Lao (ພາສາລາວ pháa-sǎa láo) is the main language of Laos. Thai is also closely related to Lao, and the Isaan dialect spoken in the northeast is, with minor differences in vocabulary aside, virtually identical to Lao.
It is best not to try to learn Lao from local magazines, local books or the internet as they are sometimes fully Thai language (and completely not Lao). The best way to learn Lao is to learn Thai first, then learn Lao while listening to Lao people speaking.
Lao is a tonal language with six tones in the Vientiane dialect: low, mid, high, rising, high falling, and low falling. Meanings are dependent on the tone, so try not to inflect your sentences; in particular, questions should be pronounced as flat statements, without the rising intonation ("...yes?") typical to English questions.
The script used to write Lao has the same Brahmic base as Thai and Khmer, and Thai readers will be able to figure out most of it. The Lao written language is essentially alphabetic and, thanks to extensive post-revolutionary meddling, now considerably more phonetic than Thai or Khmer. Still, there are 30 consonants, 15 vowel symbols plus 4 tone marks to learn, and the Lao also share the Thai aversion to spaces between words. Lao remains a bit of challenge to pick up, even though it is usually considered easier to learn than Thai.
Lao romanization is bedeviled by the incompatibility between French and English pronunciation. Most older transliterations are French-based, while newer ones are English-based. The French-style "Vientiane", for example, is more accurately spelled "Wiang Chan" in English. Wikivoyage uses a modern English-based orthography modeled on the Thai system, but the French transliterations have been noted below when appropriate.
Instant LaoSpeak Thai already? Here's a three-step program for instant Lao fluency:
- The letter "r" must be eliminated.
- At the beginning of a word, "r" turns into "l": roi → loi "hundred"
- * Or "h": rak → hak "love"
- Within a word, "r" turns into "l": karunaa → kalunaa "please"
- In a cluster, "r" disappears completely: prathet → pathet "country"
Of course, there's quite a bit more to it than that, but it's a start!
Lao has a complicated set of vowels that distinguishes between vowel length (short and long) and vowel position (front and back). Vowel signs are always written around consonants.
French transliterations use "ou" for "u" (eg. "Louang Prabang") and often tag an unpronounced "e" at the end of words to stop the consonant from being swallowed (eg. "Kaysone Phomvihane").
; i : like in the 'i' in 'nit'
; ii : like in the 'ee' in 'beer' or 'Feet'
; a : like in the 'u' in 'bum'
; aa : like in the 'a' in 'father'
; ae : like in the 'a' in 'fat'
; e : like in the 'e' in 'fence'
; eh : like in the 'a' in 'bait'
; u : like in the 'u' for 'fruit'
; ou : like in the 'oo' in 'mood'
; aw : like in the 'aw' in 'saw'
; am : like in the 'um' in 'drum'
; oe : not found in English, but similar to the 'uh' in 'huh'
; eu : not found in English, but similar to the 'i' in 'sir' or the 'eux' from the French 'deux'
ConsonantsLao distinguishes between aspirated ("with a puff of air") and unaspirated ("without a puff of air") consonants. Unaspirated consonants exist in English too, but never alone: compare the sound of 'p' in "pot" (aspirated) and "spot" (unaspirated). Many English speakers find it helpful to pronounce an imperceptible little "m" in front to 'stop' the puff.
In romanized Lao, the distinction is usually represented by writing aspirated consonants with "h" and unaspirated ones without it. In particular, "ph" represents a hard aspirated 'p' and not a soft 'f', and Phongsali is thus pronounced "Pongsalee". Likewise, "th" is a hard aspirated 't' and hence That Luang is pronounced "Tat Luang".
