Learning Lao

Yesterday I had my first private lesson in Lao language together with a colleague. He had taken a course in basic spoken Lao some months before, whereas my exposure to formal training in the language was non-existent. Armed with a pen, some paracetamol to numb an increasingly sore throat and bags of curiosity I gave it a go. Here’s what I gathered  about what I’m getting myself in to.

This is what the challenge looks like:


Lao consonants, picture from http://wiki.verbix.com/Category/LaoScript

Above are the nearly 30 consonants in Lao, which are combined with almost as many vowels. Depending on the tone (of which there are 6-8 depending on the system you use to learn the language) and the position of a vowel relative to consonants they can take a number of different forms in writing as shown below:

Lao vowels shown here in connection with ‘k’, picture from http://wiki.verbix.com/Category/LaoScript

For someone whose native language is a phonetic language and other previously known languages all belong to Romanic and Germanic languages this is bound to be difficult. For a beginner the tones are almost impossible to separate in listening, let alone recreate in speaking. Yet one word can have up to 8 completely different meanings depending on the tone! Wish me luck…

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