Rice Rice Baby

It is an age old story that cultures make up more words for the things that are important to them. The classic example is that Eskimos have many words for snow because they need to know what type of snow something is. Fluffy, fresh, packed, blizzard, etc. Well, here in Cambodia, I have learned just how important eating, and particularly rice, are to society.

First, let us start with eating. There are five main words for eating in Khmer depending on who is speaking and who they are speaking about/to. Those are:

ស៊ី See

  • For animals (impolite word, although it seems to be an acquired slang for university age students between close friends. Either that or cockroaches count as animals and the hostel students are talking to them.)

ញុំា Nyam

  • For someone younger, or the same age

ហូប Hope

  • For someone the same age or slightly older

ពិសា Pisa

  • For someone older than

សោយ Sowey

  • For the king and God

Just looking at the specifications with which they classify the verb “to eat,” it is clear how important food is to Khmer culture!

Now, let’s look at the ways that rice has integrated itself into society. It is important to note that rice production is one of the biggest ways that many families provide for themselves in Cambodia. Not only that, but every meal is served with rice. I could eat rice for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert if we have it! In fact, I usually do! To start with some basics, let’s look at a couple places associated with food:

ហាងបាយ Hang bai

  • Restaurant (literally “shop/store of rice”)

ផ្ទះបាយ P’teh-ah bai

  • Kitchen (literally “house/home of rice”

What about if we follow rice through its process of production?

ស្រូវ Skroh

  • Patty rice

អង្ករ Angkaw

  • Uncooked rice

ដាំ Dahm

  • Cooking rice verb

បាយ Bai

  • Cooked rice you eat

And finally, how about when you are talking about eating, or being hungry in general?

ញុំាបាយហើយ Nyam bai howee?

  • Have you eaten? (Literally: Have you eaten rice already?)

ញុំាបាយជាមួយខ្ញុំ Nyam bai chea-moi knyohm

  • Come eat with me. (Eat rice with me.)

ខ្ញុំឃ្លានបាយ Knyohm klee-en bai

  •  I am hungry. (Literally: I am hungry for rice.)
  • Note on this one. Sometimes hostel students will joke about this one and say “Klee-en mee” (I am hungry for noodles.)

Well folks, that’s all and sadly it is time to say good-bai! If you are in a particularly rice-y mood, or enjoy rice related humor, go on over and check out the post featuring An Ode to Rice on my other blog!

Keep Shining,




A friend recently sent me an article about language in The Economist. It focused on the idea of “What makes a language difficult?” The concept of this piece was very interesting to me because it seems that any time I delve into learning a new language, there is a question that always arises about its difficulty. Friends and family members want to know if the language is “hard.” Each time I am asked this question, I usually respond with no, and then attempt to explain why.

Languages are different for a reason. Learning Khmer may show me more challenges than learning Spanish, but that does not make the language more difficult. Each one has its own set of rules, alphabet, grammar, and vocabulary and as I drift into languages outside the Latin-based family, there will be more challenges. These differences are what makes the language interesting, and oftentimes unique.

When I first started studying Hebrew, it took me so long to remember that I needed to read from right to left. I grew up reading left to right, and so it felt uncomfortable to what I was used to. However, someone who grew up reading right to left would say the same thing if he or she needed to switch. One is not more difficult, they are just different.

The same is true of my time in Cambodia. At first, I was very frustrated with how slowly I was learning this new language. But then, I thought about the facts of my study: I was learning the language by immersion instead of classes, it is my first language with a Pali/Sanskrit background for pronunciation, and I was learning a completely new alphabet. When I put all of these reasons together, I realized that instead of getting frustrated with myself, or labeling this language as “hard,” I should give myself some credit.

I am now many months into my journey here and I would probably not label myself above beginner level Khmer, but I am learning. Speaking, reading, writing, and progressing every day. Not because this language is more difficult than others I have learned, but because learning takes time. And that seems like an easy thing to comprehend compared to another alphabet.

Keep Shining,


The Khmer Questions that Haunt Me

Today’s post continues to honor the newest language to break into my vocabulary, Khmer. Though I have only been studying two weeks or so, my cohort of YAGMs and I cannot help but laugh at some of the strange questions that arise in class. So, here are some musings you might appreciate as we learn Khmer.

  1. How to know if something is past, present or future.

    • Explanation
      • There are no real tenses in Khmer. Everything is said in present tense, but there are a couple key words that are used just for the purpose of suggesting time. Yesterday and tomorrow are givens, but there is also one word for past, future, and present progressive.
    • Questions
      • Where does the word go?
      • What if I used to do something and I don’t do it anymore?
      • What if the majority of my sentences are usually in a perfect tense?
    • Conclusion
      • None of those words actually matter because they are almost exclusively used for writing only, if at all. So, in this case, listen and hope for the best that you’re thinking in the right tense.
  2. Similarities between “to keep,” “water,” and “table.”

