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,



Word of the Week Wednesday 10/12/16

Sou S’day! 

While it seems to be a theme that I am never at home on Wednesdays to post the word of the week, technology is an amazing thing. So, this week’s word comes from my phone in the city of Sihanoukville, Cambodia:


Language: Hebrew 

Part of speech: noun

Pronunciation: yōm

Definition: day

My word this week comes from Hebrew due to the newest phenomenon as my mind tries to learn Khmer. Toward the end of orientation my mind had realized that English was clearly not the language I should be speaking here, so it went to my default of Spanish. After these past few weeks of experiencing a mix of English, Spanish, and Khmer in my head, I suppose my brain got tired and decided a new approach was necessary. This week my mind has found any sound remotely close to a Hebrew word I know and automatically translated it as if it were not Khmer. 

One specific incident occurred when I was eating dinner this Monday night. A restaurant just up the beach kept repeatedly playing happy birthday in English. About 10 minutes later, they began to play it multiple times in Khmer. Obviously the tune is farmiliar, so I decided to listen for words I recognized. Much to my excitement, I heard the word (or what sounded like the word) yōm. In my head I said, “Yōm means day! Happy birthDAY!” Quite pleased with myself I continued eating dinner. Not until later when I was attempting to say today (literally “this day” in Khmer) do I realize what I had done. I know day is “t’nai” in Khmer, but my mind was trying too hard to translate. 

As I continue my time in Cambodia, my hope is that in a few more weeks Khmer becomes the default and I only mix up languages in my head 10% of the time. But, until that yōm, I guess I will keep practicing! 

Keep shining,