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
"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
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
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.