Language Primer: Lao

(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. It is a small, unhurried place 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.

Lao Language

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; that is until their proficiency is such that they become creatures of the abstract, capable of constructing 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:

Excuse me (getting attention) – Khǎw Thôht

Hello – Sabaidi

How are you? – Sabaidi bo

I’m fine – Khony sabaidi

Thank you – Khob chai

Goodbye – La kon 

Please – Kalun

Yes – Maen laeow/doi/eur/jao

No – Baw

Maybe – Bangthi

What’s your name? – Chao su 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

Over there – Yuthinan

How far is (the temple)? –  (Vad) kai pan dai?

How long is (the journey)?  – (Kandoenthang) nyav pandai?

Airport – Sa nam bin

Hotel – Ohngaehm

Restaurant – Hanoahan

Bar – Ba 

Town –  Meuong

City – Meuong

Village – Ban 

Temple – Vad

This is … –  Niaemn …

Cheap – Lakhathuk

Expensive – Aephng

Very (cheap) – (Lakhathuk) rai  

Do you have (a room)? – Chao mi (hong) bo?

I want (a room) – Khony tongkan (hong)

Room – Hong

Beer – Bia 

Water – Noa 

Cigarettes – Yasub 

Lighter – Si man 

Food – Ahan 

Drink – Dum 

Chicken – Kai 

Fish – Pa 

Rice – Khao 

What’s the score? – Khaaenn aemn theoadai?

I like your nose – Khony mak dang khong chao

0 – Soon

1– Neung

2 – Sawng

3 – Saam

4 – Sii

5 – Haa

6 – Hok

7 – Jed

8 – Pad

9 – Gao

10 – Sip

11 – Sip et

12 – Sip song

20 – Song sip

30 – Saam sip

40 – Sii sip

50 – Haa sip

60 – Hok sip

70 – Jed sip

80 – Pad sip

90 – Gao sip

100 – Nueng hoi

200 – Song hoi

300 – Saam hoi


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s