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

I’m sorry = Taung Pan Par Tae

Please don’t mind = Sate Ma Shi Par Nat

Excuse me, do you mind = Tat Sate Lout

Previous articleMy Yangon Office Special Promotion
Next articleYoung Poets Use Slam Poetry To Tackle Today’s Social Issues
Charlie Michio Turner
Charlie is the Editor for MYANMORE. Instagram @charliemichio


  1. Actually,there are words in Burmese for an apology,u know.
    Taung Pan Par Tae- Sorry
    Plz don’t mind-Sate Ma Shi Par Nat
    Excuse me,do you mind – Tat Sate Lout.

  2. You note that other online teaching materials are “notoriously inaccurate” because they don’t indicate tones, and then go on to state that. “Hopefully this brief guide of useful Burmese phrases proves to be more reliable.” While I appreciate the modesty implied by ‘hopefully’, and while I don’t want to sound hopelessly churlish, how is what you have written here “more reliable”? You have made no effort to indicate tones, even though the high tone could have been indicated very simply, just like it is in Burmese script, namely the mark : In over half the cases where a glottal stop occurs, you indicated nothing.You always transcribed a particular verb ending as ‘deh’, even though it varies from voiced to unvoiced depending on the context – yet you claimed you were writing phonetically rather than doing a one-to-one transcription. And you transcribed a single nasalized sound in two different ways (actually, there may have been a method to the madness in this case, but I am not going to take the time to try to figure out). You’ve got “she meh”, and then just one line later, you’ve got “shi meh”. Did you even write this stuff, or did you have a ghost writer? (Or rather, transcriber.) I am no Burmese language genius: I honestly had no idea how to tell a taxi driver to ‘stop’ before I came across this page, but the problem is that I still don’t know (I wouldn’t dare to use what you have written, because I have no idea what would happen). Sorry, naw?


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here