English Teacher Article Learning to be illiterate

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I am currently enjoying an extended stay in Cambodia; long enough to try to learn some of the language, but not long enough to get to grips with the writing. Because I will be leaving for Japan in a while, where another language and a highly complex writing system awaits me, I have decided to remain illiterate in Khmer and focus only on the spoken language.

One problem with this is trying to record words in romanised forms. I have a dictionary which gives Khmer words written both in the Khmer script and also uses the Roman alphabet. However, there is very little agreement on how the words should be written. One essential item here is a silk scarf, which protects the neck from the sun. Some people spell it 'krama', others 'kroma', while my dictionary gives it as two words and starts with 'g'.

In Vietnam, I tried to buy a bottle of water and a couple of other things; my knowledge of Vietamese goes no further than 'thank you', so I had no idea what the woman on the stall was saying. She couldn't write the numbers, so she counted the correct money out of her purse and showed it to me so that I could work it out. She counted the money out for each item separately, presumably to show that she was charging the correct price. By pointing and waving the money, she was able to show me how much I needed to pay. I handed her the cash and forced out my version of 'thank you'. We parted company, both smiling. I am slowly learning the skills needed to be illiterate in a foreign society.

Categories: Asian Blog

1 Comment

Here are some (hopefully) helpful tips for being illiterate in Cambodia.(Or anywhere else).......
Yes, the most useful assets are both smiling and miming;-) This last, if ground-shakingly funny will endear those around you for filling their day with hilarity, because who doesn't like free theatre? Being thus endeared will prevent some from charging you double for scarf, water and other items;-))))
If scarf is spelt in different ways, surely it doesn't matter, if you're being "illiterate"? Find ways to listen to key words and phrases just walking about, pointing, raising eyebrows, other various methods, then listen to the sound of these "key words & phrases" and write them down in your own phonetic way.
Here's a list of key words that I might find useful........but then, that's just me;-)))))) :
"How much?"
"No, too much."
"Where is......?"
"Help!"
"Doctor!"
"Beautiful country!"
"No, thanks."
"Yes, please."
I think that's enough. Just listening, I expect more has seeped in osmotically than you know. Keep wearing a broad smile;-)))

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