SEAsite Lao: Web Resource for Lao Studies*

John Hartmann & Kip Thammavongsa



SEAsite Lao is a web site containing interactive multimedia materials designed to assist in learning the Lao Language and aspect of the Lao culture. Spoken Lao, a series of thirty lessons, is the core of this site. Each lesson has exercises that include interactive quizzes with immediate feedback, vocabulary flash cards, and matching games.

The three regional tones of Lao - Northern (Luang Phrabang), Central (Vientiane), and Southern (Pakse) - are displayed in the form of Tone Charts.  Most of the materials are recorded in the five-tone Vientiane dialect, along with interactive exercises. Grammar notes are also interactive.

The cultural context in which the language exists is exemplified by selections of Lao proverbs, folk tales, sung music, and classical literature, such as Phra Lak Phra Lam, the Lao version of the Indian Rama epic. The latter is illustrated with photos of the unique frescoes at Wat Ou Mong, which was unthinkingly demolished in December 2000. Additional photos are both old and modern scenes in Luang Phrabang and Vientiane.  Historical background notes are included.

Information on food comes from the original notebook of the Royal chef, Phia Sing. Practical information for foreign tourist and business people provides important clues about effective cross cultural communication and working relationships. There are several maps of the entire country at different historical periods, of linguistic families, of cultural and natural areas, and of the provinces and districts, including road networks and accessibility, reproduced with permission from the 2000 Atlas of Laos. Finally, there are links to other important web sites for information on Lao matters.


Language Learning

Spoken Lao. The purpose of this website is to make materials dealing with the Lao language and culture freely available to a world-wide audience over the Web.  The core of this project is based on a previously unpublished book for beginning students, Spoken Lao, by Dr. Arthur Chrisfield.  If you are a novice language learner and interested in learning the spoken Lao language, this is where you should begin. For learning to read Lao at the beginning level, start with the alphabet exercise and explanation of the writing system. Working from Laos and communicating via the internet with us at Northern Illinois University,  he updated the lessons and assisted us in adapting them to the World Wide Web.  Two native speakers of the Vientiane dialect were hired to record the speeches for the dialogs of the first 30 lessons Spoken Lao using a digital recorder on site in the capital city in the summer of 2002.  As part of our efforts to make the lessons more interactive and lively, we have added several unique and useful features.  Because Lao is a tonal language, it is important for the learner to understand the underlying patterns of tones and their relationship to the writing system.   This has been achieved through the development of a color coded Tone Chart of Vientiane tones that can (should) be accessed by a click of the mouse from each lesson.   Each lesson provides speeches for all of the conversations;  the speeches for all 30 lessons have been made available for downloading. (Also to be downloaded are three sets of fonts: Lao New Light, Phonemic, and IPA.  Without them, you will not be able to make sense of what appears in the language lessons.)  Flashcards and Matching Exercises and two types of Quiz with immediate feedback too have been created for all of the Spoken Lao lessons.  It is perhaps a bit deceptive to use the words "spoken Lao" to describe these lessons.   Speaking proficiency will only be achieved by actually engaging in speaking with a teacher or another speaker of the language.  Nevertheless, the learner can advance his or her skills in listening proficiency and even reading and writing, depending on the level of dedication and repeated practice - listening and reading over and over.   "Repetition is the mother of knowledge."

Reading Lao. If reading Lao is your goal, materials at different levels of difficulty are displayed on the main menu Basic Lessons include reading the letters of the alphabet, words, and sentences;  Intermediate Lessons employ folktales to capture the humor and cultural values of the Lao.   Even more lively and authentic is a series of photos of signs taken in Laos.  

Culture Study

This website has several kinds of resources that will lead the learner to an understanding and appreciation of Lao culture, from food, folklore, and folk tail, such as the classical literature of Phra Lak Phra Lam, to art, architecture, and music.   Since most cultural experiences are experiential and sensory in nature, we have included numerous photos and drawings.  There is an obvious emphasis on Luang Prabang (pronounced and often spelled "Pabang," in Lao) because of the beauty of its temples and natural scenery and because it has been declared a "World Heritage Site" by The United Nations.   General background on the history and government of the Lao People's Democratic Republic (PDR) is also provided along with other practical sources of information for travelers.  Because the majority of the ethnic Lao are Buddhists, we have included a collection of photos, Lao Ceremonies, taken by the talented Hans Georg Berger that deal with Buddhist rituals and other interesting aspects of ethnic Lao culture in the Luang Prabang area.  The explanatory text is, however, in the original Lao language, as it is the primary goal of this web site to provide language learning materials.  In the future, we may find resources to translate the Lao into English for the general non-Lao public.  For the interested traveler, we have included maps and photos of travel tours.   For business people, there is information on working with a Lao business partner.  Finally, there is a long list of outside links to a world of information on Laos.

Below is another way of introducing the contents of the Lao website to you.   Simply scroll down to a topic that interests you and click on one of the links highlighted in blue.

This site also has several multi-media presentation of Lao culture:
Folktales, Folk Songs & Lullabies, Short Stories, Folk Opera-Molam, Oral History, and Video.

Spoken Lao: Interactive Beginning Level lessons based on text written by Dr. Arthur Chrisfield. Digital recordings of native speakers from Vientiane made in situ in 2002. Thirty lessons completed; fifty total contemplated.

Listening Comprehension Exercises. Good for listening comprehension:

1) speeches dialog utterances and individual vocabulary - can be repeated over and over:

2) interactive comprehension quizzes provide immediate feedback:

a. multiple choice

b. sets of 3 - must get all 3 answers correct before feedback is given

Tones Chart and Interactive Activities:


Interactive Vocabulary Games:


Intermediate Level:


History, Art, Culture:
Art and Culture

History of Luang Prabang Illustrated with historic photos

Museums, Artifacts, Palm Leaf Manuscripts

Classical Literature:



Food Recipes of the Royal Cook; Essay Lao Eating Habits and Attitudes Towards Food; Interactive identification of ingredients:

*Prepared by John Hartmann, August, 2003



   Kristina Lindell - Kammu Expert