; b : like 'b' in "bed"
; c : not used in Wikivoyage, but in other romanizations may represent 's'
; d : like 'd' in "dog"
; f : like 'f' in "fan"
; g : not used in Wikivoyage, but in other romanizations may represent unaspirated 'k'
; h : like 'h' in "help"
; j : like 'dg' in "edge"
; k : like 'k' in "skate" (unaspirated)
; kh : like 'c' in "cat" (aspirated)
; l : like 'l' in "love"
; m : like 'm' in "mother"
; n : like 'n' in "nice"
; ny : like 'ni' in "onion", can also be used at the beginning of words
; ng : like 'ng' in "sing", can also be used at the beginning of words
; p : like 'p' in "spit" (unaspirated)
; ph : like 'p' in "pig" (aspirated)
; r : not used the modern orthography, should be pronounced as 'l', 'h' or ignored
; s : like 'ss' in "hiss",
; t : like 't' sound in "stab"
; th : like 't' in "top"
; v : not used in Wikivoyage, but in other romanizations may represent 'w'
; w : like 'w' in "weight"
; y : like 'y' in "yes"
; x : like 'ss' in "hiss", completely identical to 's'
Basics; Hello. : ສະບາຍດີ (Sa-bai-Dee.)
; What's Up? : (Pen Jung Dai?)
; How are you? : (Sa-bai-Dee Baw?)
; Fine, thank you. : (Dee, Kup-Jai.)
; What is your name? : (Jâo Seuh Maen/Bhen Nyung?)
; My name is ______ . : (Khàwy Seuh Maen/Bpen _____.)
; Please. : ກະລຸນາ (Kawlunaa)
; Thank you. : ຂອບໃຈ (Khawp Jai)
; It's nothing. : (Baw Pen Nyung.)
; Yes. : (Maen Laeow/Doi/Eur/Jao)
; No. : ບໍ່ (Baw)
; Excuse me/I'm Sorry. (Begging Pardon) : (Khǎw Thôht)
; Goodbye and Take Care : (Sôhk Dee Deuh)
; Do you speak English? : (Jâo Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ung-Kit Dai Baw?)
; I can't speak English very well. : (Khàwy Baw Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ung-Kit Dai Dee)
; I can't speak ____. : (Khàwy Wâo Pháa-Sǎa ____ Baw Dai.)
; Please speak slowly. : (Kalunaa, Wâo Sah-Saah)
; Do you understand? : (Jâo Khào Jai Baw?)
; Yes. I understand. : (Maen Laeow. Khàwy Khào Jai)
; --No. I don't understand. : (Baw. Khàwy Baw Khào Jai)
; Go to sleep : ໄປນອນ (Bpai Náwn)
; Where is the bathroom? : (Hàwng Nâm Yuu Sǎi?)
; (Ethnicity) I am ____. : (Khoy Pen Khon ____.)
Problems; Leave me alone. : (Ya gwuan khoy)
; Don't touch me! : (Ya jup khoy)
; I'll call the police. : (Khoy si toh jaeng dtum louat.)
; Police! : Police! (Dtum louat!)
; Stop! Thief! : Stop! Thief! (Yud! Kee Luck)
; Can you help me?. : I need your help. ('Suay khoy dai boh')
; It's an emergency. : ສຸກເສີນ. (souk sern)
; I'm lost. : (Khoy lohng taang)
; I lost my wallet. : (Khoy seeuh gkapow)
; I lost my bag. : (Khoy seeuh tong)
; I'm sick. : (Khoy pben kai/Khoy boh sabai)
; I've been injured. : (Khoy jep/Khoy Theug baad jep.)
; I need a doctor. : I need a doctor. (Khoy tong kan Maw )
; Can I use/borrow your phone? : (Khoy sai/yeum tolasup dai boh?)
; May I talk to _______? (Khoy lom num _______?)
; I don't understand : koi boh kow jai
NumbersLao numbers are effectively identical to Thai, the two quirks worth noting being that 20 is sao (not yii-sip) and 100 is hoi. Speakers of Cantonese will find many quite familiar.
Lao has its own set of numerals, but these are used quite rarely.
