Main languages in Laos

Created by Minh Hue at 2024-01-25 16:19:15 , Updated by Minh Hue at 2024-01-27 08:29:44
Let's learn about the main languages that are spoken in Laos with Asia King Travel, so you can prepare your journey to this country better before departing.

Laos, a nation located in Southeast Asia, has linguistic diversity. There are over 80 languages that are spoken in Laos, including various indigenous and foreign languages. Let Asia King Travel help you get a basic understanding of the languages used in Laos.

Laos has a linguistic diversity

Languages in Laos

There are many languages that are spoken in Laos

The official language of Laos is Lao and it is used by 52% of the national population, which clearly makes it the most popular language in the country. Besides, Laos has various minority ethnic groups across the country that speak indigenous languages, enriching the diversity of the Laos linguistic system. Some foreign languages are also spoken by a small number of Laotians, but they are not really common.

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Main languages in Laos

The official language: Lao

The official language of the nation is Lao, a tonal language of the Tai-Kadai family, which is used by more than half of the country’s population. There are six tones in this Lao. Across the country, there are various distinct dialects with different accents, pronunciations, and vocabularies. Although there is not an official dialect in Laos, the Vientiane dialect is taking over as the nation's unofficial tongue, and most of Lao vocabulary is founded on it.

Languages in Laos: Lao

More than half of national population speak Lao

The Angkorian Khmer script and Mon script served as the basis for the development of the Lao script. Both of them have its roots in the Brahmic script of India. The Khmer script was first taken by the Khmers during the time of the Angkor Empire, then the Laotians, Northern Thais, and Central Thais all adopted it into their own scripts though related alphabets. The letters in these alphabets have distinct sounds and are read from left to right like English.

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Languages of minority ethnic groups

Laos boasts a mosaic of languages spoken by its diverse minority ethnic groups, reflecting the country's rich culture. In which the most common are Khmu and Hmong languages. There are still numerous other Lao minority languages, such as Akha, Arem, Bana, and Katu. They contribute to the linguistic diversity of the nation. Here is the basic guide to the two most common minority languages in Laos: Khmu and Hmong.


Languages in Laos: Khmu

Khmu is the second most popular language in Laos

Khmu is spoken by the Khmu people who inhabited northern provinces which are Bokeo, Luang Prabang, Luangnam Tha, Oudomxay, and Phongsaly. With a population of around 500,000, they are the biggest ethnic group in the nation. Khmer belongs to the family of Austroasiatic languages, which also includes many closely related dialects, including Kniang, Puoc, and O'du, which combined to form the Khumuic organ.

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The Hmong language is spoken by the Hmong ethnic group in Laos, who live in the mountains of the country. It is a member of the Hmong-Mien language family. It has several dialects, reflecting the regional diversity of Hmong communities. Hmong uses its own unique script, Pahawh Hmong, and is traditionally passed down orally.

Languages in Laos: Hmong

Hmong people use their own language

The Hmong language in Laos is divided into two main groups: White Hmong (Hmong Daw) and Green/blue Hmong (Hmong Njua). The Hmong Daw is the dominant language, with more published dictionaries than the Hmong Njua language. These languages differ in terms of grammar, word structure, pronunciation, and lexicon. Therefore, they have substantially less clarity.

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Foreign languages

English and French are the foreign languages that a small percentage of Laos can speak. They can be used in urban areas and tourist-heavy destinations. However, they are less popular in rural and remote areas.


English has gained prominence in Laos as a global lingua franca, reflecting the country's engagement with the international community. English is increasingly important in Laotian education, commerce, and tourism. It is taught in schools, and proficiency is sought after for employment opportunities. It is easy to find people that understand English in Vientiane and other major tourist areas, from older people who learned English during the Vietnam War period to young people who study it in school or are interested in using English now.

Languages in Laos: English

English becomes a popular subject in Laotian schools

Signage in English is common in urban areas, catering to tourists. As Laos integrates into the global economy, English serves as a bridge for communication and collaboration with the international community. The prevalence of English in various sectors underscores its growing significance in the linguistic landscape of Laos.

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During the French colonial period, French served as the administrative language, leaving a lasting impact on education and governance. It was introduced to schools in Vientiane in the 1900s. After that, French became more popular and spread to southern Laos. In 1949, after Laos gained autonomy, both French and Lao were used. In 1953, Lao became the only official national language when the country's independence was achieved.

Languages in Laos: French

French is the main language with Lao in the country during the French colonical period 

French in Laos is mostly similar to standard Parisian French. Some Lao terms are combined and mixed with French, creating unique Laotian spoken French. About 35% of students in the nation learn French, and it is used in business and diploma as a dialect.

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Some common phrases in Lao for travelers

If you are planning a journey to Laos, it is advisable to learn some common phrases in Lao since it may make your trip easier and more convenient. It also offers authentic interactions with locals, enhancing the experience of your exploration. This is a list of some popular Lao phrases for travelers that you may want to know:

Languages in Laos: Some phrases for travelers

Some common Lao phrases for foreign tourists

In conclusion, the rich linguistic diversity of Laos reflects a harmonious blend of cultures. This amalgamation fosters a multifaceted national identity. If you have any further inquiries about this topic, don't hesitate to contact us, as Asia King Travel is happy to provide you with any information you need.

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