Remarks by Ambassador William A. Heidt at the Opening of the CamTESOL English Language Conference

Institute de Technologie du Cambodge (ITC), Phnom Penh
February 20, 2016

His Excellency Dr. Hang Chuon Naron, Minister of Education, Youth, and Sport; Mr. Simon Fellows, Chargé d’Affaires of the Australian Embassy; Mr. Sou Visal and other representatives of IDP; distinguished conference speakers and experts; ladies and gentlemen.

The conference organizers have very cleverly slotted me, with my very American accent, to speak just after my good friend Simon, with his very heavy Australian one. This is obviously a very sophisticated English teaching technique, and very appropriate for this conference. If any of you are having trouble understanding me, please raise your hand and I can ask Simon to come back up and translate from American into Australian.

It’s a pleasure to be here for the opening of the 12th annual CamTESOL Conference, organized by our friends at IDP and sponsored in part by the U.S. Embassy. This year, more than 1,700 teachers from over 30 countries will participate in CamTESOL. They share a love of the English language and a desire to learn new skills and techniques that will make them better and more effective teachers.

I am particularly delighted that the premier English language conference in Southeast Asia takes place right here in Cambodia. When I first served in Phnom Penh in the late 1990s, I wouldn’t have guessed Cambodia would host what has become one of the biggest and best English-language conferences in the region. This is a real tribute to the Ministry of Education, the conference organizers, and the growing desire among Cambodians to learn English.

Since we returned to Cambodia five months ago, I have been amazed by the changes in Cambodia since my earlier tour, from the rapid development of Cambodia’s infrastructure to the impressive educational reforms now underway across the country.

But perhaps the most striking difference of all is the incredible growth of English. English has become the foreign language of choice for Cambodia’s large youth population, who use it in just about every possible way – in the classroom, out on the street, and online.

English is also the official language of the ASEAN community, meaning that English will play a very important role in the region’s economic and social development in the years to come. For a developing country like Cambodia, investing in English – and English-language teaching – is a smart investment in the country’s future.

The great Italian film director Federico Fellini once famously said, “A different language is a different vision of life.” This is even truer today, when the Internet and social media are changing the way all of us, but especially young people, receive and consume information.

But we also know that in order to take full advantage of these amazing new tools, young people need to be able to communicate with each other, and learning English is the best way to do that.

By teaching English, you are literally creating opportunities for your students – opportunities for education and employment, of course, but also the opportunity to travel, to make new friends, and to learn about the world in which they live. I can think of no more noble pursuit than to pass along the gift of language and to give your students a different, and more complete “vision of life.”

One of the great things about the profession of teaching is that you can constantly improve, as long as you are willing to put in the effort. For this reason, I congratulate you for being at this conference and for continuing your own education as teachers.

I hope that you all take maximum advantage of the outstanding workshops and seminars that this conference has to offer. If you do, I am sure that you will take home many valuable tools and lessons that will enhance and enrich your classrooms.

No matter where you come from and no matter where you work – from the biggest high school in Phnom Penh to the smallest schoolhouse in the provinces – I want to offer my full support and sincere thanks for all that you are doing to improve the quality of education and to bring the world just a little bit closer together.

So thank you very much, good luck, enjoy the conference, and I hope to see you again next year.