In a foreign country, a few basic words and phrases go a long way. Lao is a scary-looking language to many travelers, especially from the West, but don’t worry, Ling has got you covered! Here's our essential list of basic words and phrases in Lao for 2022 and onwards.
Let’s start from the top:
What is your name?
(Jâo seu nyãng?) - ເຈົ້າຊື່ຫຍັງ
My name is...
(Khawy Seu Michael...) - ຂ້ອຍຊື່...
|Thank you||Khawp Jai||ຂອບໃຈ|
|Excuse me, I'm sorry||Khǎw Thôht||ຂໍໂທດ|
|Good morning||Sa bai di ton sao||ສະບາຍດີຕອນເຊົ້າ|
Things 'lost in translation'.
Learning a language wouldn't be as fun if you didn't have to contend with the intricacies of direct translation. So in the above example for 'yes', we used (Maen Leeo), which is a good 'overall' translation but more closely resembles 'it is, already.'
Also, as we discussed in an earlier article, language is often determined by the seniority of the person you are talking to.
(Doi) ໂດຍ is something you would use instead of Maen Leeo if you were talking to someone older than you.
(Doi kanoy) ໂດຍຂະນ້ອຍ is even more respectful and should be used when talking to a monk
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the much formal (err) ອື which is close to 'yep' in English.
One of the most curious things about traveling to Laos is Tak bat or the alms ceremony. Do not be surprised to see hundreds of orange-robed, umbrella-wielding monks shuffling past devotees at 5.30 am. Unfortunately, the ceremony has been spoiled in recent years by over-eager tourists who disrupt the monks' meditation. So this might be a time to practice your listening and not your speaking. If you want some more tips on the 'nop' and other aspects of Lao culture, why not check out our last blog on how to geet people in Lao.
|Do you speak English?||Jâo Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ang-git Dai Baw?||ເຈົ້າເວົ້າພາສາອັງກິດໄດ້ບໍ່|
|I can't speak English||Khawy Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ang-Kit baw Dai||ຂ້ອຍເວົ້າພາສາອັງກິດບໍ່ໄດ້|
|Please speak slowly||Kalunaa, Wâo Sah-Saah||ກະລຸນາເວົ້າຊ້າໆ|
|I like English||Khawy mak phasaangkid||ຂ້ອຍມັກພາສາອັງກິດ|
|I'm lost||Khoi lohng taang||ຂ້ອຍຫຼົງທາງ|
|Lower the price||lakha toa||ລາຄາຕ່ໍາ|
(Khawy Wâo Pháa-Sǎa Ang-Kit baw Dai.) - ຂ້ອຍເວົ້າພາສາອັງກິດບໍ່ໄດ້
This is a phrase you will hear a lot. In 2018 Laos ranked lowest on the English proficiency index behind Cambodia and Mongolia. Laos is also a largely rural, decentralized area, and remote schools have problems recruiting English teachers. Not only this, but as you can see from the list, the top 5 places are occupied by former British colonies, whereas Laos was a French colony.
Where is the bathroom?
(Hong Nam Yu Sai?) - ຫ້ອງ້ຳຢູ່ໃສ
This is one of those phrases that deserves its own section because sometimes it is the only thing that matters! For example, if you say, 'bathroom hong nam yu?', you will be understood, but the correct form is 'hong nam yu sai?'
Plumbing in Laos is sketchy at best. You'll be alright if you're staying in one of Vientiane's 5-star hotels, but even then, many hotels advise you not to flush away toilet paper. If you're a budget traveler, expect to see some of the dreaded squat toilets.
|Leave me alone||Ponyhai khonyyu khondiav||ປ່ອຍໃຫ້ຂ້ອຍຢູ່ຄົນດຽວ|
|Can you help me?||Suay khoi dai bor||ເຈົ້າຊ່ວຍຂ້ອຍໄດ້ບໍ່?|
|I'm lost||Khoi lohng taang||ຂ້ອຍຫຼົງທາງ|
|I need a doctor||Khony tongkan tha no||ຂ້ອຍຕ້ອງການທ່ານໍ|
|I don't understand||Khoy baw khao jai||ຂ້ອຍບໍ່ເຂົ້າໃຈ|
|Can I borrow your phone||Khoy yuam tolasab khong chao dai baw||ຂ້ອຍຢືມໂທລະສັບຂອງເຈົ້າໄດ້ບໍ?|
Laos is a difficult country to write about because it is one of the few places in the world in which cities are safer than the countryside. There are many unexploded bombs in the jungle leftover from the Vietnam war. You should never trek somewhere without an experienced guide or on a well-worn path.
In Vientiane, you might experience some petty theft if you're not careful, but in my experience, Laos is safer than most European countries.
|How do I get to?||Khoi bpai _____ baep dai?||ຂ້ອຍຈະໄປໄດ້ແນວໃດ?|
|The airport||Deun bin||ສະ ໜາມ ບິນ|
|Sites to see?||Beung sa tan tee||ສະຖານທີ່ເພື່ອເຂົ້າໄປເບິ່ງ|
|Turn left||Liao saai||ລ້ຽວຊ້າຍ|
|Turn right||Liao kwaa||ລ້ຽວຂວາ|
It is a lot more difficult to get lost in Laos now than it was 10 years ago. Everybody in the city has a mobile phone. Although other ridesharing apps like Uber and Grab haven't made the transition to Laos, there is an app called Loca which is attempting to do what ridesharing technology did to other Southeast Asian countries.
Of course, this writer would advise you to get lost in the city and see if you can find your way back to your hotel with some of the phrases you've learned today.
Did our complete list of basic words and phrases in Lao whet your appetite for new vocabulary? Ling has a little bit of everything for learners, from bargain hunters wanting to lower the price in a Vientiane market (lakha toa)', to those of you caught short and needing to find a bathroom (hàwng nâm yuu).
Sign up now for Lao lessons and join tens of thousands of other language learners who have made the leap into second language mastery.