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Do They Speak English in Cambodia?

Do They Speak English in Cambodia

Key Takeaways

Primary Language of CambodiaKhmer
English ProficiencyGrowing, especially in urban areas and among younger generations
Tourist AreasHigher English proficiency
Schools & EducationEnglish is taught in many schools as a second language


Cambodia, a Southeast Asian nation known for its rich cultural heritage and the mesmerizing Angkor Wat temple complex, is becoming an increasingly popular destination for tourists. As with many countries in the global age, the English language has made its mark in Cambodia. But just how widespread is its use?

Historical Linguistic Overview

Cambodia’s official language is Khmer, spoken by the majority of the population. Historically, Cambodians were more likely to be fluent in French, the language of their colonizers until the 1950s. However, in the latter half of the 20th century, things started to shift.

The Rise of English

After the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which helped end decades of conflict in Cambodia, there was a significant inflow of international NGOs and foreign investments. With them came a greater emphasis on the English language. As a result, English started to replace French as the primary second language, especially among the younger generation.

English Proficiency in Cambodia Today

To truly understand the extent of English usage in Cambodia, we’ll break it down into a few areas:

In Urban Centers

CityEnglish Proficiency Level
Phnom PenhHigh
Siem ReapModerate to High
  • Phnom Penh: As the capital city and major hub of Cambodia, Phnom Penh sees a high level of English proficiency. You’ll find many English signboards, restaurants with English menus, and locals, especially the youth, who can converse in basic to fluent English.
  • Siem Reap: Given that it’s the gateway to Angkor Wat, Siem Reap caters heavily to tourists. Therefore, English is commonly spoken in hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions.
  • Battambang: Though not as tourist-centric as Siem Reap, Battambang is Cambodia’s second-largest city and has seen an increase in English-speaking locals and establishments.

Among Different Age Groups

  • Younger Generations: Many Cambodian youths have a decent grasp of English, as it’s often taught in schools and seen as a ticket to better job opportunities. With the influx of western media and the internet, English has become more accessible to the younger generation.
  • Older Generations: Proficiency tends to be lower among the older generations. They might have basic conversational skills, especially in tourist areas, but are generally more comfortable with Khmer or even French.

English in Education

In Cambodia, the education system has witnessed a significant shift towards promoting English proficiency.

  • School Curriculum: English is introduced as a second language in many schools from a young age.
  • Private Tuitions & Language Centers: Due to the rising demand for English, numerous English language centers and private tutors have sprung up, especially in urban areas.
  • Higher Education: Many university courses, especially those linked to business or international relations, are now offered in English.

Navigating Cambodia as an English Speaker

If you’re an English speaker traveling to Cambodia, here are some handy tips:

  • Learn Basic Khmer Phrases: While many locals in tourist areas might speak some English, it’s always appreciated when visitors make an effort to learn a few local words or phrases.
  • Use Translation Apps: Tools like Google Translate can be immensely helpful in non-touristy areas.
  • Hire Local Guides: If you’re venturing out to remote places, consider hiring a local guide. Not only will they help bridge any language barriers, but they’ll also offer invaluable insights into the local culture and history.


While Khmer remains the heart and soul of Cambodia’s linguistic landscape, English has carved a significant niche, particularly in urban areas and among the younger generation. As Cambodia continues to integrate with the global community, the role of English is only set to grow. Whether you’re a traveler or someone interested in the cultural shifts of Southeast Asia, understanding the dynamic between local languages and English offers a fascinating glimpse into a nation in flux.