Naturally, travelling means experiencing, but it comes with a language barrier. Things can get lost in translation. You know…like the time you asked for some soap but somehow end up with a bowl of soup.
Travelling with a private guide can help in most of the case but learning the basics of any country you travel to, such as how to say hello, is always worth it.
Even if you get it wrong, the locals really appreciate it and they will be more likely to want to help you out. Whether it’s actually pointing you to the right direction or getting you the coldest BeerLao possible.
We have listed out some basic words or phrases that facilitate your communication with the locals. Here is what we are going to learn
Lao, the official language
Lao, the country’s official language, closely resembles Thai. To give you an idea, Lao’s similarities with Thai are like those between Spanish and Portuguese.
Unless you’re fluent, there’s not much use in relying on Thai to get by.
Learning Lao is no mean feat, so don’t expect to be able to hold a conversation in the language.
At the same time, it’s good to learn the basics, which will help you meet people and navigate your way around.
Knowing how to say ‘hello’, ‘how are you?’, ‘thanks’ as well as being able to count will help you get along.
As with Thai, the biggest challenge is being able to pronounce words. A slight change in intonation will completely alter the meaning of a word.
But that shouldn’t stop you from trying to speak the local language; Laotians will love that you’re making the effort and you’ll be warmly welcomed in return.
No one’s going to get upset if your pronunciation isn’t perfect.
If, when eating out, you manage to order in Lao, don’t be surprised if you’re met with astonishment or if you unleash fits of giggles.
What can I do? I cannot speak a word of Laos!
The few words that you’ll pick up in Lao won’t be enough to hold down a conversation.
Fortunately you can fall back on speaking English.
If English doesn’t work and if you know some French, you can always try the latter during your trip to Laos , particularly when speaking to the older generation.
You’ll also see that official documents are written in both Lao and French. But encountering French speaking Laotians is becoming rare.
Young Laotians tend to speak English and it’s more widely spoken than its European counterpart.
Throughout the country you’ll find that anyone in contact with tourists will be able to speak English.
Speak 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”
- Within a word, “r” turns into “l”: karunaa→ kalunaa “please”
- In a cluster, “r” disappears completely: prathet→ pathet “country”
- All “ch” turn into “x” (pronounced “s”). chang→ xang “elephant”
- Say baw instead of mai when you want to say “no” or ask a question.
Of course, there’s quite a bit more than that, but it’s a start!
Basic Lao words or Phrase
It is now the high time to start learning some basic words and phrases. Here we just list some most popular cases when you travelling in Laos. Should you want to read further, you can follow this link
The most useful phrases
You can find below some of the most popular words and/or phrases
Yes – Jao (friendly) / Doi (More formal)
No – Baw
Maybe – Bangthi
Please – Khâluna
Thank you – Khọp Ja̖y
Sorry/excuse me – Khãw thôht
Where is the restroom? – Hàwng nâm yuu sǎi?
I need a doctor – Khoy tong kan Maw
I’m lost – Khoy lohng taang
Can you help me? – Suay khoy dai boh
I don’t understand – Khoi baw khauchay
Never mind – Baw pen nyãng
Greetings: How to say Hello in Laos
The first impression decides all your conversation, and learning basic greetings help you make a smooth start.
You should use these when approaching any local or even if you’re just walking past someone with a smile.
You would probably make a locals day if they can see you really trying to learn and embrace their language.
Hello – Sabaidee
Good Morning/Afternoon/Evening – Sabaidee Ton sao/Ton xuay/Ton lewng (it is the fact that Lao people always say ‘Sabaidee’)
How are you? – Sábaidee baw?
I am fine – Khoi Sabai dee
Goodbye! – La khòn
You can also watch the video below from our friend, Ms. Vanida to learn about greetings in Laos
Eating and ordering foods
Ordering food in any other language than your own is quite scary, especially when you’re handed the menu and don’t understand what anything is!
If you’re a massive foodie and like to take a gamble, pick randomly! However if you have some food restrictions, it is worth learning a few phrases.
In Asia, a standard meal is usually 10x spicier than normal, made to suite the local palette. If you’re not big on spice, learn the words.
A table for one person/two people, please – tawng hai kon neung/song kon, nah
I would like ___ – khoi yak ___
Not Spicy/ I don’t like spice – Baw xay mak phet der >> this is very important, most of the food in Laos is very spicy, much over what a westerner can imagine
Delicious – Saep lai lai
The check, please – Chèk bin der
Buying some local products helps promote the local economy. Of course, walking around and do some bargain does not make any hurt. Firstly, you may want to learn some words of number
Laos number system
|one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten||Nung, soong, sam, sii, haa, hôk, jét, pèt, kaow, sip|
|twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, sixty||Sao, sam sip, sii sip, haa sip, hok sip|
|seventy, eighty, ninety||jét sip, pèt sip, kao sip|
Basic Shopping Phrases
How much does this cost? – Laka tho day?
That’s expensive! – Phaeng lai lai
I can’t afford it – Khoi sue baw day
Can you lower the price? – Lout laka day bo?
Loving it? Here are the tips for you to go further
- Read further: you can find plenty of website teaching Lao language, some groups on Facebook can also help. Do some research and find the most suitable ones
- Watch further: Find on Youtube some channels that teach Lao language and follow (such as the one from Ms. Vanida above), this help you tune your tone as a local.
- Invest in Lao lessons – If you know you will be in Laos for 6 weeks or 6 months, it’ll definitely be worth investing in lessons. Learning the tone and pronunciation of the language and practicing it one to one will ensure you learn properly and will help build your confidence.
- Talk with local: Once you’re confident enough to converse, make local friends and practice with them. Being in different social situations and having a range of conversations is the best way to pick up a language and arguably the quickest!
- Take notes: Prepare a small notebook, take a note when you find some new words, and new cases. Read it again at home before bed time. This really helps
- Practice: This goes without saying. Practice makes perfect, so immerse yourself in local tv, music and books, download apps and go out to practice with your new friends!