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Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

By Pham Chieu   September 4, 2022 | 01:31 am PT
More than just being a place of worship, many temples in southern Tra Vinh Province teach the Khmer language to locals for free.
Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

The Giong Lon Pagoda (also known as the Co Pagoda) in Tra Vinh's Dai An Commune has two rooms on either side for teaching Khmer to local children.

Classes have been held at this 300-year-old temple for more than 10 years. Around 100 students come here to study for three months a year. The commune, district and provincial governments all foot the bill for the books.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

Thach Luyen, a Buddhist monk, teaches writing at the Giong Lon Pagoda.

"Spelling isn't easy and many people still make mistakes," he said.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

The temple welcomes people of all ages and backgrounds for religious and spiritual study, including children as young as six and seven. Monks from neighboring provinces like Kien Giang and An Giang often travel here to broaden their knowledge.

Sa Ruong of Ham Giang Commune, Tra Cu District, said he spends his summers at the temple studying Khmer, a language he describes as "difficult but interesting."

After studying the language for four years, Sa Ruong felt she had a better grasp of Cambodian culture.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

Diep Van Phai, 66, teaches Khmer at Giong Lon pagoda for free.

When he was 22 years old, he started working as a teacher at the temple. Buddhism and the Buddhist way of life are the main subjects he teaches. His primary motivation over the years has been a commitment to preserving Khmer culture.

"If I don't teach, no one will."

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

Ong Met Pagoda, 40 km away from Giong Lon Pagoda, has a large and active community of people learning Khmer.

The abbot of the temple, Thach Oai, has said teaching Khmer is essential for spreading policies to Khmer speakers.

Ong Met Pagoda is one of Tra Vinh's most well-known temples and dates back to 642 CE. In 711 CE, it moved to its present location, one km from the original location. It was conferred national relic status in 2009.

Many generations of monks at Khmer temples in Tra Vinh have been educated and trained here.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

The Khmer language class at Ang Pagoda is organized in an old shack six kilometers from Ong Met Pagoda with some 30 children in attendance.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

The Khmer language program has 12 levels of learning with nine subjects like Pali grammar, Khmer grammar, Pali to Khmer translation, Khmer literature, Khmer poetry, and basic Buddhism.

At the end of each course, learners must take an exam. However entry-level students must take two exams: literature and spelling.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

Three months is the average time it takes for a child to learn to read and write the most fundamental Khmer characters; serious study should take at least seven months if one wants to be fluent.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

Besides religious education, Tra Vinh Province now also has a Pali - Khmer Intermediate School. To qualify for enrollment, students need to have completed a secondary education program.

Southern temples offer free Khmer language classes

Chroi Tansa Pagoda's monks and students stroll around in a corridor.

Thousands of children who visit the 143 Khmer temples in Tra Vinh Province every summer to learn more about Khmer culture and character development from kindergarten through fifth grade are a testament to the province's success in fostering this important cultural tradition.

Khmer students enrolled in mainstream universities who wish to learn the language of their ancestors receive state support and encouragement.

 
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