(Disclaimer: EITM would like to actively discourage its reader (sic) from availing themselves of this Lao language primer.)
Laos is a fine place characterised by a rural, mountainous sensibility that places it firmly in the contemplative corner of Southeast Asia. It is a landlocked, sparsely populated nation and feels as such: the plateaus of Champasak, for example, convey the impression of unceasing openness that suggests a horizontal approach lacking in the fiery dragon of Vietnam or the overbearing reach of Thailand. This is a small, unhurried country partitioned between at least three larger nations but never in danger of feeling overawed: Laos is the farmer ploughing the fields who, espying the chrome of far-off lands, continues his day with no hint of envy for the trappings of other places.
Read more: In Cambodia, many people speak Khmer. Here’s a [very] basic language guide, should you ever need one.
Linguistically, Lao mirrors Thai, particularly the Isaan dialect. Its meaning relies on tones–low, mid, high, rising, high falling, and low falling–which indicates the potential pitfalls of inflexion. Experience suggests that speakers issue pronouncements as flat statements unless asking questions, at which point their voices rise. But when a speaker becomes proficient, they channel creatures of the abstract, capable of extracting sentences of varied but grammatically correct meaning from the same word.
But not with this guide. It is incomplete, apocryphal and riddled with errors. Even worse, it comes from a far-off time when Vientiane had no ATMs and visitors had to change their money in Vietnam, Myanmar or Thailand; the fog of clouded memory taints this guide and will corrupt all who absorb it.
Let us begin:
|How are you?||Sabaidi do?|
|I’m fine||Khony sabaidi|
|Excuse me (getting attention)||Khǎw thôht|
|Thank you||Khob chai|
|Yes||Maen laeow / doi / eur / jao|
|What’s your name?||Chao so jang?|
|My name is (Thomm)||Khony su (Thomm)|
|Where you go?||Chao cha pai sai?|
|I don’t know||Khony bo hu|
|I go to (the temple)||Khony pai (vad)|
|Where is (the temple)?||(Vad) yusai|
|How far is (the temple)?||(Vad) kai pan dai?|
|How long is (the journey)?||(Kandoenthang) nyav pandai?|
|Airport||Sa nam bin|
|This is …||Niaemn …|
|Very (cheap)||(Lakhathuk) rai|
|Do you have a (room)?||Chao mi (hong) bo?|
|I want a (room)||Khony tongkan (hong)|
|What’s the score?||Khaaenn aemn theoadai?|
|I like your nose||Khony mak dang khong chao|