Conversational English in Luang Prabang

Casual Conversational English teaching in Luang Prabang.

Conversational Teaching, Donation, Purchase of books, etc.

September – November, 2013

(Note: If you are considering any volunteer work overseas please stay safe, read our blog disclaimer and consider your personal decisions carefully. Also consider that volunteering with a family in tow, involves far more considerations, compromises and sacrifices, than that of a solo traveller).

Luang Prabang Public Library


The Luang Prabang Library is located on Sisavangvong Road, opposite Wat Mai. Besides being a place to read books, surf the internet and practice conversational English; it also supports smaller libraries and promotes reading in many surrounding villages. Sometimes activities are held there for children e.g. weekend games for Khmu children. Various volunteers hold small English classes there too. The Library receives some government funding, assistance from international charities and donations to continue it’s good work.

The current head librarian is Chantha. Our boys enjoyed playing “Plants v’s Zombies” with her son. She is also the Programme Coordinator for Community Learning International(CLI). CLI currently operates two book boats one on the Mekong and one on the Ou river.  Combined they reach around 100 different villages.  This may be the first opportunity that some children have to hold a book.  For a larger donation, travellers can fund and participate in a book boat event.

We visited the library several times for our children to enjoy reading books (which they do with a passion) and for us to participate in casual conversational English. You arrive and advise the librarian you are interested in talking to a local. The librarian selects one or more individuals who you have a short chat with. Sometimes this can just be locals such as the two Hmong boys I spoke to or mostly we have both had chats with monks who are always at the library. This is often pretty enlightening for all parties and is as much about cultural exchange as conversational English practice.

Sadly, few female students are seen at the library.

Big Brother Mouse

“Books that make literacy fun”.

Big Brother Mouse (BBM) is a Lao owned, not-for-profit bookstore and publisher of Laos children’s books. It began in 2006 through the efforts of a retired American publisher, Sasha Alyson and several Laotian college students. Very few stories exist in Laos for children, and literacy in their native language is probably more important for the majority of the kids in the country. The organisation finds donors, writers, and illustrators who can make books especially for kids, as well as some for adults and tourists. They encourage visitors to buy books to distribute in villages or to raise funds for BBM. They hold book parties, maintain village reading rooms, promote silent reading, train teachers and run reading workshops.  Their website states that in 2012, more than 125,000 rural Lao children got a book through their book party program. BBM also runs special community projects such as; donating books to hospital waiting rooms, book swaps and the Lao font project.

We bought several books there on behalf of OPT, as Prunella is trying to establish a small OPT staff library. These also proved to be popular as teaching aids. We also visited several times to participate in conversational English, although most English taught there is in a class format.

Teaching at the Wats

English teaching is led by many volunteer teachers as various wats (temples) throughout Laung Prabang, almost every night. We were invited to attend an evening class at the Xieng Muan Temple and provided a short motivational lesson. My family enjoyed meeting American teacher Paul and his class of novices. Some locals seem to join in too. We enjoyed assisting his lesson by teaching the novices “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” and practicing some basic introductions. We all had a great laugh. The novices adored the boys and all took many pictures of the event. This was Paul’s beginners class. We also met another American volunteer Michael who taught the advanced class there.

On the Street

Laos is still a rural community with many people engaged in subsistence farming. People are poor. Books are an unaffordable luxury. In many villages in Laos there are no books. Even whilst we were in LP, we often talked about the topic of books and were met with the local phrase, “Lao people don’t read”. Even many of those literate in English had only read text books. So please talk to locals who care to listen, about your love of reading. Read something to them, give them a good appropriate book, give them a BBM book for their child or tell them about something you learnt from a book.

When your eating a baguette, walking through a neighbourhood or sitting at a cafe, take the opportunity to talk to those around you. You may learn something. Many Lao people, especially the young, are very keen to practice their English. We entered into countless small conversations with locals keen to practice their English. It was fun for us and they were grateful for the opportunity.



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