Learn Myanmar Language in conversational and literary form. Learn to speak and read Burmese.
The Free Online Colloquial Burmese (Myanmar language) lessons include Burmese script, MP3 audio, PDF files and
easy Burmese grammar study materials with color-coded parts of speech:
nouns, pronouns, verbs,
adverbs, adjectives, conjunctions,
particles, postpositional markers, and
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environment with Bachelor's and Master's degree in Industrial Engineering (USA). His contributions to semiconductor
industry include Administrative Quality Best Practices
during his working years as a process engineer with Hewlett-Packard in Singapore. Born and raised in Yangon, he has lived in 6 countries and exposed to
different cultures and knowledgeable in unrelated areas. This includes self-taught programming languages.
Currently, he is contributing to Tourism in Myanmar by making his online Burmese lessons freely available and accessible to all.
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Myanmar Language & Grammar Overview
Scholars have long noted the similarities between the Burmese Language and
Tibetan language. For example, Tibetan consonants such as
ka, kha, ga, nga, cha, ja, nya, ta, tha, da, na, pa, pha, ba, ma, wa, zha, za, ya, ra, la, sha,
sa, ha, etc. sound
remarkably similar to the Burmese consonants. The origin of the Burmese script, Pyu, and Mon of
ancient Myanmar and Tibet alphabet can be traced back to Brahmi script of
ancient India, which was first seen in 500 BCE and spread throughout India by 300 CE in the reign of King Asoka. The Tibetan-Burmese
language classification is a branch of the Sino-Tibetan family of languages spoken from Tibet to the Malay Peninsula,
and also referred to as Tibeto-Burman Languages.
Literary Vs. Colloquial
Burmese spoken language is different from the literary form. Myanmar literary language
has more expressive power compared to bland spoken words, but the sequence in the sentence structure basically remains the same.
Burmese verbsကြိယာ |
do not change tense like in English. Instead, verb-suffix words
are appended to show the past tense, present tense, and future tense.
Burmese Verbs are categorized by three types of sentence constructions and also by the following three characteristics:
Similarly, the same verb words are used for both plural and singular forms to say: "He does something" and "They do something."
It is possible to construct Burmese sentences without a verb. Example:
ကျွန်တော် | kja1-nau2 - I (pronoun, male term) ဆရာဝန် | hsa1-ya2-woon2 - doctor (noun) ပါ | ba2 - ending polite word. (particle)
-- I am a doctor.
Note: The last word ba2 in the above sentence is not a verb. It is
classified as a particle in Myanmar grammar.
Particles & Postpositional Markers
Myanmar grammar has a number of suffixes and ending words called
ဝိဘတ် | wi1-but (postpositional markers)
ပစ္စည်း | pyit-si3 (particles).
Those suffix and ending words are placed after a noun or a pronoun to show subject or object, and after a verb to show tense or mood.
Sometimes, they can modify the adjective into verb.
The basic word order of the Burmese Language does NOT NECESSARILY fall into subject-object-verb
format. Just like in English, you can either say: "The boy kicks the ball,"
(where "the boy" is the subject, "kick" the verb and "ball" the object) or "The ball was kicked by the boy."
It deploys various ending words which have no English equivalent.
Together with particles, those postpositional markers, also used as ending words, play an important part of the Myanmar language
သွား | thwa3 - to go (verb) တော့ | dau1 - about to (particle for emphasis) မယ် | meare2 - will (postpositional marker to show tense) နော် | nau2 - ending word. (particle for feeling tone)
သွားတော့မယ်နော်။ | thwa3dau1meare2nau2 -- I am about to go!
သိ | thi1 - to know (verb) ပြီ | byi2 - has reached certain condition (postpositional
marker) လား | la3 - question ending word (particle)
-- Do you know now?
သူ | thu2 - he (pronoun) မှန် | hmun2 - right; correct (adjective) တယ် | deare2 - affirmative ending word (postpositional marker,
not a verb in Burmese grammar.)
-- He is right!
In the last example, the ending word IS NOT a verb, but it modifies the adjective into the word
မှန် တယ် |
hmun2deare2, which is considered as a verb
of pfyit-chin3-pya1 kri1-ya2 (verb clause that shows occurrence) type.
