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Modern Spoken Cambodian (Yale Language) [Paperback]

Franklin E. Huffman

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Book Description

1 Jan 1970 0300013167 978-0300013160 Reprint
The aim of this volume is to provide the student with a thorough command of the basic structures of standard spoken Cambodian. The course is based on the audio-oral method of language teaching developed by the Intensive Language Program of the American Council of Learned Societies and used successfully during World War II, but modified to take into account advances in language teaching techniques since that time.

Product details

  • Paperback: 468 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; Reprint edition (1 Jan 1970)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300013167
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300013160
  • Product Dimensions: 25 x 19 x 2 cm
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,255,155 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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Amazon.com: 4.2 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Huffman - comprehensive, but how do you say that?! 19 Aug 2001
By "treddy_au" - Published on Amazon.com
I'm a big fan of this book, with one reservation (see below).
It's best for use with an experienced Khmer teacher. However, working with it alone, it's extremely comprehensive in sequentially introducing Khmer grammar, useful vocabulary and common structures.
It has a lot of repetitive drills which reinforce each grammar point and I really like the organisation, where it introduces vocab throughout a set of dialogues, then follows up with exercises to help it sink in and with specific grammar notes - which you can use if you're interested in or ignore if you just want to learn the key phrases and vocab.
The book also has a pretty comprehensive set of indices for English and Khmer vocab (glossary) and for the key words and grammar points.
The one real downside for me is the choice of transliteration (I think that's what you call it!). Huffman uses some transliteration which looks a bit like Internaitonal Phonetic Alphabet, but isn't. I have searched the book for a table or reference to how each symbol (and combination thereof) should be pronounced. I thought once I found a reference to another book where they are explained, but now I cannot find it again. Perhaps I imagined it! The result is, when you work with a teacher who knows the book well, you can learn the pronunciation by repetition. But when you go back to the book yourself to practise, it's very difficult to reconstruct the pronunciation. One example is the use of an 'i' chracter with a line through it. On page 44, min and tiw (both with lines through the i that I can't reproduce here) are clearly pronounced differently in Khmer and are different vowels in Khmer script. Even my Khmer teacher says he has to stop and think sometimes, what word is being used in the book.
The book by David Smyth is much better at guiding you through the sounds, though it also simplifies a fair bit and describes different vowels as having the same pronunciation.
In summary, if you want to comprehensively learn Khmer and understand its grammar, AND you have a teacher or other guide to pronunciation, this book is great. If you're working alone and wnat to go out each day and speak to Khmers, perhaps David Smyth's book (with tapes) is better.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Phonetics little bit inaccurate. 29 Jan 2005
By Po Twen - Published on Amazon.com
The book is very good and comprehensive for people who want to learn the language, but the phonetics in the book is a little bit inaccurate. It is recommended that you use this book with Huffman's audio cassette on Khmer or if you know someone who can speak khmer ask that person to pronounce for you.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Best Way to Learn Khmer 4 Sep 2009
By B. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Khmer is a truly difficult language for Westerners to learn, harder than Mandarin to speak, and harder than anything other than Chinese or Japanese to read. There are several difficulties. First, many of the vowel sounds are unlike anything in a European language and are only subtly different from one another. Second, crucial differences in meaning depend on distinguishing aspirated and unaspirated versions of consonants, something not critical in most European languages. Finally, the writing system is sufficiently complicated that if you try to learn it up front, it will take a long time to get started on even the most basic conversation. To top it off, there is no standard, intuitive system to transcribe Khmer into the Latin alphabet. Every book and dictionary uses its own idiosyncratic transliteration system, and many of them seem to me to bear little relation to how the words actually sound.

If you really love Cambodia, however, and are motivated to learn this monster of a language, there is no better series of books than "Modern Spoken Cambodian," "Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader," "Intermediate Cambodian Reader," and "Literary Cambodian Reader and Glossary," by Franklin Huffman.

