Never in all my years could I imagine I would be raising a child completely fluent in two languages. It is a fascinating experience that simultaneously validates and surprises me. Today, my six-year-old, Leni, told me, “I do not like to speak Khmer. Khmer is a silly language for stupid people.” I replied, “I cannot disagree with you, but I really believe it is up to kids like you to make Khmer intelligent again.”
I was cautious when I mentioned this brief conversation to her father as I was unsure how he would respond. As a Cambodian man, he could rightfully take umbrage at such a statement regardless of the speaker’s age. To my surprise, he said he agreed with his daughter.
Even though being bilingual is certainly not uncommon in much of the 21st century world, it is still worthy of remark that any six-year-old child in Cambodia is confident enough to voice an opinion.
Leni’s father and I consciously and consistently encourage Leni to explore the world as it presents itself to her and to express her ideas about what she discovers without fear. These notions are entirely contrary to and unheard of in both the Khmer language and culture, and these details are precisely what distinguishes Leni from most all Cambodians.
Needless to say, I adore my kid, and I am so proud to hold her hand as she discovers herself and her unique relationship with Cambodia and the world.