8 Ways Indiana Jones Can Teach You to Speak Lao - Number 5 is My Favorite

Sometimes the hardest part of learning a new language is memorizing. This is especially true if you are learning a language that's very different from any you already know.

That's me, not Indiana Jones
That's me, not Indiana Jones. And that's an empty cup; I don't drink tea.

Luckily there's Indiana Jones. Well, Indiana Jones and Mnemonics. And Indy is about to teach you some words and phrases in Lao.

So what the heck is a mnemonic? And why the heck is that first "m" in mnemonic silent? Well, I don't know the answer to that second question, but a mnemonic is pretty much just a memory trick. It can be a story, a rhyme, a picture, design, etc.

And you remember Indiana Jones, right? He's that loveable, fictional archeologist from the movies that Disney owns the rights to after they acquired Lucasfilm in 2012. (If that wasn't the world's most cleverly written legal disclaimer, I don't know what is.)

Okay, so here's a quick note about the Lao you are about to learn. People in Laos don't use the English alphabet when reading and writing Lao. Many people have attempted various Romanizations (using the Roman, or English alphabet) for the Lao language, but there is no standard Romanization. I've taken these phrases, and their Romanization from the "Lao for Sepon Mine" flashcard deck on Anki.

1. Nice to meet you. Nyin dii tii dai huu jag.

Okay, one way to create a mnemonic is to think of a story. A crazy story works best. So let's imagine the first time you meet Indiana Jones.

Unfortunately, this is going to be a sad story.

So, you meet Indiana Jones. Most of his friends call Indy, for short.

Indy is sitting at a table, drinking some tea. Just then he dies, because he's attacked by a huge jaguar.

Let's take some keywords from our story. Indy, tea, die, huge, jag. This becomes "Nyin dii tii dai huu jag." So the first time you meet Indiana Jones he dies. Bummer.

2. Nice to meet you, too. Nyin dii tii dai huu jag sen gan.

Adding a little detail to our story will help us learn how to say "Nice to meet you, too" in Lao. It's almost the same as "Nice to meet you," but there are two words added to the end: "sen gan."

This will take a bit of stretching the imagination. The word "sen" reminds me of the French word "sans," which means "without." Usually it has a silent "s" at the end. The word "gan" reminds me of the English word "gun".

So why did Indy die from the jaguar attack? He didn't have a gun, or in other words he was "sans gun." Tweak the pronunciation a little bit and the whole sentence becomes "Nyin dii tii dai huu jag sen gan."

3. Hello. Sa baai dii.

Okay, not all mnemonics have to be that long and complicated as the first two examples. And they don't have to be as sad. Let's think back to a happier time when Indiana Jones was an apprentice bouncer at a night club. You don't remember that from Indy's life? Well, that's because my script to "Indiana Jones and the Night Club of Doom" was rejected by George Lucas. Too bad, because that movie would have been aweseome.

It's important to say Hello when you meet people. Some people, instead of saying hello, they say "What's Up?" Other, lazier people, say "Wassup?" There are even lazier people who will just say "'Sup?"

One of the first things Indiana Jones learns as a bouncer's apprentice is to ask for identification as people enter the night club. But instead of saying a big word like "identification" he just says "I.D."

The whole phrase that Indy says is "Sup? I.D." This sounds almost identical to the Lao way of saying hello: Sa baai dii.

4. Stop. Yud.

Here's a pretty simple mnemonic for this one.

One day a big thug-looking guy shows up at the night club. Indy asks the guy for his I.D., but the guy just keeps walking. Indy yells at the guy, "You'd better stop."

The Lao for stop: yud. Sounds a lot like "you'd".

5. Don't come closer. Yaa ma gai.

The big thug-looking guy turns around and growls at our hero Indy. He makes a fist, and starts walking toward Indy. Indy says "Don't come closer!"

"Is there anyone who is going to stop me?" the thug asks.

Indy points to the head bouncer right behind him. (Remember, Indy is just an apprentice bouncer.) Pointing, Indy says "Ya, my guy."

