The first week is done. The Khmer group is divided into sections, Beginning (those with no or very little background in Khmer), Intermediate Upper Level (those with knowledge of written language, but need practice in speaking), Intermediate Accelerated (namely Heritage Khmer-Americans like me who speak, but have little to no experience in reading or writing Khmer), and Advanced (there is only one student in this section). The teachers rotate to each group, so we all get exposure to different teaching styles and voices.
The four of us Heritage students, practicing the alphabet during break.
I had no knowledge of the Khmer alphabet before starting, but after four and a half days of study and exercise, I am familiar with all the consonants and vowels, but have yet to learn the sounds of the second series vowels and all the grammar and diacritics that go along with written Khmer. I am also quite bad at transcribing spoken Khmer. When I first looked at them all, they looked like pieces of toast and spaghetti. Here is a taste:
As I grew up in New Hampshire, I didn't get the benefit of a strong Khmer culture. Some other students in this program are focusing in Southeast Asian studies, there are white people who speak better than me, and there are other Khmer-Americans who are the presidents of their Khmer-Culture clubs at school, have learned traditional dance since childhood, and have even organized and directed Cambodian plays. Sometimes it feels like I am more American-Khmer than Khmer-American, and in terms of personal culture and heritage, it makes me feel a little embarassed. Then, I remind myself, I am here to learn all this - and so I do.
We have two hours of "Culture" where we will learn about music, dance, food, lifestyle, religion, etc. A lot of Cambodian pop songs are about guys trying to pick up girls and failing. I could not find a youtube example for the one we listened to in class, but there is a popular group now called Dengue Fever. We watched "Sleepwalking through the Mekong" - a documentary of their first tour playing in Cambodia. They are a West Coast group, representing a fusion between surfer-rock and older Khmer songs. The singer is Khmer, only having lived in the states for 5 years or so.