Is Lao hard to learn? It is a question with no easy answer because it depends both on how good you are as a language learner and how closely related the language is to your own. However, you can apply some general rules when deciphering how difficult any language is to understand and what you can do about it.
The FSI is a language school that grades a second language in difficulty to learn for native speakers of English. They measure the difficulty of a language by how long it takes on average to reach general proficiency. Lao is listed at 1100 hours along with other South-East Asian languages. This is both good news and bad news. On the one hand, Lao is twice as difficult as Dutch and French but takes half the time to learn than Korean and Mandarin. There are multiple languages that are more difficult than Lao but many that are easier.
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Yes, it is—something both fortunate and unfortunate, depending on where you stand. For aesthetic reasons, it's very interesting to listen to, but problems can arise for English speakers when it comes to speaking it.
I found this out firsthand in Vietnam(another country with a tonal language) when I had a student with the name Ngọc meaning precious stone. Unfortunately, I was saying it in the wrong tone, which changed the meaning to 'stupid'. Many apologies followed.
There are 6 Lao tones: low, mid, high, rising, high falling, and low falling. It can take a long time to master the nuances of tonal languages, even for those with a musical ear. I regularly hear stories of people living in Laos for 10+ years who still haven't managed it.
Vientiane Lao, or what we think of as standard Lao, is not as universal we as language learners might want it to be. If you go to some of the various villages and towns around Laos(especially in the mountains), you will encounter a whole host of exotic dialects.
If you read our blog Lao spoken languages, you'll know that only 51% of people list standard Lao as their mother tongue. The other two dominant languages are Khmu and Hmong. Although many of these speakers also speak Lao, it might be disheartening to go to a village and discover there's an entirely different language being spoken.
In a word: yes. But, unfortunately, there is no way around the problem of the Lao script. It is something you have to learn like a child learns their own alphabet.
The script is known as Akson Lao ອັກສອນລາວ, and it has 27 consonants and 33 vowels. The script is derived from Khmer(a derivative of the ancient Brahmi script). It is very similar to the Thai language, and Thai people can read it to a reasonable degree.
Follow this link for a complete Lao alphabet
Learning Lao can be a long and complicated process. As the FSI says, it can take up to 1100 hours to get proficient. That's 45 full days of studying Lao without sleep! Not only this, but to maintain your level, you'd have to do a lot of additional work on top of that.
We're going to give you a step-by-step analysis of how you should proceed.
That's all from us today. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. If not, come over to our website and start your language learning journey. Just knowing your native language is not enough!
Until the next time.