Do you need to know a native language before going to Cambodia? Not really. There are a lot of factors to consider before traveling somewhere. These are the languages popularly spoken in Cambodia.
The Official Language: Khmer
Although the official language of Cambodia is Khmer, there are a ton of other languages spoken throughout the country. The official language does serve as the base for what you should know if you’re visiting Cambodia for business.
If you’re looking to impress the locals though you might think twice before pulling out some Khmer flair of your own. Whenever possible, you should use Khmer greetings with locals that are in areas that are tourist-dense. They can see this as a sign of politeness.
But, if you’re out of well-traveled areas of Cambodia any issues with the Khmer language may not communicate what you intended to say. Popular greetings and a few short answers include “jumreapsua” for hello and “jumreaplia” for goodbye.
You can always use a few extra tools to help you along the way such as traveler’s guidebook that has English to Khmer dictionaries or listen to a podcast to learn some Khmer.
Other Languages Spoken in Cambodia
While Khmer is still the official language, you’ll run into many other languages during your visit. French was popular for a long time, and you might hear the older generation speaking it on the streets. Don’t be afraid to try a bit of French communication if you’re speaking to someone who is an elder in the community.
Another language you might encounter is Cham. Cham is one of the most popular native languages in Cambodia and still has about 150,000 speakers. This tribal language is common through the smaller towns. If you’re a traveler that likes to stray off the beaten path you should consider picking up a few phrases before you start your travels.
Because of how close these countries are there are about 400,000 people speak Vietnamese and Chinese fluently. If you’re looking to extend a vacation or holiday to go through a chunk of Asia, you might do better with one of these languages rather than learning Khmer.
Perhaps the most important thing here is not to be afraid to ask questions. While many people can learn to speak Khmer, French, Vietnamese, or Chinese, they often have more of a difficult time learning to read these languages. If you cannot identify a street sign, or other notices ask locals for help understanding the language.
If you’re unsure of the other languages spoken through the area that you plan to visit, ask around at hotels and restaurants. These are often the most helpful points of contact for tourists or visitors. Hotel staff is often able to help their guests far past assisting them through checking in or out of their rooms.
Can I Go to Cambodia Only Speaking English?
If you’re wondering whether you should make a solo journey to Cambodia, your biggest concern might be speaking the language. As long as you stay near the tourist destination such as Phnom Penh and Siem Reap you’ll meet many locals that speak English. The greatest thing about Cambodia, besides the outstanding scenery and rich history, is the welcoming people.
You’ll find that the areas that attract tourists are very friendly. Cambodians are well-known for their charm. Many of those who live in Siam Reap speak fluent English.
In areas such as Siam Reap, Phnom Penh, and even Battambang you’ll find that you will get a lot of help when it comes to English. While these areas speak a lot of English, and very well, the locals might still encourage you to try a bit of Khmer. Be a good sport and give a few phrases a try.
What You Should Know Before Travelling to Cambodia
Anytime you plan a vacation it’s easy to get swept up in the whirlwind of excitement. But, slow down and review the requirements first. You need a visa, but you can get one online easily. You also need to take a moment and learn a bit about modern-day Cambodia.
If you want to learn Khmer, Chinese, or Vietnamese, there are many resources available. It’s always useful to know a few greetings or common phrases. You might want to learn variations of “excuse me” and “thank you” as a lot of Cambodian cultures revolves around pleasantries.
Whenever you’re in doubt, or if you think you might have said something incorrectly, save face. Saving face is a popular social technique throughout Cambodia. Essentially you smile widely, nod your head and sometimes shrug your shoulders for good measure. This body language is known throughout Cambodia as an apology for not understanding something or even causing embarrassment.