My Attempt at Learning a New Language

Recently, I have been working on procuring volunteer translators for stories from lawyers working in Cambodia. These stories highlight recent successes the lawyers have secured for their clients. These first-hand accounts are critical for IBJ because they communicate to donors and the public the work the organization does through a personal narrative. They are also a great way for me to better understand the work that is done in the field.

As I wasn’t able to travel this summer, I wanted to attempt to immerse myself in what I was missing out of as much as possible from Williamsburg. When I was living in China, my daily experiences were regularly improved by my ability to speak and read a little Chinese. Not only was this practical, but also a way for me to make clear to the non-English speakers I came into contact with that I wasn’t just a tourist, and I was trying to adapt.

I knew I wasn’t going to make any meaningful headway into learning Khmer. However, I thought it might be a rewarding experience to try. I found a beginner-level Khmer class through the US-ASEAN Youth Council and enrolled. I consider myself a visual learner, and a big reason I was drawn to studying Chinese was the different writing system. The format of the class was similar to how I learned Chinese in that respect. The Khmer written language is made up of consonants and vowels. In our first class, the instructor introduced us to five consonants and five vowels. Each consonant can exist on its own or with one of the vowels. Our homework was to practice writing out the ten consonants and vowels, as well as the 25 combinations of the consonants and each vowel.

Language learning requires long periods of rote memorization. As overwhelming studying and working in China could be, I remember finding solace in sitting down with my paper and pen and writing characters over and over again while whispering the sound to myself. While I will never reach that level with Khmer, it has been nice to find some connection between something I previously studied and something that feels pretty impenetrable.

If I had not studied Chinese, I would not have attempted to learn Khmer. Even though I only know a fraction of how the writing system works. I feel proud to have attempted to learn something so difficult. I hope I can take that intellectual curiosity and confidence into the upcoming semester and beyond.