Most Cambodians speak Khmer, the official language. It is used for government documents and taught in schools. The Khmer language is read from left to right, like English. It is a phonetic language. Unlike English, however, the Khmer language has no separation between words. The Khmer writing system is based on an Indian alphabet that was brought into the area many centuries ago.

Some Khmer words come from nearby countries such as China, Malaysia and Thailand. French words are also part of Khmer. The French colonized Cambodia in 1862 and remained in control of the country for a century.

People educated before independence in 1953 were educated in French. Many older people who were educated at that time still speak French. Small communities of Chinese and Vietnamese speak their own languages.

Today English is gaining in popularity. Many people are learning English at informal schools set up on the sidewalks in Phnom Penh. Cambodians usually greet each other by pressing their hands together in front of their bodies and bowing. Some people have replaced this greeting with a handshake.

 Did you know?
The number of words in the Khmer vocabulary is huge. For example, there are many different ways to say "eat rice."

   English    Khmer
Yes (used by men) Baat
Yes (used by women) Jas
No Te'
Please Suom
Thank you Ar kun
Hello Choom reab suor/suor sdei
Goodbye Lear heouy
Excuse me Suom tous
How are you? Tau neak sok sapbaiy jea te?
Good morning Aron Surday
Good afternoon Tivia Surday
Good night Readray Surday