The one school to study German in Phnom Penh may be small, but it’s gained a large following.
The Goethe Institute is based on the ground floor of Meta House, a Khmer-German cultural centre on Sothearos Boulevard that was founded and is run by Berlin filmmaker Nico Mesterharm.
When Eva Pritscher, a Bavarian teacher trained in Slavic and German languages, started working at the Goethe Institute in 2009, she was the only German teacher in Phnom Penh.
“More and more families from the growing middle and upper class ask me whether their children can study in Germany,” she said. “Our education system has a very good reputation among Cambodians. They consider Germany a good-quality and rather cheap country to study, since most universities do not charge any fees.”
Eva added that in the last four years, over 600 Cambodian students have sought ought German classes.
“There are also many Cambodians who work for German organisations and want to learn the language of their employers,” she said.
Another group of students are Cambodian women who want to immigrate to live with their German, Swiss or Austrian husbands. Due to a new law, they can only get a long-term visa for Europe after they pass a German test.
The Goethe Institute offers three different intensive beginner sessions: morning, afternoon and evening. Each 10-week course consists of 78 units and costs $160 including the textbook.
“Our classes in the morning are more popular than the ones in the afternoon, but the main teaching time is in the evening, when we have three classes at the same time,” Eva said. “We even turn our staff room in a class room sometimes . . . we will desperately need more space in the near future.”
The institute has found that more and more Cambodians want to learn the language of Goethe and Schiller.
“From this class we have many opportunities to study through exchange programs in Germany and have a chance to participate in creative projects such as German Day, theatre and so on,” said Tim Pichkessey, who has been learning German at the Goethe institute for a few years.
“If someone travels to Europe it’s beneficial to understand German because many of the countries in Europe speak it, for example, Austria, Switzerland, Luxemburg and many neighbouring countries,” she said. “Moreover, knowing the German language gives us good job opportunities [in Cambodia] with GIZ, Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung and so on.”
The Goethe Institute would like to extend its reach to Siem Reap as well, in particular to teach tour guides and hotel staff.
“If our plans come true, which will hopefully happen next year, we will concentrate our Siem Reap classes in September and October during the rainy season,” Eva said.
Prum Sokna, secretary at the Goethe Institute office, got a scholarship from the institute in 2012 to visit and take language courses in Germany.
“From the first day I arrived Germany I was very excited to learn German culture and language. German people are very friendly and kind,” Sokna said.
Sokna encourages Cambodians interested in German to give it a try.
“At my work place I can communicate with my boss and my colleagues in German, and I am very proud when I speak it. German is great,” she said.