; 0 : ສູນ (soon)
; 1 : ຫນຶ່ງ (neung)
; 2 : ສອງ (song)
; 3 : ສາມ (saam)
; 4 : ສີ່ (sii)
; 5 : ຫ້າ (haa)
; 6 : ຫົກ (hok)
; 7 : ເຈັດ (jet)
; 8 : ແປດ (paet)
; 9 : ເກົ້າ (kao)
; 10 : ສິບ (sip)
; 11 : (sip-et)
; 12 : ສິບສອງ (sip-song)
; 13 : (sip-saam)
; 14 : (sip-sii)
; 15 : (sip-haa)
; 16 : (sip-hok)
; 17 : (sip-jet)
; 18 : (sip-paet)
; 19 : (sip-kao)
; 20 : ຊາວ (sao)
; 21 : (sao-et)
; 22 : (sao-song)
; 23 : (sao-saam)
; 30 : ສາມສິບ (saam-sip)
; 40 : (sii-sip)
; 50 : ຫ້າສິບ (haa-sip)
; 60 : (hok-sip)
; 70 : (jet-sip)
; 80 : (paet-sip)
; 90 : (gao-sip)
; 100 : ຮ້ອຍ (hoi)
; 200 : (song hoi)
; 300 : (saam hoi)
; 1000 : ພັນ (phan)
; 2000 : ສອງພັນ (song phan)
; 10,000 : ສິບພັນ (meun, sip phan)
; 100,000 : (saen, hoi phan)
; 1,000,000 : ລ້ານ (laan)
; 1,000,000,000 : (teu, phan laan)
; 1,000,000,000,000 : (laan laan)
; number (train, bus, etc.) : (nam-boe (lehk))
; half : ເຄິ່ງ (kheung)
; less : ຫນ້ອຍກວ່າ (nawy-kwaa)
; more : (iik)
; now : (diow nee)
; later : lai gon
; before : (deh gawn)
; morning : ຕອນເຊົ້າ (dthawn sao)
; afternoon : (tiang/ton suwai)
; evening : ຕອນແລງ (ton lang)
; night : ກາງຄືນ (kaang keun)
Clock time;_____ What time?
; _____ minute(s) : ນາທີ (na-thii)
; _____ hour(s) : ຊົ່ວໂມງ (suua mohng)
; _____ day(s) : ມື້ (meuh)
; _____ week(s) : ອາທິດ (aathit)
; _____ month(s) : ເດືອນ (duean)
; _____ year(s) : ປີ (bpii)
; Today : ມື້ນີ້ (meuh nii)
; Yesterday : ມື້ວານນີ້ (Meuh wán nii)
; Tomorrow : ມື້ອື່ນ (Meuh euhn)
; This Week : ອາທິດນີ້ (aa-thit nii)
; Last Week : (Thit laeow)
; Next Week : (Thit naa)
; Weekend : (Sǎo aa-thit)
; Sunday : ວັນອາທິດ (wán aa-thit)
; Monday : ວັນຈັນ (wán jan)
; Tuesday : ວັນອັງຄານ (wán ang-kháan)
; Wednesday : ວັນພຸດ (wán phuut)
; Thursday : ວັນພະຫັດ (wán pha-hát)
; Friday : ວັນສຸກ (wán súk)
; Saturday : ວັນເສົາ (wán săo)
; January : ເດືອນມັງກອນ (Deuan Máng-Kawn)
; February : ເດືອນ ກຸມພາ (Deuan Kum-Pháa)
; March : ເດືອນມີນາ (Deuan Mi-Náa)
; April : ເດືອນເມສາ (Deuan Méh-Săa)
; May : ເດືອນພຶດສະພາ (Deuan Pheut-Sá-Pháa)
; June : ເດືອນມິຖຸນາ (Deuan Mi-Thú-Náa)
; July : (Deuan Kaw-La-Kót Da)
; August : ເດືອນສິງຫາ (Deuan Sĭng-Hăa)
; September : ເດືອນກັນຍາ (Deuan Kan-Yáa)
; October : ເດືອນຕຸລາ (Deuan Tú-Láa)
; November : ເດືອນພະຈິກ (Deuan Pha-Jík)
; December : ເດືອນທັນວາ (Deuan Than-Wáa)
; red : ສີແດງ (sii daeng)
; orange : ສີສົ້ມ (sii som)
; yellow : (sii lueang)
; green : ສີຂຽວ (sii khiao)
; blue : ສີຟ້າ (sii faa)
; purple : ສີມ່ວງ (sii muang)
; brown : (sii nam taan)
; gray : ສີຂີ້ເຖົ່າ (sii ke thao)
; black : ສີດໍາ (sii dum)
; white : ສີຂາວ (sii khao)
; pink : ສີບົວ (sii bua)
Bus and train; How much is a ticket to _____? : How much is a ticket to _____? (kaw ta dai butt bie ____?)
