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Laos forum

a good lao dictionary/ phrasebook

Posted by smallhouse on 24/2/2010 at 14:03

Hi , does anyone have a recommendation for a good lao-english phrasebook /dictionary. It's my first visit and i'm keen to learn as much lao as possible . Previously in indonesia i have found 'Everyday Indonesian' by Thomas M Oeoy to be excellent. thanks. Ps i arrive may 13 , so plenty of learning time still.

#1 smallhouse has been a member since 24/2/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by wanderingcat on 24/2/2010 at 14:53

What i use...

Lonely Planet Lao Phrasebook (2nd Ed by Joe Cummings, brown cover)

Small & very light to carry, so i can bring it around with me all the time (pick up & remember the most from daily interactions with Lao people). Has small dictionary section behind. Not compared it with later edition.

Lao-English English-Lao Dictionary by Benjawan Poomsan Becker with Khamphan Mingbuapha (

Has 3 sections - Eng to Lao phonetic + script, Lao phonetic to Eng, Lao script to Eng. Third section is for Lao people to search for what they want to tell me when they don't know the English word (or any English at all). Also for me to decipher written Lao on signboards, etc. Second section is for me to figure out what people are saying to me/what i overhear them saying in Lao, based on sounds + tones.

Second section uses the same AUA (Thailand) phonetic system that i was already familiar with (had been using it for Thai language). Those who aren't & don't have the time to pick it up might find the second section redundant :P

Thus far, have found the coverage (in terms of vocabulary) adequate. In fact it's way beyond 'tourist level' (what the phrasebook is pegged at), enough for in depth discussions & such.

Another dictionary is the green one that's widely used by students in Laos, but seen it sold only in Laos. Geared towards Lao learners of English rather than the other way round. Not as easy on the eye in terms of layout/font (esp when hunting for words) as the one by Benjawan. (But cheaper production costs means more Lao students can afford it.)

The most comprehensive/exhaustive dictionary i've seen was a larger hardcover one at the Big Brother Mouse office in Luang Prabang, didn't get the title. But that kinda depth is more for translation work (e.g. for publishing).

Further note: not sure what (tonal) languages you already know - this might determine whether you find books accompanied by audio CDs (e.g. Lao for Beginners) useful. Personally didn't, but it's cos i already had a background in Thai + parents' native languages have ~8 tones each & similar vowel/consonant clusters as what's found in Lao. Could also do without audio CDs & just listen to Lao content on youtube (& native speakers when you get to Laos) :P

#2 wanderingcat has been a member since 21/10/2006. Posts: 730
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Posted by smallhouse on 24/2/2010 at 15:01

Wow, great reply wanderingcat. thanks. I am fluent in only indonesian and english, but have a good ear for accents and following the online stuff so far seems ok. The first two books seem the kind of material i am seeking. thanks again from an australian smallhouse.

#3 smallhouse has been a member since 24/2/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by Captain_Bob on 5/3/2010 at 16:17

The Benjawan Poomsan Becker dictionary mentioned by Wanderingcat is great - just about the only tri-language dictionary around and good vocab section. It's something a brick sizewise but worth carrying. It's sold in every decent bookshop here in Chiang Mai if you happen to pass this way (or Bangkok).

#4 Captain_Bob has been a member since 27/5/2006. Location: Thailand. Posts: 1,950

Posted by smallhouse on 7/3/2010 at 17:24

I have bought both books online for a very reasonable price . So far so good, i have used internet spoken lao to get the pronunciation and am at the count to 10, hello, thank-you, sorry , stage with 2 months to go.
cant wait ! .

#5 smallhouse has been a member since 24/2/2010. Posts: 5

Posted by Barns on 11/3/2010 at 10:20

I've lived here for a few years and found the Benjawan dictionary to basically be a Thai dictionary but written in Lao script. Lao people understand Thai but Benjawan is apparently a Thai man (I don't know for definite!) and when I said a lot of the words Lao people told me that it was Thai not Lao, although they are very similar!

The best one I found for learning basic Lao is by Russell Marcus and published by the Tuttle Language Library. It translates both ways and has both the English and Lao script for each word and example phrases to clarify things.

If you ever get good enough to read Lao script then there is a big and very good 32,000-word dictionary you can get but it only has English-to-Lao and the Lao is all written in Lao script and there are no example phrases to clarify which form of the word you want if you see what I mean.

#6 Barns has been a member since 3/3/2010. Location: Laos. Posts: 16
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