You are here

SEAP Teacher Profile : Hannah Phan

Hannah Phan

What’s it like to study a Southeast Asian language at Cornell?

Hannah Phan, senior lecturer of Khmer

I teach Khmer at beginning through advanced levels to students with a wide variety of backgrounds and interests. Learners of Khmer include graduate and undergraduate students from different departments and schools such as the departments of Asian Studies, Government, Linguistics, History of Art, Development Sociology, History, Anthropology; the School of Industrial and Labor Relations; the School of Hotel Administration; the Cornell Institute for Public Affairs; and the Cornell Law School, etc. Some students are preparing to study abroad in the Cornell in Cambodia winter session course. The graduate students are usually interested in doing research on topics related to Cambodia such as politics, culture, art, history, linguistics, development sociology, etc. 

A smaller number of students are heritage learners who grew up at home speaking Khmer and want to more deeply connect to their roots as well as improve their reading and writing skills. I also teach faculty and staff—respected scholars such as Andrew Mertha, professor of government, and Greg Green, curator of the Echols Southeast Asia Collection in Cornell University Library.

To spark the interest of my students, I include in the curriculum a wide variety of topics, ranging from government, history, ancient arts, linguistics, anthropology, hospitality, etc. Students learn all four basic skills (reading, writing, speaking, and listening). The curriculum follows the performance-based interactive pedagogical philosophy. Students learn Khmer through regular communication.

At the end of the first year of studying Khmer, students will know the alphabet as well as many words, sentences, and grammar and sentence structure. They will be able to read short texts, develop listening skills, articulate sounds, communicate in basic conversation, and write short essays. In the intermediate course, students enjoy reading short texts taken from Khmer folktales. In the advanced course, students learn to communicate in everyday conversation using complex questions and answers. They become proficient in listening to long texts and conversations and can read long stories, Cambodian folktales, novels, and books, as well as write complex essays/texts about various aspects of Cambodian life and culture. The directed studies course is for advanced students and is designed based on their particular interests.

One of the challenges of learning Khmer for English-speaking students is that after learning the language in the classroom, students may go to do work in Cambodia, but when they talk to local people they have difficulty following what people say. After staying in the country for a while, however, students can master the language, and they can understand local people better. 

Recently, the Khmer language program has changed in both quantity and quality. The new introductory course, Khmer 1100, has been increasingly popular. That course expands offerings to students who do not have the time in their schedules to take the regular four-credit Khmer course. After taking Khmer 1100, students often express interest in doing the four-credit course. In terms of the quality, I have updated written and audiovisual materials. I wrote supplementary materials to assist students in learning the language. I also filmed interviews with Cambodian people in-country. With support from SEAP as well as the Department of Asian Studies and the Language Resource Center, I developed and updated those materials for use in the classroom.