"Modern Spoken Cambodian," ignores the writing system and provides progressive, repetitive exercises that let you get typical sentence structures embedded in your brain. Like all transliteration systems, the one used here is not perfect, but with the help of a teacher or a set of tapes you will eventually figure out the relationship between the letters and sounds. It is helpful to do this before learning the writing system because you'll build up vocabulary and confidence with the (simple enough) grammar. Once you start learning to read you'll find it a big help to recognize the words you are trying to puzzle out.

"Cambodian System of Writing and Beginning Reader" is divided in four parts. The first is a technical description of how the writing system works. It is called an "abugida", sort of halfway between an alphabet and a syllabary. All the rules and exceptions are explained thoroughly. If you find it hard to learn just from a list of the rules, the second part consists of graded exercises that gradually introduce all of the written symbols and then give you practice in writing and transcribing them. The third section consists of a series of heavily annotated readings about basic aspects of life in Cambodia. The book ends with a glossary of all Khmer words used in the readings.

"Intermediate Cambodian Reader" consists of a series of annotated, but unedited examples of written Khmer, including Khmer folktales, descriptions of various monuments around Angkor Wat, including a far more interesting and detailed description of some of the famous bas-relief on Angor Wat than you will find in any English guidebook, excerpts from newspapers dating from the late 1960's, and a complete modern novella, "Sophat." Depending on your interests and the sort of vocabulary you need to learn you could pick and choose among the readings. A variety of Khmer fonts are used, a feature which helps get you used to the many different variations on each symbol that you may find in Cambodia. The book ends with a glossary of all words in this book and the previous one.

"Literary Cambodian Reader and Glossary" is for hard-core students of Khmer literary culture and includes progressivly older literature, mostly poetry. The farther back in time you go the more formal, difficult, and Sanskrit/Pali-influenced the language becomes. If you are marrying into a Khmer family and want to chat with your in-laws, or doing business in Cambodia, this book is probably not what you need.

There are other Khmer textbooks out there. "Everyday Khmer" uses the international phonetic alphabet to transcibe the sounds. That's quite accurate, but it takes a while to learn the IPA itself. The book has useful dialogues, but is weak on repetitive grammar drills, which most people need. "Colloquial Cambodian" is not bad; the transliteration is no more inadequate than any other, and it good dialogues and more exercises than "Everyday Khmer." "Cambodian for Beginners," does a good job of teaching you how to write, but does not cover all the rules and exceptions of the writing system in anywhere near the detail of Huffman's book; also it's transliteration system seems only tangentially connected to how the words are really pronounced. The Foreign Service Institute has a text you can download for free; it seems reasonable, but halfway through starts using the Khmer writing system without teaching it. It's transliteration system seems almost identical to Huffman's

If you've read this review all the way to the end you are really, really motivated to learn Khmer. It is not a language for the faint of heart, but once you've learned a fair bit of it it is really fun. You'll probably want to try out several of the books listed here. Of them all, I think the Huffman books are the most complete and will get you farther towards fluency.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A little outdated, but very professionally produced 5 July 2012
By Jessica - Published on Amazon.com
This is not a point-and-click Khmer phrasebook for tourists; you won't be able to flip through and find the page that tells you how to ask where the bathroom is. Instead, it's meant for more serious language-learners intending to invest a fair amount of time in nuanced grammatical concepts to lay a Khmer foundation. Immediately I could see from the grammatical explanations and painstaking phonetic layout that this was a text developed by a professional linguist. As others have said, this wasn't the sort of text that one can sit down with for an hour and study independently, it requires the guidance of a native Khmer-speaker with relatively advanced English knowledge to guide you through it.

