Friday, March 06, 2009

Learning Lao

So, I've been taking a Lao class twice a week. There are three of us in
the class, previously six, but one got in a severe motorbike accident,
another just stopped showing up and the third is looking for a better

Though he is not the best instructor in the world, our guy does all
right for having been educated in a country where there are very few
books printed in his native tongue. Most textbooks are in Thai and
there is no official transliteration system but rather a hodgepodge of:

French Colonial
(S's are X's, Ch's and J's are Ti and an E after an N at the end of
the word makes the vowel long)

Royal Thai
(H's and L's are R's, which is problematic since the R sound has been outlawed for sounding too regal)


(All CAPS, spa ces be tween cyl a bles and no tone markers.)

Guess which one our teacher uses. When we raised concerns about the method, he simply said, you can write the transliteration however you want.

But it's not as bad as it seems- you just have to overlook the inconsistencies and go with the way things sound rather than how they are spelled. So, for example. three maps might give three different spellings of the same street (provided of course it even has a name) but they'll generally look more or less like the same word, once you know the various systems. And though the Karaoke method lacks tone markers, tones seem to be less important than one would think- context and word order provide enough clues for Lao people to understand you. Plus which, the Lao are very generous listeners, unlike say, Korean cab drivers.

The Lao also love to flatter and be flattered. So even though I can barely say that I don't speak Lao ("khoy bo wow passat lao bodai") they all laugh and say ''Jao wow pasat lao geng lai!'' - You speak Lao very well.

Ah I love this country.

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