Basic Burmese Phrases That Everyone Should Know

Charlie Michio Turner

Being a tonal language, it is difficult to write how to properly pronounce Burmese since a slight difference in intonation can completely change the meaning of a word. This probably explains why online teaching materials are notoriously inaccurate. Hopefully this brief guide of useful Burmese phrases proves to be more reliable. The translations provided are written phonetically, not with the internationally recognized latin, which includes ‘Ky’ producing a ‘J’ sound.

Asking a question,’La’ & ‘Lay’

Anything in ‘la’ is a question with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. ‘Lay’ is an open ended question like.

Is there? or Do you have? = she la?

Any question asking if someone possesses something, or simply the existence of something can be expressed with (noun) she la. For example, ‘Wifi she la’= Is there wifi or do you have wifi. If the answer is no, you will hear ma she bu. If the answer is yes, you will hear she deh.

Is it allowed? = ya la?

Ya la can be used anytime you need to know if something is OK or possible to do? If you were to point to your camera, and say ya la?, it will be understood that you are asking for permission to take a photo. Ya deh signifies that it is OK to take a picture. Ma ya bu means it is not OK, do not take their photo.

What Is This? = da ba lay?

This phrase is useful for items you’re unsure of, food in particular. Point to a dish at a Myanmar restaurant and say, ‘da ba leh‘, and you’ll get a quick reply. Of course, understanding the answer may be a challenge that is beyond what this guide can provide…

Where Is The Toilet? = Ein tha beh meh lay?

Ein Tha means toilet, its tough to pronounce so feel free to just say toilet beh ma lay, most folks will understand what you mean. Beh meh lay essentially means where is, and is always placed after the noun. Shwedagon Pagoda beh meh lay is a crude sentence for directions but it’ll do the trick.

Good For Restaurants

Order a glass of something = (Drink) ti quey

ti quay, (tehh quayyy. te like the beginning of the word ‘timber’ and Quey like the beginning of the word ‘quail’) means ‘1 glass of’. You can use this counter for anything that involves cups or glasses. Not bottles or cans. If you want two glasses of beer, Beer ne quey. Read more on the Burmese numerical system if you plan on buying beer for the whole party.

Order a dish of food = (Dish) ti bwe

Just like ordering a glass, you need to put a counter on the end of a food order. It is not enough to say tamin kyaw (ta min joe) which means fried rice. The counter of ti bwe (tehh bu eh) should be put on the end to signify ‘1 order of’ or ‘1 portion of’. Tamin kyaw ti bwe. This can be used for any food dish.

Order A Bottle Of Water = Yeh ti bu

Yeh is water, ti bu is the counter for ‘one bottle’. For whatever reason, bu does not include glass bottles, which use the counter ‘lon’. But any bottle of water or soft drink will almost always use bu.

Less Oil = See Neh neh

While steeping food in oil is a useful way to avoid bacteria, there’s a fine line between safe and just plain excessive. Neh neh means ‘a little’, see means many things including oil. It’s a well-used phrase, not one that is always adhered to unfortunately.

Check, please = She meh

No need to change this universal Burmese phrase. Shi meh can be used in any eatery once you’re ready to pay.

Good For Taxis

How Much = Blau leh?

Left = bebe

Right = nya be (Na with a hint of ‘y’ in the middle)

Straight = Teh Teh

Stop here = dima seh meh

Do you have Air Con = Air con she la

Far = Way den

Near/Close = Nii deh

General Vocabulary & Phrases

Hello = Min ga la ba

Thank you= Je zu tin ba deh

Sorry= Sorry ba (There is no Burmese word for an apology)

Yes, Answer in the positive = Ho deh

I don’t understand = na ma le bu

Please wait = Kan na leh

It’s Very Hot (weather) = A yan pu deh

It’s Ok, No Worries = Ya ba deh

It is good = Kaung deh

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