Thai Vs. Khmer: How Similar Are These 2 Incredible Languages?

Thai Vs Cambodian

Last updated on November 15th, 2023 at 12:40 pm

Today we’re looking at Thai vs. Khmer to see how similar they are and, if you learn one, whether you can be a master of the other. The truth is that Thai and Khmer are from different language families but share quite a large amount of vocabulary.

Before we go any further, I want to share a tip for mastery – Ling. It is an app specifically designed for learning lesser-spoken languages like Thai and Khmer. Developed in 2017, the app is now the go-to place for over 10 million language learners.

What sets Ling apart from other language-learning apps? Well, as already mentioned, it offers access to languages previously overlooked by app giants like Duolingo and Rosetta Stone. Most of you have probably at least experimented with these apps, so I won’t go into too much detail about what they do. But be assured Ling has all basics covered, like SRS flashcards, native audio, and fun mini-games and quizzes.

Thai Vs. Khmer. How Similar Are The Two Languages?

As mentioned in the intro, the languages are from different language families. Specifically, Thai belongs to the Kra-Dai group, and Khmer belongs to the Austroasiatic group. A good analogy would be the difference between English and French.

  • Thai and Khmer share about 30% of the same words.
  • The syntax of Thai and Khmer is roughly the same.
  • The 2 languages share many of the same idioms and are just direct translations from one language to the next.

Reading what native speakers of each language say online, I’d estimate that if you’re an expert in either of the languages, it will take about 20 hours to get to a beginner level in the opposite.

What Are The Differences Between The Two Languages?

As there are many similarities between Thai and Khmer, there is only one obvious difference. The vowels are very different. Thai vowels tend to be a lot more based on tone. Khmer has more sounds that don’t exist in Thai.

Thai Vs. Cambodian Vs Lao Are These Languages Similar (1)

Thai Vs. Khmer Vs. Lao. Are These Three Languages Similar?

Comparing Thai and Lao is much easier than comparing Thai with Khmer because Thai and Lao both come from the Kra-dai family. Amazingly, if you go to Northeast Thailand, you’ll find a language called Isan, which is a Lao dialect but can also be understood by Thai speakers.

A good way to conceptualize the difference is to think of Thai and Lao as the difference between British English and American English, whereas Khmer would be more like French.

If you go far enough back, you’ll find a common ancestor for all these languages; in this case, it’s Sanskrit and Pali.

Why Are Thai And Khmer Similar?

The most obvious reason for this is geographical proximity. Thai shares an extensive land border with Cambodia. During the Angkor period, when the amazing Angkor Wat was built (a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Khmer had a vast influence on the region, and one of these ways was in language. Think how fast English spread worldwide when Great Britain was at the height of its power. That meant many words made the jump from Khmer to Thai.

After the kingdom of Angkor fell, the language had much less impact on Thai history. And then, in the 20th century, as Thailand began to dominate the region, the Thai language became much more powerful. It is incredible to think about the power mass media has on language dispersal.

Learn Thai And Khmer With Ling

As we’ve learned, both Thailand and Cambodia have much in common regarding culture and language. Also, Thai food is much more similar to Cambodian food than Cambodian is to Vietnamese food.

In terms of Southeast Asian countries and their languages, Ling has a lot to offer, including Thai, Khmer, Vietnamese, and Lao. Don’t hesitate to try learning Cambodian today. Check out the Ling app on the Play Store or App Store now!

If you enjoyed this blog, think about some other blogs you should check out, such as music in Khmer and utensils in Thai.

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