When headed off to Sri Lanka, depending on where you go, it can either be easy to communicate or hard to understand how much your daily purchases might be. Though many tourist areas will be privy to the English language, it may still come in handy to learn a few phrases or words in case of trouble or at the very least, to lend a respectful tone. The language to know is Sinhala and these phrases or words will help.

Essential Sinhalese Phrases

Hello-“Ayubowan” Aayu-bo-wan

There is no better word to know in any language than a simple Hello. It can grab someone’s attention or just be a simple way to greet a shop owner or hotel concierge. Knowing this phrase will be a great introduction into any of the following phrases.

Thank you very much-“Bohoma Istuti” Bo-hoh-mah Iss-too-tee

The next phrase in showing manners and respect is “Thank you very much.” This can be a great ending to an interaction that will allow for future pleasantries with locals. It is always nice to say thank you in the home language of those around you.

Please-“Karunakara” Karu-nah-kara

The only proper way to get what you are asking for is to add a please to the end. You may need to add it to get help or just to be nice when asking for more coffee. This will be a perfect phrase to learn for manners.

I don’t understand-“Mata Terinneh Neh” Mata Terenne Na

You may need to use this for the speaker to slow down or speak more clearly or to say that you don’t understand the words they are saying.

Do you speak English-“Oyate Ingrisi Katha Karanna Puluwanda” Oyate Ingrisi Ka-tha Karanna Pulu-wanda

If you are visiting in a heavily tourist area, it will be easier to find someone that speaks English, but it is never good to assume. It is always polite to ask if they speak English. If the person doesn’t, it will be easier for them to point you to someone who does, if you first ask this.

How much is it-“Meeka Kiyadha” Meka Kiyada

This is not only a great way to find out the price, but it may also be the perfect way to start out negotiating. In many countries, tourists will often pay higher prices than the locals but can sometimes negotiate a better price if they are able to speak the same language or take a local with them.


When you’re in a new city, sometimes it is easy to get turned around and lose your way. Especially if the signs are confusing or you’ve wandered farther from the city centre. If you can say “hotel,” someone may recognize that you are lost and get you back to where you are staying.


Just like hotel, knowing the word food can at least hint to others what you are looking for, even if you can’t make a complete Sinhala sentence. This may allow locals to point you in the direction of a restaurant or tell you where to find a quick bite.

Bank-“Bank Eka”

Not only can others point you in the direction of a bank, it may be helpful to know the building when you arrive. If you see this phrase on the building you will know just where to get money for more of your adventures.

Restaurant-“Apana Sala”

The same situation could happen with the word restaurant, whether you are looking for a bite or asking for directions.

Additional Sinhalese phrases

There may be some other phrases that you would like to know or have on hand.

  • Okay/Very Good- Hari Hondai
  • How are you?- Kohomadhe
  • May I Telephone?- Mata Call Ekak Ganda Polu Wandeh
  • I Don’t Speak Sinhala- Singhala Danna Naa
  • Wait a Minute!- Poddak Inna

Learning a new language is tough, and if you are short on time, it can seem overwhelming trying to understand an entire language in just a few days. Instead of focusing on the entire language, pick and choose a few key phrases that will help you in most situations and pick up additional phrases as you travel. There is no better practice with language than trying to converse with people who speak it fluently. With our language guide above and one of our travel insurance policies, you’ll arrive in Sri Lanka prepared for your holiday.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Simon