Who learns Thai and Lao? - Many Westerners are learning Thai and Lao while traveling and living in Thailand and Laos or at universities (the languages are taught at many universities in the US and Australia). Some people come back to Thailand and Laos again and again, learning more of the language themselves or in classes. Thai is taught at many language schools, especially in Bangkok and Chiang Mai while Lao is taught at Dong Dok University and at a few language schools in Vientiane.

Do I have to use tones?
- In tonal languages the tone is an integral part of the pronunciation. When first learning Thai and Lao, though. it’s not that important to have the correct tone on every word if you feel it's too much to learn at once. People will usually be able to understand what you’re saying, although your pronunciation won’t sound correct to them. Eventually if you want to increase your fluency you should learn the tones.

How can I learn the tones? -
Some people can learn the correct pronunciation just by picking up the sound when they hear it. Others have to apply their minds to consciously learning the sounds. In language learning some people have a talent for mimicking, while others have to sweat over their notebooks. Try what you think works, but eventually ask a native speaker how your pronunciation sounds and make corrections they suggest. Learning to read and use the tone chart can help some people pronounce and remember the tones.

learning to read
- Learning to read Thai and Lao is an excellent way to improve your fluency. The languages look difficult to read, but each letter has a phonetic sound like English (although Thai and Lao follows rule much more strictly than English). Sentences are read from left to right, but a big difference is that all the words in a sentence are run together. This is overcome by the spelling system, which has some vowels placed at the before, after, on top, or under the consonant they're associated with, so it's easier to see where words begin and end. Reading becomes easier once you learn the look of individual words. You can increase your reading speed with daily practice.

Can you learn a language by osmosis?
- It's a common idea that you can pick up a language by osmosis when living in a foreign country just by hearing it spoken every day. It's true that people living or doing extended travel in a foreign country will pick up some common phrases based on need, but to actually learn a language takes sustained effort and a real desire (or need) to learn it. Some talented people can learn a language fluently in a year. More commonly, though, it takes several years of committed effort which includes buying books on the language, getting a tutor or taking a class, and spending time with local people with no English speaker present.