Monday, July 9, 2012

The Badger States: Learning Khmer in Wisconsin

Despite my well-documented bumbling with the Khmer language, a Cambodian-American friend asked if there was a good way for her boyfriend to learn Khmer. While she has made an effort to teach him a few words, they are both busy university students — and this is Oregon, not Long Beach.

Being scattered across the U.S., it can be challenging for minorities to stay connected to their native culture. (Hence sites like Khmerican.) But, as photographer Pete Pin said when I interviewed him, language is key.

And as Khmerlette's Violetta Taing says, not everyone has a local community to learn from:

I grew up in Las Vegas, NV, and the only Cambodian folks I knew were my family and a handful of their friends. ... The lack of a strong Cambodian community coupled with my parents’ preference to be more “American” resulted in my limited proficiency in the Khmer language.

If you’re in the similar boat and want to learn or improve in the language, there’s hope ... (the) Southeast Asian Summer Studies Institute (SEASSI) at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

There are apps to help people learn Khmer, but an app is no replacement for personally interacting with someone who knows the language and knows how to teach.

It's not just the children of Cambodian immigrants that want to learn Khmer, many barangs want to learn to speak Khmer fluently because they want to volunteer and work in Cambodia — or because they have become involved with a Cambodian-American.

I'm eager to hear from people who have completed the program. Leave a comment or contact me if you'd like to share!

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