to be a great one for schools like his.

Backpackers are finding it's increasingly easier to stay a while longer in Phnom

Penh as a result. Guest houses catering for travelers have on an average two to three

notices posted on any given day, asking for "Native English Teachers, 15 hours

per week, $6 an hour."

One backpacker said it was almost like a cooperative, with people trading hours and

classes between themselves, covering for each other when they wanted a day off.

One Brit said he quit his full-time job to begin teaching, saying "I work a

third of the hours and make more money and have time to get around and explore the

place."

For some it's a chance, they say, of getting a start into private teaching before

moving on to the higher paying, contractual jobs that are always said to be on offer

in South Korea and Japan.

Most private schools in Phnom Penh don't insist on teacher credentials of any kind,

save the ability to speak English. Travelers from Holland, Belgium, India, France,

Sweden, Germany and Norway are all among those currently teaching.

"To tell the truth," said Saty, "the school and the students are not

concerned about credentials. When students learn about a new foreign teacher they

tell their friends and classes begin to fill up, it's good for business.

"The students also have Khmer teachers to cover a lot of technical grammar.

What we need from foreign teachers, and what the students pay for, is conversation,

pronunciation, and practice with accents while moving through the lesson."

Such fringe teaching is usually disparaged among the "mainstream" education

fraternity.

However one Western expert said: "There is a place [for backpacker teachers],

though it's limited.

"There's a growing number of untrained people teaching in private schools, generally

for a small amount of money, and the fact that they're not trained may not matter

too much... I'm not sure they do much harm."

Ek Samoeurn, who has been living in Phnom Penh since 1960 and practising medicine

since 1982, said that before 1975, French was the most important language to know.

"If you knew French you stood more chance at getting a good job or having a

more successful business. After 1979 the enforced languages were Vietnamese and Russian.

In fact, if you were caught speaking English during the Vietnamese occupation you

went to jail. The only English teaching happening then was in prison."

There are pockets of language centers throughout the capital, teaching not just English

but Thai, Chinese and French to name a few.

"The students just want to learn, they want to be prepared for the future, and

create opportunities for themselves.

"It's not unusual for a student to get out of English class just to hurry over

to their 12:30pm French class, and later that night to Chinese lessons," said

one school director.

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