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Lao phrasebook

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Lao script

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).

Pronunciation guide[edit]

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, due 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. Wikitravel uses a modern English-based orthography modeled on the Thai system, but the French transliterations have been noted below when appropriate.

Vowels[edit]

Instant Lao
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": roiloi "hundred"
    • Within a word, "r" turns into "l": karunaakalunaa "please"
    • In a cluster, "r" disappears completely: prathetpathet "country"
  • All "ch" turn into "x" (pronounced "s"). changxang "elephant"
  • Say baw instead of mai when you want to say "no" or ask a question.

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").

like in the 'i' in 'nit'
ii 
like in the 'ee' in 'beer' or 'Feet'
like in the 'u' in 'bum'
aa 
like in the 'a' in 'father'
ae 
like in the 'a' in 'fat'
like in the 'e' in 'fence'
eh 
like in the 'a' in 'bait'
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'

Consonants[edit]

Lao 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".

like 'b' in "bed"
not used in Wikitravel, but in other romanizations may represent 's'
like 'd' in "dog"
like 'f' in "fan"
not used in Wikitravel, but in other romanizations may represent unaspirated 'k'
like 'h' in "help"
like 'dg' in "edge"
like 'k' in "skate" (unaspirated)
kh 
like 'c' in "cat" (aspirated)
like 'l' in "love"
like 'm' in "mother"
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
like 'p' in "spit" (unaspirated)
ph 
like 'p' in "pig" (aspirated)
not used the modern orthography, should be pronounced as 'l', 'h' or ignored
like 'ss' in "hiss",
like 't' sound in "stab"
th 
like 't' in "top"
not used in Wikitravel, but in other romanizations may represent 'w'
like 'w' in "weight"
like 'y' in "yes"
like 'ss' in "hiss", completely identical to 's'

Phrases[edit]

Phrases in this section are not consistently transcribed with BGN/PCGN and Wikitravel's romanization guidelines. If you are familiar with the language, please help fix them up!


Basics[edit]

Hello. 
(Sa-bai-Dee.) ສະບາຍດີ
How are you? 
(Sa-bai-Dee Baw?) ສະບາຍດີບໍ່
Fine, thank you. 
(Dee, Kup-Jai.) ດີຂອບໃຈ
What is your name? 
( Jâo Suu Nyung?) ເຈົ້າຊື່ຫຍັງ
My name is ______ . 
( Khoy Suu _____.) ຂ້ອຍຊື່
Please. 
(Kawlunaa) ກະລຸນາ
Thank you. 
(Khawp Jai)ຂອບໃຈ
It's nothing. 
(Baw Pen Nyung.) ບໍ່ເປັນຫຍັງ
Yes. 
(Maen Leeo") ແມ່ນແລ້ວ
No. 
(Baw)ບໍ່
Excuse me/I'm Sorry. (Begging Pardon
(Khǎw Thôht) ຂໍໂທດ
Goodbye and Take Care 
(Sôhk Dee Deuh) ໂຊກດີເດີ້
Do you speak English? 
(Jâo Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ang-git Dai Baw?) ເຈົ້າເວົ້າພາສາອັງກິດໄດ້ບໍ່
I can't speak English very well. 
(Khoy Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ang-Kit baw Dai) ຂ້ອຍເວົ້າພາສາອັງກິດບໍ່ໄດ້
I can't speak ____. 
(Khoy Wâo Pháa-Sǎa ____ Baw Dai.)ຂ້ອຍເວົ້າພາສາ_______ບໍ່ໄດ້
Please speak slowly. 
(Kalunaa, Wâo Sah-Saah)ກະລຸນາເວົ້າຊ້າໆ
Do you understand? 
(Jâo Khào Jai Baw?) ເຈົ້າເຂົ້າໃຈບໍ່
--Yes. I understand. 
(Maen Laeow. Khoy Khào Jai) ແນ່ນແລ້ວ, ເຂົ້າໃຈ
--No. I don't understand. 
(Baw. Khoy Baw Khào Jai) ບໍ່ ຂ້ອຍບໍ່ເຂົ້າໃຈ
Where is the bathroom? 
(Hàwng Nâm Yuu Sǎi?) ຫ້ອງ້ຳຢູ່ໃສ
(Ethnicity)I am ____. 
(Khoy Pen Khon ____.) ຂ້ອຍເປັນຄົນ_____

Problems[edit]

Leave me alone. 
Leave me alone. ('Ya guan 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. 
It's an emergency. (souk sern)
I'm lost. 
(Khoy lohng taang)
I lost my wallet. 
(Khoy see-uh gkapow)
I lost my bag. 
(Khoy see-uh 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 dont understand 
koi boh kow jai

Numbers[edit]

Lao numbers are effectively identical to Thai, the two quirks worth noting being that 20 is sao (not yii-sip) and 100 is loi. Speakers of Cantonese will find many quite familiar.

Lao has its own set of numerals, but these are used quite rarely.

