Our guide for translating Lao

Laos’ economy is staggeringly growing since this nation starts to encourage the private economic sector in 1986. Laos also opened a stock exchange in 2011 which provides its neighbors like Vietnam, Chinese, Thailand with hydropower.

I. The importance of Lao translation

In the country of Laos, there are about 86 different languages and Laotian, also known as Lao is the official language, with 3.6 million native speakers while the total speakers of it is around 20 million globally.

Laotian is also found as a regional language in Cambodia and Thailand where it is known as Isan. In addition, Lao language is spoken in different countries such as Vietnam, Myanmar Singapore, Japan, Argentina, Brazil, India, Australia, United States, Canada and some countries in Europe.

II. 4 problems when translating Lao

1. No space between words

Traditionally, Lao script use no spaces between words, or ending punctuation. Spaces just appear between sentences and sometimes clauses. The lack of space might cause line-breaking problems in document.

On top of that, Lao people use both Arabic numerals and Lao numerals for different purposes. Lao numerals are for formal documents and Arabic numerals are used in daily conversation.

In more contemporary text, Laotian tend to borrow punctuation marks from the French which makes the situation a bit easier. You’ll find exclamation points !, question marks ?, parentheses (), and «» and “ “ for quotation marks, hyphens (-) and even the ellipsis (…).

2. No capital forms

Lao language, similar to its cousin Thai and Khmer, don’t have capital forms which make it hard to distinguish proper names. This can confuse the Latin-language speakers a lot.

Here is a useful tip: You can find the characters that seems not to have meaningful connections among themselves, that can probably be a name. This trick cannot work for 100% circumstances. Therefore, the only way to be a good translator is through years of practicing.

3. No official Latin transliteration system for written Lao 

There is no standard way to render the script for Lao characters and it caused great trouble for the localization process when you need to translate from Lao to any other Latin languages (which are almost all the major languages like English, French, Spanish, etc.).

If there is no standard way to render the script, then not only the translation and localization but desktop publishing, and word-processing tools can be inconsistent or easy to go missing.

4. Language registers

There are four main types of registers in the Lao language. They are royal (or obsolete), ecclesiastical, written, and spoken. Each one requires using different pronouns and prefixes.

Which form of language you should use depends on context and audience. That’s the reason you shouldn’t trust the translating machine. Instead, it is essential to work with a professional language translator who can help determine the appropriate tone, register, and dialect for your content.

If you need to translate into Lao, give us a call today!

Facts about the Lao language

  • The number of consonants in Lao has been trying to get reduced recently because many of them indicate the same sound.
  • If you learn Lao first as the foundation, you can understand Thai quicker as both languages are from the Tai-Kadai language class.
  • For politeness, pronouns (and more formal pronouns) are used, as well as ending statements with ແດ່ (dè) or ເດີ້ (deu).