Nou Kalyaney could be on the road to screen stardom after becoming a regular presenter
on the Cambodian Television Network at the age of 18.
Kalyaney is one of a growing number of Cambodians learning English as a second language
to boost their career prospects.
After starting lessons at the age of 12 she is now helping others by co-presenting CTN's
English tuition show Hello Cambodia at 6.15pm on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
She said: "The show is gaining in popularity and if I could work in television
I would. I'd like to be a newsreader and I'd go to any country to do it.
"I don't think English is really difficult to learn if you study hard, and the
grammar has similarities with Khmer.
"You don't need to go to an expensive school either; it all depends on how hard
the student is prepared to work."
The students use novel ways to brush up on their vocabulary, including listening
to their favourite pop songs and reading newspapers such as the Phnom Penh Post.
The 2004 edition of the Yellow Pages shows upwards of 190 different institutes and
centers teaching English in Phnom Penh alone.
One of the oldest is the Australian Centre for Education in Boeung Raing, which opened
its doors in 1992 and now has 3,000 students, including Kalyaney.
But the dominance of English is being challenged by Chinese, with a growing minority
of Khmers choosing it as their language of choice.
ACE Director Louise Fitzgerald said: "English is a great benefit to them because
people outside Cambodia don't speak Khmer. Education and employment are the two biggest
reasons for them choosing it.
"There are very few books in Khmer, so if people want to read they have to learn
a different language, or even access the internet, plus many of the university courses
are given in English.
"I'm a student of Chinese myself and there are a lot of big Chinese companies,
especially in the garment industry, but internationally it's got to be English."
Heng Pidor, academic head of the recently opened Lion City International Institute
in Street 63 agrees, believing English has become the second language of choice for
Khmers, despite the challenge of economic powerhouse China.
"Chinese seems to be important for businesspeople but English is necessary for
NGO work, tourism and most other businesses.
"It's so important that people are starting to learn a second language because
Cambodia is developing and it helps the country move from one stage to another.
Our technology is moving forward so we need to catch up."
Student Khim Finan, 20, says the number of international scholarships available to
English-speaking Khmers is proving a major draw.
He said: "There are scholarships open to us from Japanese and Swedish universities,
where we must write our thesis in English
"Jobs that require English also pay more money than those for Chinese speakers,
and with tourism proving a bigger factor in the economy it can really help."
But with courses costing up to $170 for each three month term, there is a danger
that only the upper classes will get the chance to learn English.
Chris Mothershead, an English teacher at the Asia Pacific International School on
Nehru Boulevard, warns that Cambodia will suffer if people from lower income backgrounds
are not able to learn the language.
He said: "The gentrification of English is going in the wrong direction; many
of the young people I teach are from upper or middle class backgrounds who will probably
not have much use for the language.
"What we need is people in the service industries to be able to speak English.
"It would be really nice if I could go to a bakery or moto driver and tell them
exactly what I want. If someone could offer low group rates to businesses offering
to teach the whole staff enough English to communicate in six months it would be
"If someone has the ability to hold down a job they are capable of learning
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