Honours student Lim Chhay has just graduated from the Institute of Foreign Languages having studied the Chinese language since he was 15 years old. Fluent in both Chinese and English with a major in international studies, he has played a role in many events across the globe, including: a delegate at a Beijing International Model United Nations meeting, the Cambodian representative in a Young Asean Leaders Policy Initiative and the Cambodian representative for a Model Asean meeting. Som Kanika sat down with Chhay for an exclusive interview on why he thinks it is beneficial to study Chinese.
Khmer Times: Many people have said that learning Chinese is difficult. As a Chinese language learner, what do you think about that?
Chhay: I have always been enthusiastic about learning Chinese as I was introduced to the language when I was young. However, through my observations as a Chinese teacher, Cambodian students have a hard time with three main things: pronunciation, grammar and writing. In terms of pronunciation, one word may have a similar accent to another, but if it is pronounced wrong the meaning can change entirely. In addition, Chinese grammar is used in the opposite way to Cambodian grammar, which can be hard for students to grasp. If students are not clear with the grammar, they will also find it hard to write in Chinese. Many people find English easier to learn as most of our citizens are more familiar with it.
Khmer Times: How do you think learning Chinese can contribute to your future career and expand your knowledge?
Chhay: Learning foreign languages can provide you with more job opportunities, which can create more, or different sources of income. For example, as a student who comes from the Kampot province, being able to communicate in Chinese has allowed me to have many freelance jobs as a Chinese translator and interpreter. It is also beneficial to my other major which is international studies. Even though the course was conducted in the English language, knowing how to read the Chinese language enabled me to read many valuable sources and documents that were not published in English. China also plays a big role on the international stage, therefore, being able to understand the Chinese political point of view in its own native language has been useful for my studies, in particular my honours research paper for political science.
Learning Chinese has also expanded my understanding of China’s perspective in dealing with international issues. For instance I love reading Chinese novels, and this enables me to learn a lot about Chinese culture and different perspectives that aren’t portrayed in western books.
Khmer Times: Having learnt and worked using Chinese, from your own perspective, what are the potential benefits for those who want to learn the language?
Chhay: One potential benefit for Chinese learners nowadays is the great advantage to expand your career prospects. As we are all aware, China is the largest source of Foreign Direct Investment in Cambodia, meaning that the flow of Chinese investments and investors will continue to increase. This will provide many opportunities for Cambodian people and especially for those who can communicate in Chinese. For example from my observation, in the Chinese restaurants, Cambodian employees who can speak Chinese tend to earn more than those who don’t. In addition, we have to be aware of the fact that Chinese people do not speak English fluently and speaking Chinese will give you an advantage in maintaining relationships with Chinese investors and business people.
Khmer Times: What other benefits do you think we can draw from Chinese investments and businesses apart from collecting tax and creating more employment?
Chhay: Living in the age of digitalisation, people must keep being updated and learn new things. We should understand that in this era of increasing globalisation everyone needs to be competitive in order to live better lives. Therefore, if people have limited skills and knowledge, they will be left behind.On the other hand, learning other languages is an advantage that everyone should take to deal with the current world we live in. As I am aware, in our country there is an anti-Chinese sentiment, but rather than holding the hatred, our citizens should turn these challenges into opportunities and make the most out of it.