The first exercise - I spent about two full weeks on this - was just repeating new sound combinations after my tutor to try to get used to hearing the new phonemes and distinguishing between them. Though tedious, I found this exercise very valuable and have periodically returned to it when I felt like the /b/'s /pb/'s and /ph/'s were starting to run together. The rest of the chapters are structured around topical issues - getting a hotel room, eating at a restaurant, visiting the countryside - but unlike more modern language-teaching materials that tend to dump a list of new vocabulary words on you to memorize, then teach you grammatical features step-by-step, each new chapter begins with a dialogue requiring the scrupulous learner to inductively mine for vocabulary and grammar. This is where experience is key; if you know the right questions to ask, or your tutor knows the linguistic features to point out to you, this can be an extremely rich method of learning. However, if one or both of you doesn't have much experience with foreign languages and you attempt to just breeze through the dialogues, you will miss valuable information that may or may not be elaborated upon later...and those grammatical features will reappear later through the text, so better to get it right the first time. Once you've had a taste of the full content of the chapter, Huffamn breaks down new grammatical features with a relatively advanced explanation of the linguistic characteristics in English, including making room for dialectical variations, and then launches into extremely rote exercises that some will find unnecessarily tedious, others quite helpful, depending on your learning style and language goals. Then the vocabulary and grammatical features learned carry over into sequential chapters for fresh rehearsal.

I enlisted the help of a young, university graduate with no prior Khmer-teaching experience, and after a few weeks she caught on to the phonetic alphabet. After a few months I started catching on, too, and can sometimes predict what the slippery vowels in a new word will sound like by reading it from the page, which is almost as satisfying for me as if I had read the Khmer script itself. (Which you won't, by the way. As the title implies, this text teaches you spoken Khmer only). We typically study 30 minutes/day 3-5 times/week, in addition to the how-do-you-say-this questions I bring in from practical living experience.

In general, I hold this text in extremely high regard - it's meticulously designed and written for a language-learner with relatively high awareness of linguistic features prepared to make a substantial investment in learning Khmer. I work well with sometimes brainless rote repetition - some might find such parroting annoying, but skipping over the rote rehearsal will leave you with relatively few spoken exercises, so you may want to either suffer through or risk insufficient practice. Ask your tutor questions along the way and clarifications for overlapping concepts or sounds, and this text will really give you a very rich foundation for learning.

The downsides are that the curriculum, published in 1970, really does show its age (An entire chapter dedicated to steamboat travel?). Most of the vocabulary is still up-to-date, though a few things have elicited a few giggles ("Nobody calls it that! Hahaha!") and the prices charged for purchasing items are also completely invalid after 40 years of Cambodian inflation. One age marker that is painfully obvious to this female student is that the text seems to have been written with the assumption that the only people who were going to use it would be men. All of the dialogues are between men, which means the answer key will always include the male identifiers ("Lok, baat") and content is skewed in the direction of "male interests," particularly noticeable in the chapter on clothing. (Words for skirt? Bra? Jewelry? ...anyone?) My tutor has identified a few grammatical errors in the text, but they are few and far-between. The other is that because it does break concepts down so much that if you try to complete every exercise, language-learning progresses verrrrry slowly and Huffman is not always inclined to introduce concepts in a practical sequence. (You won't learn how to order in a restaurant until Chapter 12.) Therefore, you may need to structure some of your own learning outside of the book in order to accomplish some everyday tasks, like shopping at the market, for example. For this reason, I've noticed that many freelance Khmer tutors in Phnom Penh have chopped up Huffamn's original curriculum and teach it piecemeal.

However, I think if Yale University Press ever decided to update and re-publish this work, it would easily dominate the Khmer-learning market for serious students - the time, effort and knowledge invested in this curriculum is of exceptional quality.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Instruction, audio tapes online at... 13 July 2011
By Volfy - Published on Amazon.com
I love this book. Back in college I'd sit in the language lab and borrow Modern Spoken Cambodian complete with its cassette tapes. Using the two together was a recipe for success. I've had great difficulty locating the tapes for many years, and if I found them, they are quite expensive. BUT! The tapes are now available for free ! =) ... from Yale University:
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