Landing in a foreign country can be exciting but also terrifying. Despite English being the language which is used throughout the world, there are numerous places where people use their native languages and stick to them only. For this purpose, it becomes mandatory to know at least a few phrases of their native language to ensure that your trip is smooth.This is not completely the case in Sri Lanka because English is the second language in the nation. So that means ‘most’ people can speak proper English on the island. But, I did notice that it’s essential to know a few words of Sinhala. Especially when you roam in the South, West and middle part of Sri Lanka as a backpacker, where Sinhala is widely spoken. In the North, in some parts of the hill country and in the East, the language Tamil can be more appropriate.
Sinhala signs on some colored flags outside a Buddhist temple in Negombo, Sri Lanka.
Benefits of speaking Sinhala in Sri Lanka
Either for respect, comprehension or for a convenient communication between yourself and Sri Lankans, it’s a major benefit to know a few words of Sinhala on your way in Sri Lanka. Sinhala seems difficult at first, but it’s easy to pick up. I made a dozen of friends in Sri Lanka and they all loved it that I spoke or understood a few words of Sinhala. I had the greatest diners, best visits and most lovely times together with my Sri Lankan friends whilst I used some words of Sinhala in conversations with them.
When traveling in Sri Lanka, it is important to remember that majority of the people in Sri Lanka have remained true to their roots and only prefer to speak their local language, Sinhala or Tamil. Sinhala is a pretty difficult language but it is essential that you remember a few phrases in order to not face difficulties in some situations. Sinhala is spoken throughout South and middle part of Sri Lanka and by speaking it you will receive a lot of respect from Sri Lankans themselves.
Basics of the language
1. Hello, Hi
2. How are you
3. Reply to ‘How are you’
Hon∙dai / Hon∙din Innà∙vā
4. My name is [Matthias]
ma∙gé ∙ na∙mȧ ∙ [Matthias]
5. What is your name?
o∙yaa∙gé ∙ na∙mȧ ∙ mo∙kak∙dhȧ?
How to address another person in Sinhala
10. Little brother (any male that seems to be younger than you)
11. Big brother (any male that seems to be older than you)
12. My friend
Ma∙gé ∙ Ja∙lu∙wa
13. Bro, mate…
14. Little sister (any female that seems to be younger than you)
15. Big sister (any female that seems to be older than you)
More advanced phrases
Apart from the basic hellos and goodbyes in Sinhala, the more important phrases involve asking questions about food, or directions, or even asking for help. These more advanced phrases can help you out a lot on your trip in Sri Lanka.
The first phrase that you can learn is to ask “where is the hotel? ”which is “Hoo∙ta∙le ∙ ko∙he∙dha?” in Sinhala. This can be one of the first things you can ask once you land on this beautiful island. If you haven’t already booked a room in the hotel and need to ask if there are any rooms available, you can say it as “kaa∙mȧ∙rȧ ∙ thi∙yé∙nȧ∙va∙dhȧ?”
It is most probable that you will go shopping or buy essentials on your trip in Sri Lanka which is why to ask the price of a certain item is also something which you should know. In Sinhala, you say, “(Meeka) ∙ ki∙ya∙dha?” which translates to, “How much is this?” You can also say this in Sinhala if you find something expensive to express your concern, “ga∙nang ∙ væ∙diyi”
In cases of emergency in Sri Lanka, if you require a doctor, you can say “ma∙tȧ ∙ dhos∙thȧ∙rȧ ∙ ké∙nék∙vȧ ∙ ō∙né”, which means, “I need/want a doctor” in Sinhala.
If you want to go to a certain place and need to guide the cab or rikshaw driver, you can say “I want to go here” and take the name of the place or point towards the map. In Sinhala, this phrase is said as “ma∙tȧ mé∙hé∙tȧ ∙ yan∙nȧ ō∙né”
Along with these basic phrases, words such as thank you and sorry need to be known as well for everyday use. Thank you is said as (bō∙hō∙mȧ) Is∙tu∙ti, and sorry is ma∙ta ∙ sa∙mā∙ven∙na and please is said as Ka∙ru∙na∙ke∙ra∙ra.
However, to begin your conversation in Sinhala, it would be better if you start with a greeting followed by how you are doing in order to have a friendly conversation and also receive positive help. In Sinhala, you say it as the following, “ko∙ho∙mȧ∙dhȧ?”
If you find yourself in a situation where you think someone is lying to you about a price or something else, use bo∙ru ∙ ki∙ya∙nna ∙ e∙pā. It means “Don’t tell lies to me”, It helped me many times on the road when I felt someone was playing a joke on me or wasn’t telling the truth. This sentence always helped me out and caused people to start laughing at first, then they often told me the truth.
Many stories about backpacking go around travel atmospheres. But, believe me, in order to become one of the best international locals in Sri Lanka, it is highly important for you to learn some basic phrases of Sinhala, the local language. Not only does it help you throughout the trip, but it also enables travelers to make some good Sri Lankan friends, maybe even good friends for life. Another benefit is that you will receive a lot of respect for speaking Sinhala to Sri Lankans and you probably will be helped more often, allowing for further ease in your traveling.