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Greg Rodgers

How to Pronounce Laos

By February 7, 2013

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Vang Vieng, Laos

Photo by Greg Rodgers

For years, travelers have been debating the finer points of how to pronounce Laos.

While people who haven't visited the country tend to pronounce the 's' at the end, many travelers leave the 's' silent and use the local pronunciation that sounds like 'lao' (rhymes with cow).

Laos was split into three kingdoms, with the residents referring to themselves as 'Lao people' until the French united the three in 1893, added an 's' to make it plural, and began referring to the collective as Laos.

There isn't really a final 's' in the Lao language, so locals don't typically use the European addition. And technically the official name of the country is the Lao People's Democratic Republic, or short, Lao PDR.

I prefer the local pronunciation of 'Lao', however, I've received a few blank stares in conversation with other travelers until we sorted out that the country in question was Laos.

How do you say Laos?

Whichever you prefer, the friendly Lao people would never correct you, and you'll have a blast exploring this beautiful, mountainous part of Southeast Asia!

  • See a country profile and some Laos travel essentials.
February 8, 2013 at 2:35 am
(1) AK says:

When you speak English, please pronounce the country as “LAOS” (with the S). When you speak Lao (language), please say the country’s name as “LAO” (without the S). It absolutely does not make any sense to speak English and say you are going to LAO for example. There is no need for you to pretend to know about Laos more than you do. I am a Lao person and I absolutely cannot stand a foreigner or Lao person speaking or writing English and refer to Laos as Lao. Just use LAOS or LAO PDR. Lao in english refers to the people or language, not country. And of course I do not have colonial nostalgia. It is the same thing as people never refer to THAILAND as THAI (the country) in English – you only do that when you speak Thai. Thanks and peace!

February 8, 2013 at 5:20 am
(2) I am NOT Laos. says:

@AK: How do you say “Illinois” then? The name of the state of Illinois has a French root as does the name for Laos. The French add an S to indicate plural, but don’t pronounce it. We can still write is as “Laos” but pronounce it as “Lao.”

February 8, 2013 at 10:05 pm
(3) Bernie Rosenbloom says:

How about “Vientiane”? I live there. Locals pronounce it “Vienchon” (chon rhymes with Don and Vien sounds more like Ven) I would never speak to a traveller with that pronunciation. And that’s just the start…

February 9, 2013 at 9:45 pm
(4) Greg Rodgers says:

Interesting to hear someone from Laos preferring that foreigners say ‘Laos’. Thank you for the input.

The best rule of thumb in most countries is to mimic the locals, so when I pronounce the country as ‘Lao’, I actually do so out of trying to show respect, not to be pretentious or pretend to know more.

February 10, 2013 at 12:59 pm
(5) Language Teacher says:

I have lived in Laos for years and I regularly instruct others on how to speak, read and write Lao. Just to let you know I have a more than solid background in this country and language…

I agree with the Lao native (AK) who asks that expats say “Laos” when speaking English and not “Lao.” Just like, when speaking English, we say “Thailand” and not just “Thai”, which would refer to either the language or the people in English. Similarly, in English we call the country where Rome is “Italy” and not “Italia.” In English, we say “Spain” and not “Espana.” “Germany” and not “Duetschland”. “Netherlands” and not “Nederland”. “Finland” and not “Suomi”. “Philippines” and not “Pilipinas”. “Albania” and not “Shqipri”. “Croatia” and not “Hrvatska”.

August 9, 2013 at 12:40 am
(6) Dj says:

I 100% agree with commenter No. 2, we’re not saying Laos without the S because we’re mixing the Lao pronunciation with English, we’re pronouncing Laos with a silent S because that is the French pronunciation it is derived from and there are many French words in English that retain their French pronunciation, Illinois is a great example, and we’re not about to start saying “I’m going to the ballet” and pronounce it bal-et just because you have a rant on the Internet right? So if you have an issue with foreigners using the French pronunciation when speaking English then you has better move somewhere that speaks none of the languages in question……

August 9, 2013 at 2:30 am
(7) goasia says:

Historically, the French added the ending ‘S’ to Laos, and since the ending ‘S’ is not typically pronounced in French (e.g., the name Francois), I’ve been leaving it off.

However, I was just in Laos last week and locals were pronouncing the ‘S’ at the end when speaking to me. Was it just for my farang benefit or is that what they prefer?

Sounds like the only way to be sure you are correct is to use the official name of the country: Lao PDR. :)

August 14, 2013 at 7:39 pm
(8) zomicon says:

FWIW – I spent several weeks in Laos a few years back. I heard many travelers referring to the country with and without the pronounced “s”. I tended to default to the Laos pronunciation, and was corrected a few times by a few pretentious travelers who looked at me and said condescendingly, “It’s pronounced LAO”. To resolve the debate, I asked a local who I had become friendly with and he said to use Lao when referring to things in or from Laos (e.g. Lao people, Lao language, Lao beer, Lao food, etc.) but to use Laos with the pronounced “s” when referring to the country. That is what I have done since then.

December 17, 2013 at 9:45 pm
(9) JJ says:

I speak French, and the ‘s’ IS pronounced in the French word ‘Laos’ – so by not pronouncing the s you are completely wrong for every reason.

It is typical of English speakers who think they can speak a foreign language (such as Lao or French) to act as if they have mastered the rules of pronunciation when really they are incorrect.

BTW, the ‘s’ is also pronounced in the French words ‘autobus’, ‘tennis’, ‘fils’, etc.

December 17, 2013 at 9:55 pm
(10) JJ says:

I speak French and the ‘s’ IS pronounced at the end of the French word ‘Laos’. So if you are pronouncing the ‘s’ you are wrong for every reason, unless of cause you are referring to the people or the language, or using the descriptive adjective Lao (like in Lao PDR).

It is typical of arrogant English speakers (such as some above) who think they know a foreign language such as French when really they do not.

The pronunciation of ‘Laos’ without an ‘s’ is a huge pet peeve for me, as it really makes no sense unless you are actually speaking Lao. Both French and English pronounce it with a final ‘s’ sound!

BTW, some other French words where the final ‘s’ is pronounced include ‘tennis’, ‘autobus’ and ‘fils’.

March 20, 2014 at 3:51 am
(11) John says:

I think any native English speaker heading to the French capital and announcing they were going to ” Paree ” as in the French pronunciation would sound like a pretentious wanker. For that reason I’m in the ” pronounce it with the s ” camp

March 22, 2014 at 9:51 am
(12) Reece says:

It is the same as Bayern in German and Bavaria in English. If you are speaking English, you say Bavaria, Germany, and Vienna. In German, you say Bayern, Deutschland, and Wien. Say it the way it is in the language you are speaking.

March 22, 2014 at 9:57 am
(13) Reece says:

And also, ballet is a French word, yes, but it is now adopted into the English language… That is why we pronounce it the same… Like merlot….. And secondly, Illinois is NOT French. It is derived from the Native American tribe Illinois. I am Native American… How dare you say it is French.

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