The 10 most important Burmese phrases and expressions for travelling Myanmar

Easily the most rewarding thing you can do to prepare for travelling in Myanmar is to write down a few simple sentences of Burmese to memorise and use. Many people you meet will speak some English; but there are a lot of Burmese people, especially in the more rural areas, who don’t know a lot of English but are absolutely lovely people and as curious about you as you are about them. A few words in their language will light up their day and get you the most genuine smiles and interactions to remember!

Thanks to our guests Quang (Canada) and Adeline (Switzerland) for modelling this conversation!

Thanks to our guests Quang (Canada) and Adeline (Switzerland) for modelling this conversation!

That being said, here are the 10 most important Burmese phrases for you to use on your journey in our beautiful country of Myanmar:

  1. Mingalabar” means “Hello”, works at any time of the day.

  2. Je zu din ba de” means “Thank you”, the absolutely most important word you can learn here. Say it with a smile and maybe a slight nod and you’re golden! The short form is “je zu baaa” and if you draw out the “ba” and say it respectfully, it’s an easy alternative to the full version.

  3. Ne kaun la?” means “How are you?”

  4. Ne kaun de” means “I am good!”

  5. Aya da shi de!” means “Tasty!”. if you enjoyed your meal, don’t forget to tell and thank the cooks!

  6. Lade!” means “Beautiful” - If you see something or someone pretty, a heartily exclaimed “lade!” are sure to earn you some happy smiles. Use liberally for clothes, handicrafts, landscapes, people...

  7. Be lau le?” means “How much?” – if you ask in Burmese with a friendly smile, you might just end up getting a more local price ;)

  8. Thn thn louh” literally means “without life”, that is, in effect, vegetarian. This expression is a real life-saver if you don’t want to eat meat; you can literally just walk around and point at anything in Myanmar and ask “thn thn louh la?”.

  9. The following question is a little bit more difficult to remember, but is really important and helpful:
    Da poun yai lo ya mala?” means “Can I take a picture?”. It’s really polite to ask first, and if you ask, people are likely going to be pleased with your interest in them. Their answer will be something along the lines of “Ya ba de” – “it’s okay” (you will also often hear this in reply to your “je zu din ba de”, thank you :)). Pro tip: people really love being shown the photo you took of them when you’re done.

  10. And finally, once you start talking a few sentences in Burmese, people are likely to ask you more in Burmese. Then it’s your turn to laugh and say: “Wu ne ba de” – “I’m sorry” – and “na ma le bu”, meaning “I do not understand”.

… and as a little bonus: “Ta ta” means “goodbye”. Easy enough!

Memorised it all? No? No problem, just write them down somewhere and pull them out whenever you have a chance to use them. Use liberally for two or three days. After that, you’ll have them all down, we promise :)

Are you having any difficulties with pronouncation? Burmese is generally not a tonal language like Mandarin Chinese and Thai are, so you don’t have to be too worried. Just try to sort of slur the ending of each word a little and you’ll be fine. If you’re struggling, ask our lovely staff at Song of Travel Hostel or any other Myanmar local and they’ll be more than happy to help you out!

… Psssh: We at Song of Travel Hostel also offer a free weekly Burmese language class with one of our local staff to all our guests where you can learn and practise useful Burmese words and sentences and ask any questions you might have. Warmly welcome!!

the Staff at Song of Travel Hostel