; One ticket to _____, please. : One ticket to _____, please. (kaw butt ahn diew)
; Where does this train/bus go? : Where does this train/bus go? (lot fi/train, may/bus bai sigh?)
; Where is the train/bus to _____? : Where is the train/bus to _____? (lot fi/may pai ___ yu sai?)
; Does this train/bus stop in _____? : Does this train/bus stop in _____? (lot khan nii jort ____ baw?)
; When does the train/bus for _____ leave? : When does the train/bus for _____ leave? (lot fi/may pai ____ awk jak moung?)
; When will this train/bus arrive in _____? : When will this bus arrive in _____? (lot fi/may khan nii hort ____ jak moung?)
; I just came from _____? (khoy ma jark ___)
Directions; How do I get to _____ ? : How do I get to _____ ? (khoy bpay _____ baep dai?)
; ...the bus station? : ...the bus station? (....)
; ...the airport? : ...the airport? (....deun bin)
; ...downtown? : ...downtown? (...nai meuang)
; ...the youth hostel? : ...the youth hostel? (...)
; ...the _____ hotel? : ...the _____ hotel? (long lem ____ yoo sai?)
; ...the American/Canadian/Australian/British consulate? : ...the American/Canadian/Australian/British consulate? (...tan toot Amelika)
; Where are there a lot of... : (___ lai yuu sai?)
; ...hotels? : (...hong ham)
; ...restaurants? : (....haan ahan?)
; ...bars? : ...bars? (...)
; ...sites to see? : ...sites to see? (...)
; Can you show me on the map? : Can you show me on the map? (soe/show, yu , phaang tee/map...)
; street : ຖະຫນົນ (thanon)
; alley : (hom)
; Turn left. : ລ້ຽວຊ້າຽ (Liao saai.)
; Turn right. : ລ້ຽວຂວາ (Liao kwaa.)
; left : ຊ້າຍ (saai)
; right : ຂວາ (kwaa)
; straight ahead : (thaang naa)
; towards the _____ : towards the _____ (pai taang ____)
; past the _____ : past the _____ (...)
; before the _____ : before the _____ : it is/stop before ___ (yoo/jawt gorn ___)
; Watch for the _____. : (...la wung ____)
; intersection : (sii nyak)
; north : ເໜືອ (neua)
; south : ໃຕ້ (tai)
; east : ຕາເວັນອອກ (ta wen ock)
; west : ຕາເວັນຕົກ (ta wen tok)
; uphill : ຄ້ອຽ (keun koy)
; downhill : ຄ້ອຽ (long koy)
Taxi; Taxi! : (Taak See)
; Take me to _____, please. : (Phaa Khoy Bpay____,Naeh.)
; How much does it cost to get to _____? : (Bpay ___ Thao Dai?)
; Take me there, please. : (Kalunaa, Phaa Khoy Bpay Yuu Phoon.)
; Stop here.: (Jawt Yuu Nee)
Lodging; Do you have any rooms available? : (Jao mee hawng baw?)
; How much is a room for one person/two people? : (Hawng tao dai hai khon neung(1 person)/song khon(2 people)?)
; Does the room come with... : (Hawng maa gap _____, baw?)
; ...blankets? : (paa home)
; ...a bathroom? : (...hawng naam?)
; ...a telephone? : (...tohlasup?)
; ...a TV? : (...thiiwii/tohlathut?)
; May I see the room first? : (Khoy berng hawng gawn dai bor?)
; Do you have anything quieter? : (Jao mee mit gwaa nee baw?)
; ...bigger? : (ngai gwaa baw?)
; ...cleaner? : (...kiang gwaa baw?)
; ...cheaper? : ...cheaper? (...)
; Okay, I'll take it. : (Doy,Khoy see aow.)
; I will stay for _____ night(s). : (Koi see oue ____ keun.)
; Can you suggest another hotel? : Can you suggest another hotel? (...)
; Do you have a safe? : Do you have a safe? (...)
; ...lockers? : ...lockers? (...)
