A Cambodian Student Explains what Prompts Him to Study Chinese Language

Chea Seang Bou is currently a sophomore studying at the Institute of Foreign Languages’ Department of Chinese at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). Photo provided.
  • Him Imrorn
  • August 9, 2020 9:53 AM

Also majoring in international studies, Chea Seang Bou speaks of the challenges this presents and his beliefs that COVID-19 will not change the usefulness of speaking Chinese in the country today

Chea Seang Bou is currently a sophomore studying at the Institute of Foreign Languages’ Department of Chinese at the Royal University of Phnom Penh (RUPP). He also is a freshman majoring in international studies at RUPP’s Department of International Studies. Having completed Grade 12 as a grade A student in 2017, Seang Bou has won several Chinese speech competitions and worked as a Chinese-language teacher at the Cambodia-ASEAN International Institute last year and this year. Cambodianess journalist Him Imrorn has interviewed Seang Buo and asked him what prompted him to study Chinese and how he views the use and usefulness of this language amidst the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

Him Imrorn: You are currently studying for a Bachelor’s degree in Chinese, so what prompted you to do so?

Chea Seang Bou: I have been learning Chinese since I was 13 years old. At the time, I did not intend to learn Chinese, but because my parents are from Chinese descent, they wanted me to learn Chinese.

At the same time, upon my grade 12 graduation in 2017, the growth of the Chinese-speaking community in Cambodia had accelerated significantly. It made me think that knowing Chinese could help me in terms of job opportunities. Moreover, since I had been learning Chinese for four years, I thought it would be a waste of time if I ended up not boosting my language proficiency. So, I decided to pursue a bachelor's degree in Chinese at the Royal University of Phnom Penh to improve my knowledge of Chinese language and to deeply comprehend, understand that language. Finally, I think that, personally, have innate skills in Chinese because since I started studying it, I have always had good results at school.

Him Imrorn: You mentioned many reasons regarding your decision to learn Chinese. Would you share with us what will be your future career, taking your knowledge of Chinese language into account?

Chea Seang Bou: I would like to do business with Chinese entrepreneurs because there are many Chinese businessmen in our country. On the other hand, I also would like to be a foreign affairs official at an institution or a government ministry since I am taking another major, which is International Studies.

Him Imrorn: The two degrees you are taking are different—one is studying international relations and the other learning Chinese, which is not your native language. So, can you share with us any difficulties you encounter as you do so?

Chea Seang Bou: It is fairly difficult because there are a lot of class assignments for both majors. However, since I have plenty of experience in both translation and hosting Chinese-language programs, I think I am fine with Chinese studies.  So I put the priority more on my other major.

Him Imrorn: Many students have said that learning Chinese is very difficult. As a Chinese language learner, what is your take?

Chea Seang Bou: For me, I think it is neither too difficult nor is it too easy. At this point, I want to say that, in terms of difficulty, it must be both sounds and letters. For letters, we have to memorize each letter because the Chinese language does not have a vowel or a consonant system like some other languages. Words in Chinese are deep, plentiful and have different meanings depending on the situations. So that not everyone can recognize every word. Moreover, another challenge is that the spoken language cannot be used for written language. However, the most difficult part is pronunciation, which is usually not very easy to master for adults who have just learned Chinese because, in order to improve Chinese pronunciation, we usually have to start learning at a young age.

Anyway, the easy side of it is that Chinese is a language whose words are in order, meaning that if we want to say a phrase or a sentence, we just put the words in order and then we can speak, not paying much attention to grammar or tenses like in English. Grammar in Chinese is indeed difficult if we express things deeply, but for the spoken language, we don’t need to think much about grammar.

And for a fun way, modern Chinese language has some special features. Each word has a deep meaning that is not easy for those who study Chinese to understand, obviously, as in a poem that has only five to seven letters. But if we translate it into Khmer, writing it may take one paragraph. This is a specific feature of the Chinese language for which I must praise the scholars of ancient Chinese literature.

Him Imrorn: In the context of the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, we see that the number of Chinese nationals in Cambodia has decreased significantly. Do you think that the Chinese-speaking market will decrease too?

Chea Seang Bou: It is true that the COVID-19 pandemic indeed affected the job market of some people who can speak Chinese, such as tour guides. But I do not think it has affected much because the ability to speak Chinese allows us to find many job opportunities, such as translation or work in some shops owned by Chinese people. There are several reasons for [COVID-19 not changing this], such as the close relationship between Cambodia and China, which makes trade more cohesive; and the geographical proximity [as] Cambodia and China are on the same continent. As you may know, East and Southeast Asian countries are working closely in terms of trade. Cambodia also favors China in the South China Sea dispute by suggesting that all parties in the dispute solve the dispute bilaterally. Therefore in the current situation, if the two governments do not change their political strategy, the market for Chinese speakers will remain the same as these factors indicate that trade relations between the two have improved. And nowadays, we can communicate systematically through digital, too.

Him Imrorn: I believe you have extensive knowledge of the techniques to learn Chinese. Would you share with us some tips for those who would like to learn Chinese effectively?

Chea Seang Bou: Honestly, I don’t have any tips that are different from others. The most important thing I would share is to practice, especially by listening to videos in Chinese and trying to understand Chinese culture and society so that we can really grasp the characteristics of Chinese language. Another important thing is to practice directly with Chinese people…If we don’t practice with native speakers, it may be difficult for us to learn the language effectively.


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