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Lao: A Few Key Phrases
The official language is Lao, part of the extensive Thai family of languages of Southeast Asia spoken from Vietnam in the east to India in the west. Spoken Lao is very similar to the northern Thai language, as well as local dialects in the Shan states in Myanmar and Sipsongbanna in China. Lao is tonal, meaning a word can have several meanings according to the tone in which it's spoken.
In tourist hotels the staff generally speaks some English. You can find a smattering of English-speakers in shops and restaurants. A few old-timers know some French.
Here are a few common and useful words:
Hello: sabai di (pronounced sa-bye dee)
Thank you: khop chai deu (pronounced cop jai dew; use khop cheu neu in northern Laos)
Yes: heu (pronounced like deux) or thia
Where?: iu sai (pronounced you sai)?
How much?: to dai (pronounced taw dai)?
Zero: sun (pronounced soon)
Seven: tiet (pronounced jee-yet)
Twenty: sao (rhymes with cow; different from Thai "yee sip")
Hundred: neung loi
Thousand: neung phan
To have fun: muan
To eat: kin khao (pronounced kin cow)
To drink: kin nam
Bus: lot me (pronounced lot may)
River: mae nam (pronounced may nam)
Hospital: hong mo (pronounced hong maw)
Post Office: paisani
Hotel: hong hem
Toilet: hong nam
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