The Khmerism Keyboard – Interview with Lyheng Phuoy

If you type in Khmer, you might find yourself pressing the shift key to type almost every word. After awhile, perhaps this drives you to type in English instead of Khmer. Before long, you might realise that no one is typing in Khmer and the presence of the Khmer language in digital form slowly fades away.

This was the scenario described to Geeks in Cambodia by Lyheng Phuoy and it was a situation he hoped would never come true.

Fuelled by the desire to preserve the Khmer language online and in digital form, Lyheng redesigned and rearranged the letters in the current Khmer Keyboard to make it easier to type in Khmer.

This rearranged layout brings into consideration the subtle nuances of the language and is an improvement from the current Unicode keyboard which phonetically matches Khmer alphabets to the English language.

Geeks in Cambodia sat down with Lyheng for an interview find out more about the Khmerism Keyboard project.

The following interview has been edited for flow, clarity and language.

 Could you explain what the Khmerism Keyboard is all about?

Lyheng(L): I re-arranged the Khmer Keyboard in terms of its layout because the current layout doesn’t study the logic of the language which could be why more people are starting to type in English.

For me, the keyboard is a bridge between language and technology and if we don’t improve the keyboard, it will affect the usage of the language. The layout that I have introduced has two levels, the first normal layout and the second layout which is supplemented by coding. The coding makes it easier to type in Khmer as it is more adaptive to the users needs.

What were some of the challenges you faced in creating this keyboard?

L: The biggest challenge I think would be for people to adopt my keyboard because it changes their habit of typing. For those who are already familiar with the current Unicode keyboard, it could be challenging for them to switch over to my keyboard so I have to find a way to convince them why my keyboard is easier to type on.

Another challenge would be that I do not as yet have a tutorial to inform people how to use my keyboard, so this is something that I will hope to look into in the future as well.

How do you see the keyboard developing?

L: Eventually, when the coding is more developed, I hope to be able to install a function that is similar to autocorrect on the Khmer keyboard to help users with the spelling of the words in Khmer.

Also, I am working on making the keyboard more adaptable to the user through its code by making the keyboard respond to the letters that users type, giving different possible options for the next alphabet to reduce the need of the shift key. A big reason for this addition is that the Khmer alphabet is the longest alphabet in the world which results in the need for users to use the shift key a lot in order to access the variations of the letters.

Another way I want to see the keyboard develop is that it can become available for desktops as a physical keyboard. This is actually going to happen soon as I have already contacted the factory who will be helping me to print the different letters on the keyboard. For now though, the keyboard is available in digital form for both Mac and Windows computers.

What are your hopes for the Khmerism Keyboard?

L: My hope is that through the usage of the keyboard, when users fully understand the coding and how to use it, people will be able to better appreciate the uniqueness of the Khmer language and how it works.

By making typing easier, I also hope that everyone is able to type Khmer faster than English because its our language after all so it should be easier for us to type it.

What advice do you have for aspiring startups?

L: You know for me, sometimes I feel like I’m going through a jungle without knowing what’s in front but I keep reminding myself that people have already been through this and that there is a way.

So I’d tell aspiring entrepreneurs to trust themselves and to trust in their idea because if everyone says that it is easy and doable, then the project is not really good. Sometimes people may not see it, but you need to see the potential of your project.

With Lyheng’s Khmerism keyboard now available, we at Geeks in Cambodia sure hope that people will be able to type in Khmer with a lot more ease.

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