Learning Thai in Cambodia: an Overlooked Language Provides an Abundance of Opportunities

An Sophorn is currently a third year student at Thai Language Department at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. Photo provided.
  • Heat Vanna
  • July 28, 2020 8:30 AM

Most Cambodians opt for English or Chinese language studies, but as An Sophorn comes close to finishing her third year of studies at the Royal University of Phnom Penh’s Institute of Foreign Languages, she explains to Cambodianess’ Heat Vanna why she bucked the trend and opted to study Thai.

Heat Vanna: We know that in the Cambodian context, studying Thai is not as popular as English or Chinese, so can you share with us the reasons behind your decision to spend four years learning this language?

An Sophorn: Actually, the main reason I decided to learn Thai is my affection for the language, but also I’ve seen many senior students from my school who have learnt Thai and it has really helped them with traveling—there are a lot of overseas exchange programs and educational opportunities. On the other hand, since this language is not very popular, most people expect that it will make it difficult for me to find work, but I see it completely differently—the relations between Thailand and Cambodia provide plenty of jobs.  Lastly, another important reason for me choosing Thai is that I earned the scholarship to pursue this degree. If there was no scholarship, I believe my family would not have enough money to support my studies.

Heat Vanna: Have you ever been encouraged by your family or anyone for the idea of learning Thai?

An Sophorn: At first, my family was not very supportive of me learning Thai because they initially wanted me to be a teacher, but they did not oppose my decision, ultimately. They said if I really love the language, just learn it. Later, when I started learning it, they also started to encourage and support me. Moreover, during my studies, I have also got a job offer and that has helped my family see how the language has benefited me, so they are proud of my decision and are very supportive.

Heat Vanna: Besides Thai, have you ever studied any other languages?

An Sophorn: In the past, I used to learn English and Chinese, but I only took short courses. Later, because of the pandemic, I had to study online and there were some difficulties with that so that I decided to quit. Now I just study Thai.

Heat Vanna: You have said that you are working while you are studying, has that been difficult?

An Sophorn: Studying and working at once is a bit tiring for me because I don’t get much rest. I have to manage the time between going to school in the morning and working during the day, but the work is not so difficult because most of it is related to what I have learned—it complements my studies.

Heat Vanna: Undoubtedly, learning a new language is not easy, so could you share with us the challenges when it comes to learning Thai and how do you deal with them?

An Sophorn: The most difficult thing for me is pronunciation, because the Thai language has up to five sounds, and when we pronounce them incorrectly—even just a little—it changes the meaning. It was very tough for me early on and it took me almost a year to master it. My solution is to keep practicing as much as possible. For pronunciation, I practice it every day, sometimes I speak alone. On the other hand, when I meet my friends who also study Thai, I try to speak Thai more with them. Additionally, music is also an important factor that motivates me to learn this language quickly because Thai is a musical language. So, I can learn to sing Thai songs, which makes my pronunciation better. 

Heat Vanna: What would you say to people who still believe that the Thai language doesn’t offer much in the way of employment for Cambodians?

An Sophorn: Although Thai is overlooked by many, personally I still believe it is a worthwhile language to learn, because when there are not many learners, there is less competition for Cambodians who speak Thai. Plus because Thailand is our neighbor, when we have a bachelor’s degree in Thai, we are more likely to be accepted when we want to work in Thailand. Also, in Cambodia, there are job opportunities that require Thai language skills, so as one of the few students studying Thai I will have a higher chance of getting these jobs. Finally, I would like to emphasize that any subject or major we learn is equally important and when we are sure about what we want to learn, it will be more convenient for us to build our future career.



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