; Is breakfast/supper included? : Is breakfast/supper included? (...)
; What time is breakfast/supper? : What time is breakfast/supper? (jakk mong kin kao sow/kao leang)
; Please clean my room. : (Ma mien hong koy.)
; Can you wake me at _____? : (Dthuen Khoy ____ moeng nah)
; I want to check out. : I want to check out. (...)
Money; Do you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars? : Do you accept American/Australian/Canadian dollars? (Jao ow ngeun ____ baw?)
; Do you accept British pounds? : Do you accept British pounds? (...)
; Do you accept credit cards? : Do you accept credit cards? (...)
; Can you change money for me? : (Jao bian nguen hay koy dai bor?)
; Where can I get money changed? : Where can I get money changed? (Pai pien nguen yoo sai?)
; Can you change a traveler's check for me? : Can you change a traveler's check for me? (...)
; Where can I get a traveler's check changed? : Where can I get a traveler's check changed? (...)
; What is the exchange rate? : What is the exchange rate? (at-taa laek pian thao dai)
; Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)? : Where is an automatic teller machine (ATM)? (...)
Eating; A table for one person/two people, please. : (Dtho hai kon neung/song kon, nah.)
; Can I look at the menu, please? : Can I look at the menu, please? (...)
; Can I look in the kitchen? : (Khoy berng yuu nai heuan khua dai baw?)
; Is there a house specialty? : Is there a house specialty? (...)
; Is there a local specialty? : Is there a local specialty? (...)
; I'm a vegetarian. : (Khoy bpen khon jay/Khoy gin jay.)
; I don't eat pork. : (Khoy baw gin sein moo.)
; I don't eat beef. : (Khoy baw gin sein mua.)
; I only eat kosher food. : I only eat kosher food. (...)
; Can you make it "lite", please? (less oil/butter/lard) : (Jao sai nam-manh noi nueng dai baw?)
; fixed-price meal : fixed-price meal (...)
; à la carte : à la carte (...)
; breakfast : (khao dtawn saow)
; lunch : (khao dtawn suay)
; tea (meal) : ຊາ (Saa)
; supper : (khao dtawn laeng)
; I want _____. : ຂ້ອຍຢາກ_____ (khoi yak_____.)
; I want a dish containing _____. : I want a dish containing _____. (koi yaak dai kong gin mee _____)
; chicken : ໄກ່ (gai)
; chicken wing : ປີກໄກ່ (ppik gai)
; beef : ງົວ (ngua)
; fish : ປາ (bpaa)
; shrimp : ກຸ້ງ (goong)
; crab : ປູ (bpoo)
; eggs : ໄຂ່ (khai)
; salad : (yum phaak salat)
; (fresh) vegetables : ຜັກ (phaak)
; (fresh) fruit : ຫມາກໄມ້ (Maak Mai)
; bread : ເຂົ້າຈີ່ (khao jii)
; rice noodles : ເຝີ (pho)
; wheat noodles : ໝີ່ (ba mii)
; rice : ເຂົ້າ (khao)
; beans : ຫມາກຖົ່ວ (Maak Tua)
; May I have a glass of _____? : May I have a glass of _____? (...)
; May I have a cup of _____? : May I have a cup of _____? (...)
; May I have a bottle of _____? : May I have a bottle of _____? (...)
; coffee : ກາເຟ (khaafeh)
; hot tea : ຊາຮ້ອນ (saa hawn)
; iced tea with milk : (saa nohm yen)
; juice : ນ້ຳໝາກໄມ້ (naam mak mai)
; water : ນ້ໍາ (naam)
; beer : ເບຍ (bia)
; alcohol: (lao)
; red/white wine : (Lao daeng/kao)
; May I have some _____? : May I have some _____? (Kaw ____ nae?)
; salt : ເກືອ (gkua)
; black pepper : (pik tai)
; fish sauce : ຍັງປາ (naam bpaa)
; Excuse me, waiter? (getting attention of server): Excuse me, waiter? (...)
; I'm finished. : ຂ້ອຍແລ້ວ (Khoy Laew)
; It was delicious. : (Saep lai lai.)
; Please clear the plates. : Please clear the plates. (...)
