Cambodians must learn English in order to succeed in a rapidly globalizing economy, Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol said Wednesday at a conference about the role of innovation in the digital economy.
In an energetic speech alongside a representative of U.S. technology giant Google at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, Mr. Chanthol ordered the roughly 1,000 university students in attendance to learn English—immediately.
“If you don’t understand English, how can you go and check information on Google?” he said.
“Don’t wait. Control your own destiny. Go and take English lessons now. Don’t wait. Do it. Do it now.”
The minister even suggested that the Ministry of Education make English mandatory in school.
“Maybe we should make English as a compulsory language and that all classes be taught in English. Look at Singapore…. Everyone speaks English there,” he said. “Learning at a young age is important. [You] must learn English. It is important for business.”
Michael Nelson, Google’s vice president of communications and public affairs for the Asia-Pacific region, told the audience his company was helping Cambodians learn English through products such as Google Translate, which supports the Khmer language and script.
He demonstrated a new feature of Google’s Chrome Web browser that translates Khmer words or phrases—the letters drawn using a computer mouse or finger—into English.
“I think language is important. I think sharing language is important,” he said. “The more languages you have, the more opportunities you have to communicate.”
Speaking after the conference, Trever Suter, managing partner of Inspire Asia, a company that specializes in leadership education, said English was essential for success in the business world.
“English is the way forward, and there’s a passion to do that,” he said. “Invest in the young people upfront, because when they get older…they will add value to their company right away.”
So Thearakuong, 23, a student who attended Wednesday’s conference, said a better grasp of English would enable students and entrepreneurs alike to get the most out of the Internet, which in turn would stimulate a hunger for knowledge.
“We have a poor education system and young people are not familiar with using computers until they get to university,” Mr. Thearakuong said.
“Yes, they know how to entertain themselves with Facebook, but they need to read news, culture and find information in a constructive way which would be aided by being able to speak English.”