Thanks for your question.
Khmer people speak Khmer in their community and speak Vietnamese with Vietnamese outside their community. Another question may arise: do they learn Khmer language or Vietnamese language? And how do they learn these languages?
The story of a friend of mine, born to Khmer parents and living in the Vietnam’s Mekong delta, will give an answer to this secondary question. When she was a baby, the only language she knew was Khmer, spoken by her family and all people living in her village. At the age of six, it was time for her to go to school.
If she had been a boy, she might have had two options: study Khmer language and Buddhism in a Khmer buddhist temple, or go to a Vietnamese school and follow the mainstream education. As a girl, she didn’t have any choice. Her parents enrolled her at a local Vietnamese school. The first day at school was for her a real nightmare: separated from her beloved family (for some hours, but for a young girl it might seem an eternity), and in exile in a strange place where people around her were speaking, shouting, making loud noises… in a completely strange language. Feeling lost and bewildered, she cried.
Those first days at school have been now long gone. She has graduated from the Ho Chi Minh city University of law, and I have to say that her command of the Vietnamese language, in some respects, is better than quite a few Vietnamese journalists on the internet. In the photo below, you can see my friend posing in simulation of a nose to nose encounter with a Bayon face in Ta Prohm, Cambodia. It’s interesting to note that as a Vietnamese citizen, my friend didn’t have to pay any entrance fee to these places. Her Khmer language has been sufficient evidence of her ethnic origin, thus allowing her to have free access to most Cambodian touristic sites.