; The check, please. : The check, please. (...)
Bars; Do you serve alcohol? : (Jao khaiy lao baw?)
; Is there table service? : Is there table service? (...)
; A beer/two beers, please. : A beer/two beers, please. (kaw bia un neung/song un)
; A glass of red/white wine, please. : A glass of red/white wine, please. (...)
; A pint, please. : A pint, please. (...)
; A bottle, please. : A bottle, please. (...)
; _____ (hard liquor) and _____ (mixer), please. : _____ and _____, please. (...)
; whiskey : whiskey (...)
; vodka : vodka (...)
; rum : rum (...)
; club soda : club soda (...)
; tonic water : tonic water (...)
; orange juice : (naam maak gieng)
; Coke (soda) : Coke (naam coke)
; Do you have any bar snacks? : Do you have any bar snacks? (...)
; One more, please. : (aow eek nae)
; Another round, please. : Another round, please. (...)
; When is closing time? : (Si bpit jak mohng?)
Shopping; Do you have this in my size? : Do you have this in my size? (...)
; How much is this? : (anee tor dai?)
; That's too expensive. : (phaeng lai lai)
; Would you take _____? : (____ dai bor?)
; expensive : ແພງ (phaeng)
; cheap : (tuke)
; I can't afford it. : (Khoi seu baw dai)
; I don't want it. : (Khoy bor yak ow)
; You're cheating me. : (Jao Phit Khoy)
; I'm not interested. : (Khoi bor son jai)
; Okay, I'll take it. : (Khoy si ow.)
; Can I have a bag? : (khoy ow tong dai bor?)
; Do you ship (overseas)? : Do you ship (overseas)? (...)
; I need... : (khoy dtong gaan...)
; ...toothpaste. : (ya si phan)
; ...a toothbrush. : (mik si phan)
; ...tampons. : ...tampons. (...)
; ...detergent. : (fep)
; ...soap. : ສະບູ (saabuu)
; ...shampoo. : (saapom)
; ...pain reliever. (e.g., aspirin or ibuprofen) : (yaa kae puat)
; ...cold medicine. : (yaa vhut)
; ...stomach medicine. : (yaa dee tawng)
; ...a razor. : (bai-miit thae)
; ...an umbrella. : (khanyu)
; ...sunblock lotion. : ...sunblock lotion. (lotion gung daet)
; ...a postcard. : (bat pai-sa-nii)
; ...postage stamps. : (sa-taem)
; ...batteries. : (taan)
; ...writing paper. : (jiia)
; ...a pen. : (bik)
; ...English-language books. : (bpuem phaasaa ung-kit)
; ...English-language magazines. : ...English-language magazines. (...)
; ...an English-language newspaper. : ...an English-language newspaper. (nang _____ phaasaa ung-kit)
; ...an English-English dictionary. : ...an English-English dictionary. (...)
Driving; I want to rent a car. : I want to rent a car. (koy yuk saow lout)
; Can I get insurance? : Can I get insurance? (Koi suh pha khan pai dy bow)
; stop (on a street sign) : stop (yout/sow)
; one way : one way (mai laew)
; yield : yield (...)
; no parking : no parking (jawt u nee bow dy)
; speed limit : speed limit (khuam wai jum khut)
; gas (petrol) station : gas station (paum nam mun)
; petrol : petrol (nam-mun)
; diesel : diesel (nam-mun ka suay)
Authority; I haven't done anything wrong. : (khoy baw dai het ee nyãng pit)
; It was a misunderstanding. : It was a misunderstanding. (man penh kharn khao jai pit)
; Where are you taking me? : (Jao sii pha khoy bai sai)
; Am I under arrest? : (Khoy teuk jop bor)
; I am an American/Australian/British/Canadian citizen. : (English: khawy maa ta ung-kit)
; I want to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate. : I need to talk to the American/Australian/British/Canadian embassy/consulate. (...)
; I want to talk to a lawyer. : I want to talk to a lawyer. (...)
; Can I just pay a fine now? : Can I just pay a fine now? (khoy jaii kah pup mai dieo nii dai baw)
pa saa ung-kit bor? Khoy coup jai lai lai khon chop lout