    • Explanation
      • One particularly long day of vocab was broken up by the discovery of the words “to keep,” (dtoh) “water,” (dtuk) and “table” (dtohk). Our instructor thought the easiest way to differentiate these was to give us the sentence: “Keep the water on the table.” Or “dtoh the dtuk on the dtohk.”
    • Questions
      • What if I accidentally buy furniture instead of a refreshing beverage?
      • Did I just learn my first Khmer tongue twister?
      • Wait, there is no word for “the” either, so these words are basically consecutive?
    • Conclusion
      • Though this is a fun sentence to say, the likelihood of using all three of these words in one sentence is fairly low, so I suppose context will be easiest for deciphering these words.
  3. Properly saying “I am wearing ____.”

    • Explanation
      • Our instructor taught us words for clothing, so naturally we want to know how we say “to wear.” It turns out Khmer is a little harder. One word works for neck to waist, and feet. Another word works for waist to ankles. This put our minds into a bit of disarray.
    • Questions
      • What if I am wearing a sweatshirt tied around my waist?
      • What if I am wearing a belt? Is it different for normal belt on my pants vs. a fashion belt around my waist?
      • What about hats? Or scarves? Or things not worn from the neck down?
    • Conclusion
      • The next day our instructor returned to explain that there was a word that could be used for wearing anything. All ambiguity of what word to use quickly vanished after that point.
  4. Differences between “to scare” and “vegetables.”

    • Explanation
      • When we learned the word for “vegetables” early in our lessons, it quickly stuck in our minds: Bohn lai. As the middle of our second week of lessons rolled around, we learned a new word, the verb “to scare.” Or, in Khmer, bohn laih. These words sounded very similar to us, and rightfully so.
    • Questions
      • Why can’t I tell the difference between these words?
      • If I accidentally say “I vegetable someone” will the person imagine me throwing tomatoes and onions at a stage as a result of a poor performance?
      • Does this have anything to do with children being afraid of Veggie Tales?
    • Conclusions
      • We realized that in most sentences, “to scare” and “vegetables” are not interchangeable. And eventually we will learn the subtle difference.
  5. The importance of “water” as a base word.

    • Explanation
      • It turns out, water is the base word for many other things: tea, milk, and ice being the main words. For example: ice literally translates to “water frozen.” Another fun one is the word for Jetski which is literally “water motorcycle.”
    • Questions
      • Why have I never realized that there is water in so many things?
      • Am I saying “water” wrong and consequently saying many other words wrong?
      • Why doesn’t “watermelon” fall into this pattern?
    • Conclusions
      • It is best to start from the foundation. Start with saying water and work up to the many variations. Plus, it might be surprising when I know a word I thought I didn’t because it is based on water.

Hopefully these silly stories brightened your day a bit and gave you an insight into the beginnings of learning Khmer. I’m sure this is only the beginning.

Keep Shining,


Return of the Words

Hello readers,

Admittedly, this past semester was full of many twists and turns that I was not planning nor that were helpful in keeping up with this blog. However, the good news is that those many things are behind me for now and I can go back to writing about the amazing words around me and how I come to learn more about them.

This summer I am in Denver, Colorado for an internship. I will be working with a Spanish speaking congregation and thus far, I feel overwhelmed by the amount I have to grow. Yes, I can understand nearly everything in conversations, I just get so nervous when speaking back. My hope is that as the summer wears on, I can progress in my ability to speak Spanish and improve tremendously.

Not only do I plan to continue my posting, but the word of the week will be back!

Until then,

Keep Shining,


Hola and Hello

Hello wonderful world,

My name is Ashley Rosa and I am in love with language. I love it for the way it is spoken, how it connects to culture and what it means for communication. In fact, this love is deep enough that I long to tell the world of my experiences. So, here I am.

A little background for my language ability:

English: Since I live in the United States, I have spoken it all of my life. Reading and writing in English as my first language was the catalyst that spurred me into action for learning more.

Spanish: My Spanish began at the age of 5 when I entered Kindergarten at my elementary school. Although my elementary years were spent learning merely colors or numbers, this early start was crucial to where I am now in my speaking ability. I have been blessed to have a wonderful family friend, Rebecca, who helped me in my elementary years, a grandmother who has lived in the Dominican Republic and Costa Rica, a school system that allowed me to take Spanish classes through my senior year of high school, and a college that values study abroad opportunities that I have taken advantage of.

Biblical Greek: Just this school year I have started to learn Biblical Greek in order to further my understanding of translation and be able to read the beauty of scripture in its original context.

Sign Language: Though I knew a fair amount as a young child with a club at school and a wonderful friend John who is deaf and taught me back then, I lost much of that with the passing of time. Now, I try to pick up more and more as I go, with influences and people that help me to practice and learn more.

Overall, this blog will focus on the ways that language amazes me during the week. I will surely post at least once a week, but perhaps the mood will strike me to do so more. There will also be a word of the week, which can come from any language and will be accompanied by a reason behind the word. I look forward to where this new adventure will take me and the things I can share with the world.

Keep Shining,