“SPEECH is of first importance and letters come after” is an old Cambodian saying that implies the importance of verbal communication rather than letters. Another proverb “Speech tells your nation and attitude tells your originality” reflects the significance of speech too.
The Khmer spoken on broadcast media such as television and radio has become a concern because a number of TV presenters make mistakes in their grammar and choice of words. For instance, they use nouns as verbs, which leads to the misuse by the audience who will copy them. In addition, the writing in some newspapers, magazines, advertisements and other publications is incorrect.
We see that some parents do not make sure their children learn Khmer and concentrate on foreign languages including English and Chinese instead. They say that studying Khmer is just for the sake of knowing since it is not beneficial to future business and work.
One youth from a Chinese-Cambodian family, who did not give us his name, told us he had been studying Chinese since he was small. Speaking Khmer has become a problem for him since he doesn’t know how to write it much and cannot speak it well.
“I am not confident in speaking Khmer since I am afraid of being wrong. My dad has allowed me to study a foreign language more because this language counts for business and communication in the future,” he said.
Some private schools for children consider Khmer language unimportant compared to the native language since young children are mostly communicate in English and Chinese in these schools and Khmer is rarely spoken.
One thing that becomes the concern is that if those children do not learn and speak Khmer much, they will find it difficult in expressing themselves in Khmer when they grow up. They speak mostly foreign languages at a young age when that is best time for learning their native language. I know a university student who can speak English very well like a native speaker, but he cannot speak good Khmer and he finds it hard to get some Khmer difficult words out of his mouth. This has become an impediment as he cannot communicate in Khmer well.
I think Cambodians should learn their national tongue so that they will have insight into Cambodia and will be able to speak good Khmer. In addition, pursuing the art of speaking will lead to effective communication and successful business.
I agree that it’s good for people to speak foreign languages as well, due to the demands of the job market for good command of languages other than Khmer. But as Cambodians, living and working in Cambodia, we will always have to communicate well in Khmer in our work environment.
In the field of leadership, besides being capable, knowledgeable and ethical, communication with people plays a key role in persuading people to trust you. Therefore, being good at speaking is beneficial to leadership. If we do not know how to use Khmer for communication, how can we make our subordinates understand and believe what we are talking?
Ros Chantraboth, deputy director of the Royal Academy of Cambodia and a historian, has considered this issue and believes it should be dealt with, as the Khmer language’s identity can be devalued when there is a strong influence of foreign languages.
“There are a lot of private schools for young child-ren competing with public schools. It debases the public education system of the country. The Ministry of Education has to consider this issue by looking at other countries’ systems, which prioritise the native language for young children,” he said.
Ros Chantraboth explained that some parents think that foreign languages are very important for their children, but it is just the vehicle for them to grab the knowledge from the world.
“If they don’t know Khmer language and have difficulty expressing themselves in it, they will find it hard to contribute in helping the country’s political affairs,” he said.