It’s sawasdee, ka, even in Cambodia

Thai courses in the Khmer capital help forge ties with our sometimes distant neighbour

Bangkok Post

Heang Sreychea, 19, a Cambodian student at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, is listening to the Thai traditional Loy Krathong song and singing along to the lyrics displayed on a karaoke TV screen.

The young woman is among 27 Cambodian students enrolled in a basic Thai language and culture class run by the university’s Institute of Foreign Language (IFL) in the Cambodian capital. “I want to go to Thailand. That’s why I study Thai,” said Ms Sreychea, a media and communications student. “I think Thai is similar to Cambodian. So it isn’t too difficult for me to remember Thai words.”

The university has taught Thai for five years as an extra-curricular course to promote cultural and educational ties between Thailand and Cambodia. Three Thais teach the students. Thai language courses are gaining popularity among Cambodians at the university (RUPP) even though relations between the countries go through ups and downs.

The vice-rector of RUPP and overseer of the IFL, Sous Man, said the university had asked the Cambodian Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports to upgrade Thai as a major subject at undergraduate level. This would give Cambodian students more

chance to improve their Thai skills, find good jobs with Thai companies and win scholarships to pursue higher degrees in Thailand. If it allowed the IFL to add the Thai language to its foreign language majors for undergraduate students, more Thai teachers would be needed for the programme, she said.

Since Thai courses have been offered at the IFL, the number of Cambodian students has increased every year. No more than 35 students are allowed for each course to ensure quality standards can be met. The IFL has four Thai courses ranging from basic learning to advanced tuition for those who want to learn various techniques and styles in Thai.

Students pay about 1,000 baht for each one-year Thai course. Sa-ngop Boonkloy, a Thai language teacher from Buri Ram Rajabhat University, has been teaching at the Cambodian university for three years. He said that after finishing four Thai courses, his Cambodian students were highly qualified and could find decent jobs with Thai companies and the Thai embassy in Phnom Penh.

Some work as interpreters and translators while others are waiting to receive scholarships to study at Thai universities, Mr Sa-ngop said.

“I will try to teach many more Cambodian students to speak and understand Thai because I believe the language will help foster ties between our two countries,” he said. In the same way, he wanted to see more Thai universities teaching the Khmer language to Thai students.

Ly Bonthunnarak, 17, an architect student at RUPP, who has enrolled in the basic Thai language course, said he learns Thai because he wants to help his mother run a flower shop. The young man’s mother has a flower shop in Phnom Penh and travels to Bangkok’s Pak Khlong flower market several times a month to place orders. “If I can speak Thai more fluently, I will be able to help,” he said.

Thep Pharin, 22, a psychology student at RUPP, has studied Thai for four years because she plans to take scholarship exams to study graduate level psychology in Thailand. “I’m proud I can speak Thai fluently. I have to thank Acharn Sa-ngop for his support,” Ms Pharin said.


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