FOR many of Cambodia's budding students eager to stand out in an increasingly competitive market, learning a second language simply isn't enough.
As investment from China, Korea and Japan continues to push the Kingdom's economy in the direction of East Asia, language schools say they are also reorienting themselves to account for the demands of the changing job market.
"Especially in Cambodia, the more languages you speak, the more opportunities you have," said Chea Tryant, a facilitator at Leep Khung Khmer Chinese English School, one of the oldest Chinese-language centres in Phnom Penh. Having originally attracted mainly Chinese-Khmer students, Chea Tryant says a growing number of Khmer students have pushed enrolments at the school to more than 2,000.
"Chinese is becoming much more popular to study amongst Cambodians because there are more and more companies that require their employees to speak Chinese," he said. "Students and their parents know that if you learn Chinese, you'll be more likely to get these jobs."
While the number of students learning English remains high, Suos Man, deputy director of the Institute of Foreign Languages at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, said there are now "more and more" students choosing to study East Asian languages, forcing the school to expand beyond the English- and French-oriented career paths of the past. She put the trend down to a basic supply/demand response to Cambodia's current market orientation.
"Students see different job opportunities opening up. There is a much greater variety of investment programs in Cambodia today than before, with Korean, Japanese and Chinese companies looking for people who possess these languages," she said. "The public demand is much greater in Cambodian companies as well, who want to employ people who can use these languages."
Suos Man said parents were also encouraging their children to study these languages as universities in the East became more competitive with the Western Ivy League schools coveted in the past.
In response to the heightened demand, the school recently opened night programs to the public, allowing anyone, not just high school graduates, to learn Chinese and Korean.
"There is demand in the general public, especially people working with NGOs or in the tourist industry, to learn these languages to complement their work," she said.
Susanna Coghlan, director of training at AAA Cambodia, a strategic human resources consulting firm, said that English was still in the lead as a second language but there was a growing need for employees to know a third tongue.
"Second and third language acquisition is essentially a must in this highly competitive job market...Asian languages, such as Chinese, Japanese and Korean, are becoming more popular to reflect the changing marketplace inside and outside of Cambodia," she said.
"Also, until recently, standards of living and household incomes have been on the rise for many Cambodian families and these countries are becoming more attractive destinations for both study and work abroad," she said.
Coghlan believed Chinese was fast becoming the most sought after Asian language, however language requirements varied across sectors.
"Demand for third languages is particularly high in the tourism and hospitality sector. Other sectors which will often seek out people with additional East Asian languages are manufacturing, banking and finance, and most other service industries," she said.
"Current demand from MNCs [multinational corporations] and international organisations in Cambodia is certainly highest for English language ability," she added. "However, [because of] the sheer size of the Chinese market and the large amount of donor assistance which they provide to Cambodia, combined with a strong ethnic Chinese presence in many Cambodian families, it would be naïve not to regard Chinese as an increasingly viable option for improving language skills."
Chea Tryant agreed, but stressed Chinese was not the only key to the job world. "If you know how to speak another language, any language, your future will be brighter," he said.