[Revised on 11/04/09.]
These were the key words on a recent google search that hit my site.
There are 12 mutually unintelligible dialects of Karen. The most common spoken among refugees in the USA is Sgaw Karen. Materials on learning the Sgaw Karen language are available from
I've seen Sgaw Karen also spelled Sqaw Karen. Pwo Karen is also commonly encountered in the USA and many Karen refugees know both
Although most Sgaw Karen are Christian, and these make up a large proportion of refugees, most Karen are actually Buddhist. (Should someone tell you of Muslim Karen, dig deeper. There's an interesting story there probably, but they may not wish to tell it to you. As an aside, most of the Burmese Muslims I've met have been pretty mellow, some actually cook at dinner's at the local Burmese Buddhist monastery simply because that's where many of their friends are, and Burmese Muslims are not necessarily Rohingya.)
There is a different ethnic group from Burma called the Karenni. They are not Karen, despite the similiar name.
The wikipedia entry on Karen is generally quite good although often changing.
If one is willing to do some heavy reading there is an excellent article Karen Nationalist Communities:
The 'Problem' of Diversity, by Ashley South that appeared in 'Contemporary Southeast Asia: A Journal of International and Strategic Affairs', Vol. 29., No.1, April 2007
(Singapore on Institute of Southeast Asian Studies) that explains much about the history of Karen identity and language. It is published on Ashley Souths website at http://ashleysouth.co.uk/
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