Isaan Thai Language Q&A

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Learn Thai Speak To Me

 Thai - Hello

Learn Thai sawaddee ka

Isaan Thai - I drink beer

Learn Isaan Thai I drink beer

 Thai - What is your name?

Learn Thai what is your name?

 Isaan Thai - We like you

Learn Isaan Thai We like you

 Thai - I want a beer Chang

Learn Thai I want a beer chang

 Isaan Thai - I miss you

Learn Isaan Thai I slide miss you

 Thai - Can we meet again?

Learn Thai Can we meet again

 Isaan Thai - I'll phone you tomorrow

Learn Isaan Thai I'll telephone you tomorrow

 Thai - Good luck

Learn Thai good luck

Isaan Thai - How are you?

Learn Thai How are you?

Thai - I'm just looking

Learn Thai I'm just looking

Isaan Thai - Where do you come from?

Learn Thai Where do you come from?

Thai - Please switch on the fan

 Learn Thai Please switch the fan on

 Isaan Thai - You're welcome

 Learn Thai You're welcome

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Isaan and Thai Language Cartoon

 Thailand - a country of two languages

Below are some common questions we are asked about Isaan Thai. We trust that our answers help you to decide whether you want to learn Isaan Thai or not.

1) Why should I learn to speak and understand Isaan Thai?

2) Isn't the language Isaan people speak just Lao?

3) Just how different is the Isaan Thai language to Central Thai?

4) Just how different is Isaan Thai to Lao?

5) Can I use Isaan Thai to teach myself Lao?


1) Why should I learn to speak and understand Isaan Thai

Central Thai vs Isaan Languages

To communicate effectively with Isaan people and understand what is being said, you need to be able to Speak Isaan Thai. This is particularly true if you are visiting or living in N.E Thailand, or want to understand and participate in conversations your Isaan Thai partner / girlfriend/ boyfriend is having with their family, friends and fellow people from the North East of Thailand. Whilst it is true that Central Thai is the official language that is used by government and mass media, and the language that is taught in schools, people living in or originating from North East Thailand (Isaan) in everyday conversation speak a language that has distinct differences to Central Thai. The differences are so great that anyone who has learnt Central Thai will have great difficulty in understanding and communicating with people from Isaan. This is because their language of first choice, and the language they speak to each other, is Isaan Thai.

Learn Thai vs Isaan Thai Slide

People from Isaan make up 35% of Thailand population. They are widely dispersed throughout Thailand, and a very high percentage work in the tourist related industries in Bangkok and the major tourist resorts. Wherever you go, it’s highly likely the Thai you come in contact with is in fact an Isaan Thai, be it hotel staff, restaurant workers, taxi drivers, street vendor or bar girl.

Therefore, to communicate effectively with Isaan people and understand what is being said, you need to be able to Speak Isaan Thai. 

Our side panel visual on left of this page show alternating Central Thai and Isaan Thai words. If you know just a little Central Thai you will see just how different Isaan Thai can be.

2) Isn’t the language Isaan people speak just Lao? 

Isaan Thai and Lao Languages

Yes and no. Whilst the core elements of Isaan Thai originates from the Lao language, over the last 40 years or so there has been a significant Thai-ification of the language spoken by people from N.E Thailand. This is due to mass media communication via television bringing Central Thai into the homes of most Isaan people via the television soaps and the teaching of Central Thai to school children. This has led to an increase in the use of Central Thai words in the everyday Isaan Thai language. In Laos, the Lao language has also evolved from it's origins due to French, Vietnamese and Marxist - Leninist influences leading to an increase in words unfamiliar to Isaan Thai people being used in Lao. As a result there is now some divergence between the Isaan Thai and Lao languages. Today, Isaan Thai is effectively made up of a mix of Lao, Central Thai and Isaan origin words and phrases making it distinct to both Central Thai and Lao languages.

Distinctions between what words constitutes Lao elements of the Isaan Thai language and what constitutes Central Thai is also blurred by the fact that Central Thai is a close cousin of its Lao counterpart. The origins of both languages are the same. Both Thai and Lao are members of the Thai half of the Kadai family of languages. As a consequence, both Central Thai and Lao feature common words, albeit with different word tones.  Both languages also incorporate a significant number of words taken from Sanskrit (the classic language of India) and Pali (the vernacular language of Buddhism). 

3) Just how different is the Isaan Thai language to Central Thai? 

Isaan and Central Thai Differences v laos/Learn thai isaan 1.jpg v laos/Learn thai isaan 2.jpg

We are finding many of customers buy both Speak Thai and Speak Isaan Thai courses so that they get familiar with both languages. The course content is similar for both Speak Thai and Speak Isaan Thai. By cross comparing how the same word or phrase is spoken in Central Thai and Isaan Thai they very quickly get an understanding of the key features and words that are different and are able to switch comfortably from one language to another. They tell us that once you know the basics of Thai learning Isaan Thai is quite easy and straightforward using this approach.

4) Just how different is Isaan Thai to Lao?

Lao and Isaan Thai Language Differences

There are some significant differences between the Isaan Thai and Lao languages. Whilst Isaan Thai incorporates many words and characteristics common with the Lao language, learning Lao with the intention of speaking Isaan Thai is problematic for the reasons given below.

  • Different written script: Isaan Thai is a spoken language with no official script. The Lao writing script is not known or used in Isaan Thai.
  • Different words in the Lao language: The Lao language contains many words not actively used in Isaan Thai.
  • Different words in the Isaan Thai language: Isaan Thai contains Central Thai words and phrases that do not feature in the Lao language. 
  • Different word tones: Both Isaan Thai and Lao are tonal languages where the tone of a word determines it’s meaning. The tone of words common to both Isaan Thai and Lao are pronounced with completely different tones in the vast majority of cases.  
  • Different number of tones: Isaan Thai features five tones; low, mid, high, rising, falling. Lao features six, two of which don't feature in the Isaan Thai language (although there is some debate on this. It has been argued that Northern Lao has 6 tones, the rest of the country has 5. However, Vientiane Lao, the dialect most Lao books teach, is generally taught with 6 tones – low, mid, high, rising, low falling, and high falling).  

5) Can I use Isaan Thai to teach myself Lao?

Learning Lao Using Speak Isaan Thai Course

It is certainly possible to learn the fundamentals of Lao using Speak Isaan Thai. We have been pleasantly surprised at how many expats living in Laos and regular visitors to Laos have enthusiastically embraced our products to learn the Lao language.

  • They have sought out Speak Isaan Thai because of the dearth of decent Lao language learning sources available for teaching Lao to English speakers.
  • They value the highly structured and relevant lessons, the clear explanation of key grammar and the lesson content that features practical example of everyday language usage.
  • They ‘get’ the benefits of our audio visual approach to teaching pronunciation and find that unlike other learning sources they are able to maintain their enthusiasm and motivation to learn throughout all the lessons.
  • They find they make big progress in learning the Lao language using Speak Isaan Thai.
  • They see the positive results of using the practical language they have learnt in their everyday interactions with Lao people. What Speak Isaan Thai teaches they use.

Crucially they find that there is enough overlap between the Lao and Isaan Thai language for what they have learnt from Speak Isaan Thai to be useful and helpful, despite the differences between the languages outlined in answer to question 4 above.

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