Is Lao Hard To Learn? 1100 Hours Or Can We Supercharge Your Performance?

Original blog post:

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.

What Does The FSI Say About Lao?

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.

Is Lao A Tonal Language?

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.

Are There Different Languages In Laos?

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.

Is The Lao Script Difficult To Learn?

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

What Is The Best Way To Learn Lao?

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.

  1. Download Ling. A language learning app like Ling should be the base upon which you build all other facets of your language learning experience. The app has bite-sized lessons for beginners and some that much-needed script practice where you can copy and trace letters of the alphabet as well as become familiar with Lao words.
  2. Flashcard Alphabet. Although the Ling app is excellent for practicing the Lao script, I’d also recommend creating your own set of flashcards for it. You could use a flashcard app like Anki. However, I prefer to print the flashcards out physically in the beginning and hang them around my house.
  3. More Ling! Keep at with the ling app and try to read some of our weekly Lao language blog that gives you information on everything from how to say cheers in Lao to how to say Happy New Year in Lao.
  4. Youtube Practice. The best Youtube channel is by a young woman called Vanida WP. She has many videos on basic phrases as well as useful vocabulary in context. Also, she has a pleasant manner of teaching, and it’s a great way to practice your listening. Ideally, the best way to practice is while watching movies with subtitles in your target language, but we’re aware that that isn’t always easy with a lesser-known language like Lao.
  5. Practice Reading. Although it is difficult to find passages in Lao, there are websites and newspapers you can read. Once you can read the language fluently, then you’re also able to practice your writing and speaking.
  6. Hire a Lao teacher. Again, this is extremely difficult given the circumstances, especially if you’re not living in Laos. However, if you do an extensive internet search, you will be able to find someone to give you Lao lessons.

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.



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