To westerners learning Lao and other tonal Asian languages the pronunciation usually seems more difficult than the grammar. The pronunciation system used on this webpage and in the books described on the webpage attempt to simplify pronunciation by spelling words similarly to English. However, before trying to pronounce any of the words on the sample pages you should be aware of four main differences between English and the spelling system here.

First, the letter "a" is pronounced “ah” as in “father”, so the word for “village”, ban, is pronounced “bahn”. Secondly words with “o” like hot are pronounced “hote”. Lot ("vehicle") is “lote”, and mot ("used up") is “mote”. Next, "ph" isn’t “f” but “p” as in English, and finally "th" is pronounced “t”, not as “th” in English. The single letters "t" and "p" are used to represent hard consonant sounds that aren’t common in English.

Consonants: The following have the same pronunciation as in English:

b, d, f, h, k, l, m, n, s

The following letters have different sounds from English. Two of them may be difficult for English speakers. These are the hard p sound and the hard t sound. The first is a cross between "p" and "b" while the second is a cross between "t" and "d" (like the "t" in "sixty")

p

a hard p/b sound

ph

pronounced as "p" in English

t

a hard t/d sound

th

pronounced as "t" in English

g

has a harder sound, a cross between "g" and "k"

j

has a harder sound than in English

ng

used at the beginning as well as at the end of words

w

sometimes has a "v" sound


Vowels:

a

as in "father"

ay

as in "say" or between "ay" and "eh" as in "let" (varies)

ae

as in "cat"

e

"eh" as in "let"

ee

as in "see"

i

as in "bit"

ai

as in "Thai"

aw

as in "saw"

o

as in "note" or "coat"

u

as in "but"

oo

as in "boot"

eu

the vowel sound when you say "good" while smiling

euh

as in "love" or "above"


Vowel Combinations: These combine two or more vowel sounds into one smooth sound. Some of them aren’t used in English.

ao

ah + oh, as in "how"

oi

aw + ee

oy

oh + ee, as in "Chloe"

eo

ay+ oh, as in "mayo"

aeo

ae + oh

ia

ee + uh, as in "Pia"

io

ee + oh, as in "Leo"

iu

ee + oo, as in "mew"

ua

oo + uh, as in "Kahlua"

ui

oo + ee, as in "Louie"

uay

oo + ay + ee ("ay" sound turns to "ee" at the very end)

eua

eu + uh

euy

euh + ee

euay

eua + ay + ee ("ay" also turns to "ee" at the end)

 

Note on Pronunciation

-In some areas wa may be pronounced ua. For example, gwa (“more than”) may be pronounced gua, kwa (“right side”) may be kua, and gwang (“wide”) may be pronounced guang.

-The word used in Laos for “province” - kwaeng - may be pronounced kaeng (without the “w”) colloquially..

-The lone-vowel sound spelled "i" or "ee" without an asterisk is pronounced as a cross between "i" and "ee", and is spelled here with either "i" or "ee" depending on which it commonly sounds closer to, although pronunciation will vary between the two sounds. This is in words like sin or seen (“meat”), im or eem (“full from eating”), hin or heen (“stone”), and king or keeng (“ginger”).