0  
(soon)
1  
(neung)
2  
(song)
3  
(saam)
4  
(sii)
5  
(haa)
6  
(hok)
7  
(jet)
8  
(paet)
9  
(kao)
10 
(sip)
11 
(sip-et)
12 
(sip-song)
13 
(sip-saam)
14 
(sip-sii)
15 
(sip-haa)
16 
(sip-hok)
17 
(sip-jet)
18 
(sip-paet)
19 
(sip-kao)
20 
(sao)
21 
(sao-et)
22 
(sao-song)
23 
(sao-saam)
30 
(saam-sip)
40 
(sii-sip)
50 
(haa-sip)
60 
(hok-sip)
70 
(jet-sip)
80 
(paet-sip)
90 
(gao-sip)
100 
(loi)
200 
(song loi)
300 
(saam loi)
1000 
(phan)
2000 
(song phan)
10,000 
(meun, sip phan)
100,000 
(saen, loi phan)
1,000,000 
(laan)
1,000,000,000 
(teu, phan laan)
1,000,000,000,000 
(laan laan)
number (train, bus, etc.
(nam-boe (lehk))
half 
(kheung)
less 
(nawy-kwaa)
more 
(iik)

Time[edit]

now 
(diow nee)
later 
lai gon
before 
(deh gawn)
morning 
(dthawn sao)
afternoon 
(tiang/ton suwai)
evening 
(ton lang)
night 
(kaang keun)

Clock time[edit]

_____ What time?
                  (Jeuk Mohng?)

Duration[edit]

_____ minute(s) 
(na-thii)
_____ hour(s) 
(suua mohng)
_____ day(s) 
(meuh)
_____ week(s) 
(aathit)
_____ month(s) 
(duean)
_____ year(s) 
(bpii)

Days[edit]

Today 
(meuh nii)
Yesterday 
(Meuh wán nii)
Tomorrow 
(Meuh euhn)
This Week 
(aa-thit nii)
Last Week 
(Thit laeow)
Next Week 
(Thit naa)
Weekend 
(Sǎo aa-thit)
Sunday 
(wán aa-thit)
Monday 
(wán jan)
Tuesday 
(wán ang-kháan)
Wednesday 
(wán phuut)
Thursday 
(wán pha-hát)
Friday 
(wán súk)
Saturday 
(wán săo)

Months[edit]

January 
Deuan Máng-Kawn
February 
Deuan Kum-Pháa
March 
Deuan Mi-Náa
April 
Deuan Méh-Săa
May 
Deuan Pheut-Sá-Pháa
June 
Deuan Mi-Thú-Náa
July 
Deuan Kaw-La-Kót Da
August 
Deuan Sĭng-Hăa
September 
Deuan Kan-Yáa
October 
Deuan Tú-Láa
November 
Deuan Pha-Jík
December 
Deuan Than-Wáa

Colors[edit]

red 
(sii daeng) ສີແດງ
orange 
(sii som) ສີສົ້ມ
yellow 
(sii lueang) ສີເຫຼືອງ
green 
(sii khiao) ສີຂຽວ
blue 
(sii faa) ສີຟ້າ
purple 
(sii muang) ສີມ່ວງ
brown 
(sii nam taan) ສີນ້ຳຕານ
gray 
(sii ke thao) ສີຂີ້ເທົ່າ
black 
(sii dum) ສີດໍາ
white 
(sii khao) ສີຂາວ
pink 
(sii bua) ສີບົວ

Transportation[edit]

Bus and train[edit]

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[edit]

How do I get to _____ ? 
How do I get to _____ ? (khoy bpay _____ baep dai?)
...the bus station? 
...the bus station? (sa ta nee lod may)
...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? (bar)
...sites to see? 
...sites to see? (beung sa tan tee)
Can you show me on the map? 
Can you show me on the map? (soe/show, yu , phaang tee/map...)
street 
(thanon)
alley 
(hom)
Turn left. 
(Liao saai.)
Turn right. 
(Liao kwaa.)
left 
(saai)
right 
(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 
(neua)
south 
(tai)
east 
(ta wen ock)
west 
(ta wen tok)
uphill 
(keun koy)
downhill 
(long koy)

Taxi[edit]

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[edit]

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? (teuk gwaa baw)
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[edit]

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[edit]

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
(Saa)
supper 
(khao dtawn laeng)
I want _____. 
(khoi yak_____.)
I want a dish containing _____. 
I want a dish containing _____. (koi yaak dai kong gin mee _____)
chicken 
(gai)
chicken wing 
(ppik gai)
beef 
(neua)
fish 
(bpaa)
shrimp 
(goong)
crab 
(bpoo)
eggs 
(khai)
salad 
(yum phaak salat)
(fresh) vegetables 
(phaak)
(fresh) fruit 
(Maak Mai)
bread 
(khao jii)
rice noodles 
(pho)
wheat noodles 
(ba mii)
rice 
(khao)
beans 
(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 
(khaafeh)
hot tea 
(saa hawn)
iced tea with milk 
(saa nohm yen)
juice 
(naam mak mai)
water 
(naam)
beer 
(bia)
alcohol
(lao)
red/white wine 
(Lao daeng/kao)
May I have some _____? 
May I have some _____? (Kaw ____ nae?)
salt 
(gkua)
black pepper 
(pik tai)
fish sauce 
(naam bpaa)
Excuse me, waiter? (getting attention of server)
Excuse me, waiter? (...)
I'm finished. 
(Khoy Laew)
It was delicious. 
(Saep lai lai.)
Please clear the plates. 
Please clear the plates. (...)
The check, please. 
The check, please. (...)

Bars[edit]

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[edit]

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 
(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. 
(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[edit]

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[edit]

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

This is a usable phrasebook. It explains pronunciation and the bare essentials of travel communication. An adventurous person could use it to get by, but please plunge forward and help it grow!

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