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Tips for Successful Lao Localization Projects

Posted by Anne Quach on Sep 2021.

The economy of Laos is among the fastest-growing economies in the world thanks to its focus on construction, a young workforce, and tax treatment. When investing in Laos, companies should pay attention to the Lao language’s unique features to avoid unfortunate misunderstandings.

Below are some of the most notable features of the Lao language that we think you should consider carefully to achieve the best quality Lao localization project.

1. Lao Registers

The Lao language has a complex and diverse system of registers. People use different vocabulary when talking to others depending on the addressees’ age, social status, gender, and social context. There are four main types of registers in the Lao language – royal (now obsolete), ecclesiastical, written, and spoken. These registers employ different pronouns and prefixes.

In terms of pronouns, they can be divided into various groups for different social situations such as informal, formal, or general/common. For example, ຂ້ອຍ (khoy) is a general personal pronoun that you can use among guests or friends. However, it is not polite enough to use for young people when talking to the elderly. For a more formal and polite situation, especially when talking to the elderly in high social status or talking in the ecclesiastical form, ຂ້ານ້ອຍ (khanoy) is used. Below is the table of some common pronouns in Lao for your reference.

Pronoun BGN/PCGN IPA Situation Meaning
ຂ້ອຍ khoy kʰɔ̏ːj Informal/General I/Me
ຂ້ານ້ອຍ khanoy kʰȁː nɔ̂ːj Formal I/Me
ພວກເຮົາ hao háw We/Us
ເຈົ້າ/ພວກເຈົ້າ Chao/phouak chao tɕâw General You
ທ່ານ than tʰāːn Very formal You
ເຂົາ/ພວກເຂົາ Khao/phouak khao kʰǎw Formal/General They/them
ລາວ lao láw Very informal He/him/she/her
ເພິ່ນ pheun pʰɤn Very formal He/him/she/her
ມັນ man mán Very rude if used on a person It

In some cases, prefixes are used to show the ages or relationships between speakers and addresses. For example, people often add the ບັກ (bak /bak/) and ອີ (i /ʔiː/) or ທ້າວ (thao) and ນາງ (nang) (general and polite) prefixes with younger children’s names. Slightly older children are addressed to or have their names prefixed with ອ້າຍ (ai /ʔaj/) and ເອື້ອຍ (èw-ai /ʔɯːâj/). Older people are often dressed as an uncle, aunt, grandfather, etc., while in companies, people’s titles are regularly used.

In Lao localization, it is essential that you use the right pronouns when communicating you’re your audiences as the misuse of pronouns will result in listeners or readers feeling offended. The suitable pronouns you should use depend on the age and behaviour of your target audience. If you target old people, the use of formal and polite pronouns is a must. However, for younger audiences, general pronouns might be a good choice as it creates a more friendly and closer relationship between speakers and addresses. To be 100% sure, we recommend you consult a professional Lao localization expert who understands the Lao social norms and your Lao buyer persona before making the decision.

2. Punctuation in the Lao language

Lao script traditionally does not use spaces to separate words or use punctuation marks to end a sentence. The spaces are used to indicate the end of a sentence and sometimes a clause. It is also used in conjunction with words.

The absence of spaces between words in the Lao language still gives DTP-er a challenging time to handle if they are not native speakers or fluent in the language nor familiar with the Lao layout. Text may be split in the middle of a word, making it hard to read or causing misunderstanding. Thus, you should keep in mind that, only native Lao DTP-ers should be assigned to handle the DTP step of your Lao localization projects to avoid mistakes in breaking lines.

Traditionally, Lao people used their own set of punctuation marks, including:

    • – used to indicate repetition of the preceding word;
    • – the Lao ellipsis that is also used to indicate the omission of words;
    • – indicates the shortened form of a phrase (such as royal names);
    • ฯລฯ – used to indicate et cetera.

In more contemporary writing, some western punctuation marks are borrowed and used by Lao people. You might encounter question marks ?, exclamation points !, parentheses (), and «» and “ “ for quotation marks in modern writing.

3. Numbers in Lao

The Lao language uses two systems of numerals: Lao numerals and Arabic numerals. Lao numerals are mostly used in formal documents, legal documents, or documents relating to the government. Meanwhile, Arabic numerals are preferred in everyday conversation.

Arabic Numerals 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Lao Numerals

Lao Localization - Lao Numbers

Depending on the types of content you need localizing, you can choose the suitable type of numerals to use. This information should be included in your Lao localization guideline to translators, to make sure the localized content is of your preference.

4. Other Lao Localization Details and Locale Specifics

Below is the checklist of localization details for the Lao market you should consider for the best quality Lao localization projects:

    • Lao people use the metric system for measurement. Gold and silver are sometimes weighed in baht (1 baht =15g).
    • The date format is date-month-year.
    • The time format is either a 24-hour clock or 12-hour clock.
    • The full name format is given name followed by the family name.
    • The address format follows the template name – house number and street name – town, postcode – country.

We hope the Lao localization tips in this blog post will help you find great success in the Lao market. If you are planning on localizing your content into other Asian languages, download our free whitepaper for more localization tips into 10 major languages in Asia.