Lao spoken languages are more varied than what you think. Although the primary language in Laos is the one we teach on Ling, there are 80 other documented languages in the country. Vientiane Lao (Central Lao) has become the national standard because the city is the cultural and economic hub of the country.
The Main Lao Spoken Language
The official language of Laos used is a Kra-Dai language similar to Thai and even more similar to the Isan language(a dialect spoken in northeast Thailand. (52% of the Lao population speak the standard variation making it the dominant language).
Lao is a tonal language similar to Chinese and Vietnamese. Therefore, speakers of Lao and Thai can understand each other, although there are differences.
Other Lao Spoken Languages
52% is not a high number and speaks of the different ethnic groups you find in Lao. As mentioned earlier, 80 other documented minority languages are spoken, the most famous of which are Khmu and Hmong. ‘
The Khmu Language has a total of 500,000 speakers living in Northern Laos. As opposed to Kra-Dai, the Khmu language is Austroasiatic. Although Khmu is their first language, the majority of these speakers can also speak standard Vientiane Lao.
The Hmong language is another widely spoken language in the region. The people living in the mountains of Laos, Burma, Thailand, and China and are split into two groups. The white Hmong and The Green Hmong.
Lao And French
Given the colonial relationship between France and Laos, it is not surprising that there are still many Lao French Speakers. Many of the most famous streets in the big cities start with the word ‘rue,’ which is French for ‘street.’ The French influence is particularly noticeable in the Southern Lao city of Pakse–founded by the French as an administrative post.
When the communists took power in 1953, there was a systematic attempt to dismantle French influence, and standard Lao became the nation’s only official language.
French, however, refused to die and was still used by the nation’s elite, perhaps because of the cultural connations that went along with speaking the language of Paris.
Because of the French past, many French tourists flood Laos every year, and there are great guides who offer tours in the French language. So too, French cuisine left a significant mark on Lao cuisine. In Vientiane, the baguette is ubiquitous, and there are many excellent French restaurants, as you can see from this TripAdvisor list.
In recent years the language has seen itself replaced by Mandarin and especially English.
Lao And English
English is the language of global trade, and ambitious young Lao citizens see learning English as an opportunity to move overseas and search for better wages. Unfortunately, English education in all but the best schools doesn’t compare to nearby Vietnam and Thailand, but some private institutions do a good job.
The proliferation of social media, particularly amongst the young generation, means that the rate of English speakers in the country is growing exponentially.
Lao And Chinese
A language trying to usurp English as the number one foreign spoken language in Laos is Mandarin Chinese.
The fuel behind this is the massive investment that the Chinese government is making in infrastructure projects in Laos, including highways and high-speed railways, as we discussed in our article transportation in Lao.
There are already several Chinese language schools in Vientiane, with many more in the pipeline. The most prestigious is ‘The Mulan Education center,’ which teaches from kindergarten to Adult level and boasts almost 1000 students.
Another thing driving the Chinese language boom is the casinos springing up in places like Bokeo Province in Northern Lao(gambling is illegal in China, and citizens have to go abroad). These casinos are all Chinese-speaking and attract massive amounts of patrons.
Lao And Korean
A surprising development in the last ten years has been the burgeoning relationship between Lao and South Korea. In 2018 the first-ever Korea week festival was held in Vientiane.
The Korean tourism industry for Laos has become as important as the European tourist industry. It has transformed towns like Vang Vieng, where many boutique hotels have sprung up to replace backpacker hostels. In 2017 the number of Korean tourists was 170,000, only trumped by tourists from Thailand, Vietnam, and China.
Again, wherever there are tourists, people have to be trained in their language to accommodate them.
Learn Lao With Ling
In Lao it is a complex dance between foreign languages spoken, minority languages spoken and spoken standard Lao. The impact of French colonization was massive on the reg
Although the languages spoken in Laos are varied, what’s undeniable is that speaking standard Vientiane Lao is crucial whether you’re a tourist or investor.
It isn’t easy to find a language learning app that can help you out, as we discussed in our article No Lao on Duolingo. The reasons are myriad but what matters is that here at Ling, we have developed a Lao learning course that is worthy of the complex and beautiful Lao language.
We have 100’s of lessons of Lao content, including reading, listening, and speaking practice. Crucially there is even writing practice with our Lao script trace function.
Until the next time.