Learning the Language

Knowledge of the Sinhala and Tamil languages is not really a problem for those visiting for a short while. Getting around in Colombo is fairly easy with the use of English. Tuk drivers will, for the most part, recognize the names of where you are trying to go, and Uber and similar local ride-share apps work very well too, not to mention google maps. For more on this, visit our Getting Around page.

If you are a long termer though, you will find the language barrier a little frustrating, particularly when it relates to domestic help and staff. Finding staff with a really good English knowledge will prove to be a bit of a challenge, especially if you want them to read and write in English.

We wish we had learnt Sinhalese when we first arrived, we strongly recommend you give a couple of classes a go, it is cool to be able to communicate in one of the native languages of the place you are living in.

We recommend Michael Meyler ([email protected]) for group classes and Shanaka (0094 76 636 6497) for private classes.

We’ve compiled a few helpful words/phrases below to help you communicate better:

When giving directions
English Sinhala equivalent
Turn left Vamata harawanna
Turn right Dakunata harawanna
Go Yanna
Go straight Kellin yanna
Here Methana
Stop Here Methana Navaththanna
How much? Keeyada
Close by Langa
Far Away Dura
In front of Issaraha
Wait Inna
Go away Methanin yanna
Please Karunanākarala
Thank you Istuh-tee
One Ekak
Five Pahak
Ten Dahayak
Today Adha
Tomorrow Heta
Next Week Ena sumanaya
Morning Udhay
Afternoon Dhaval
Food Kaema
Evening Havasa
Night Raeta
How are you? Kohomadha?
What is your name? Oyāge Nama mokadda?
Good work Vaeda hondai
Household-related requests
English Sinhala equivalent
Clean Sudda karanna
Wash Hodanna
Sweep Athu gaanna
Fry Badhinna
Boil Thambanna
Cut Kapanna
Cook Uyanna
Open Arinna
Hello Vanakkam
How are you? Soukhyama?/ Eppadi irukkeengaa?
I am fine Nalla irukken
What is your name? Unga peru Enna
What happened? Ennachu?
Did you have your lunch? Saapttengala?
Thank you Nandri
Come home Veettukku Vaanga
Come Vaanga
Go Ponga
Came Vanthaanga
Home Veedu
Slow Molla
Water Thanni
Yesterday Netru, Netthu
Today Indru, Innaikku
Tomorrow Nalai,Nalaikku
Day Pagal
Night Rathri
Morning Kaalai
In the morning Kaalela
Evening Sayndram, Saaynkaalam
Sleep Thookkam
Food Saappadu
To Drink Kudikka
Enough Pothum
Shop Kadai


Hmmm as a foreigner here it is best not to engage in political discussions too much. People get very heated and passionate about it, and unless you have a very strong, well-informed opinion that you can’t hold back on, just hold your thoughts. Our motto in life is everything is 50% good and 50% bad, just focus on the good and acknowledge that bad is everywhere in the world.

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