"Ya, my guy" sounds very similar to the Lao way of saying "Don't come closer": "Yaa ma gai."

6. Nine. Gow

Okay, my apologies for the next one. It's going to make a lot more sense to me than it is to many of you, especially if you've never watched the movie Johnny Lingo. But hey, I came up with these mnemonics to teach myself Lao, not teach you. I'm just sharing them with you because I'm nice like that.

In the movie Johnny Lingo, a Polynesian trader named Johnny Lingo (he's the guy the movie is named after) buys a bride from her father for an unheard price of 8 cows. All the other women in the village are jealous of Mahana, Johnny Lingo's eight-cow wife.

Okay, back to our Indiana Jones story.

So while Indy and the head bouncer are trying to deal with this thug, Indy's wife shows up. She's really pretty. And Indy is even better than Johnny Lingo. Indy paid nine cows for his wife, and a bargain at that price. Truely, she is a nine-cow wife.

Cow kinda sounds like the Lao word for the number nine: gow. Indy, our Lao teacher, calls his wife a nine-gow wife.

7. Protect. Bpawng gan.

Indy feels the need to protect his nine-gow wife from this thug. Luckily today he brought his gun. And not just any gun. Most guns just go bang. Indy's gun makes a deeper sound; it goes bpawng. Indy brought his bpawng gun today.

Tweak the pronunciation a little bit to get the Lao words for protect: bpawng gan.

8. What happened? Mii nyang goeed kheun?

Don't worry. Indy didn't need to use his gun this time. You see, the head bouncer of the night club uses trained raccoons to defend the club. He's got two of them. He calls one Good Coon. (Coon is short for "raccoon.") He calls the other Bad Coon. Bad coon has the night off. So the head bouncer confronts the thug with Good Coon. Good Coon attacks. The thug runs away.

Later, the police show up. One police officer asks: What happened? The head bouncer starts his story with "Me and Good Coon...."

With a little stretch of the imagination, "Me and Good Coon" sounds a little like the Lao way of asking "What Happened": Mii nyang goeed kheun.

Have your own fun with mnemonics.

You might not be learning Lao, but there are few awesome things about mnemonics that might interest you.

1) It's not just for learning Lao. You can use mnemonics to learn other languages, the names of U.S. state capitals, the names of all the bones in an aardvark, and pretty much anything.

2) You don't have to use Indiana Jones. Make up your own story. In fact, you don't necessarily need a big story like I created to memorize 8 things. You can create 8 smaller stories.

3) Mnemonics are just temporary, like using crutches for a broken leg. After you tell enough people hello in Lao, you won't need to think of Indiana Jones asking for I.D. anymore.

4) You don't even need to come up with your own. (Though, I think it's loads of fun to come up with your own.) Allegedly there is the cool website called Memrise that I keep hearing about where you can learn with other people's mnemonics.

Unfortunately, Memrise doesn't have any Lao lessons. At least not yet. But if you are learning something else, check them out. If you've used Memrise before, let me know in the comments if you liked it. I plan on checking it out some time in the future when I pick a different language to learn.

And speaking of the comment section of this page, have you ever used mnemonics before? What's your favorite one you've used to remember something? Let me know in the comments. It doesn't have to be related to learning Lao.


stephen nix 18 September 2014

Great post! Used this to learn 1-10 in hebrew last night.

A face that is round (efes 0)
A head of a man (echad 1)
Carrying two german steins (schtaim 2)
Wearing golloshes he splashes 3 times in a puddle (shollosh 3)
Thru an arbor whose side is a 4 (arba 4)
He kicks a container of hummus and makes a hummus mess...the lid reads 5 (humesh 5)
He shushes (shesh 6...already sounds like 6)
A seven armed shiva with a chevy symbol (sheve 7)
Who has israeli sheckles...and bills with the number 8 and billy idols picture in her lap. (Schmone 8)
He steps away to hold the hand of 9 year old tesha (tesha 9)
Who carries the book of esther which has 10 chapters. (Eser 10)

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Kent 18 September 2014

These mnemonics are awesome, Stephen! Glad you liked the post.

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