Although တယ် |
deare2 seems to correspond with the verb "is", it cannot be used consistently as "is" in some other sentence
hotedeare2 -- Yes!
It must be stressed that Burmese equivalent of "be/is/are/am" like တယ် | deare2
are not verbs but post-positional markers, and they form verb clauses only in combination with verbs such as "go", "eat", "come", or
adjectives such as "white", "wrong", "hungry".
Similarly, ending particle words such as ပါ | ba2
when combined with nouns like "doctor", "man", "Buddhist", become equivalent to English "be/is/are/am" something or someone.
In some other sentence constructions, they cannot be translated as English "be/is/are/am", and this can be confusing to non-native learners of Myanmar grammar.
As for pronounsနာမ်စား | nun2-za3,
there are many ways to say you and I in Burmese. Wrong choice of the pronoun "you" and "I" will offend people. Family terms like "brother", "sister", "son", and "daughter" are
commonly used among strangers to address to each others. There are four types of Burmese Pronouns:
Personal Pronouns -- "I", "You", "He", "She", "It", etc..
Qualitative -- words that describe the quality of the noun. E.g.,
"rich" man, "far away" place.
Referential -- words that make reference to or point to something. E.g., "this" road, "that" road, "other" methods.
Numbers -- words that describe "how many" of something, "what position" in the ordered list, and
unspecified numbers. E.g., "ten" people, "21st." birthday, "some" people.
Question Words -- words that ask for "how many", "how", "which", "how much", and "what" with
clearly stated noun in the question. Without the noun, the same question words are classified as pronouns. E.g.,
"What kind of food do you like?" as opposed to "What kind do you like?"
Burmese Adverbsကြိယာဝိသေသန |
are classified into five groups:
"How" part of human actions -- gestures, manner, facial expressions, and behavior. E.g.,
"arrogantly", "sluggishly", "truthfully", "respectfully".
Conditions of things and situations -- E.g., "in disarray", "in disorder", "definitely".
"When" part of action words -- E.g., "early", "often", "immediately".
Interrogative adverbs -- "when", "how".
Words that show extent, size or magnitude -- "few", "many", "very".
There are eight ways to categorize Burmese Nounsနာမ် | "nun2" :
four by construction, and four by meaning:
It is possible to combine words other than nouns. E.g.,
စားသောက်ဆိုင် | sa3 + thout + hsine2
= eat+drink+shop = restaurant.
Original; Innate |
ပင်ကိုနာမ် | pin2-ko2 nun2
E.g., ခွေး | khway3
ဂုဏ်ရည်ပြနာမ် | gome2-yay2-pya1 nun2
E.g., ထူးချွန်မှု | htu3-choon2 hmu1 -- the quality of being outstanding.
This word is formed by the verb htu3-choon2 meaning "be outstanding" modified into a noun by the suffix particle
Verb Modifications |
ကြိယာနာမ် | kri1-ya2 nun2
E.g., ကူညီမှု | ku2-nyi2-hmu1
The particle hmu1 modifies the verb
ku2-nyi2 (to help) into a noun "help". This is unlike English where "help" can be
either a verb or a noun.
Individual Names |
တစ်ဦးဆိုင်နာမ် | ta1-u3-hsine2 nun2
E.g., Yangon, Shwedagon, Aung San.
Common Terms |
အများဆိုင်နာမ် | a-mya3-hsine2 nun2
E.g., dog, city, cow, book
Psychological; Abstract |
စိတ္တဇနာမ် | sate-ta1-za1 nun2
E.g., courage, love, faith
အစုပြနာမ် | a-su1-pya1 nun2
E.g., အစည်းအရုံး | a-si3-a-yone3 -- union, league.
Singular & Plural Terms
Unlike in English where most people will have to look up the dictionary for the plural of "octopus", Burmese plural
wordsဗဟုဝုစ် | ba1-hu1-woot
in most cases simply add a
suffix word တွေ | dway2
to the noun in the colloquial
language and များ | mya3
in the literary form. Those suffix words are classified as particles.
Burmese language has several conjunctions known as သမ္ဗန္ဓ |
Those conjunctions in colloquial forms are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Conjunctions in Myanmar Language are more often used in
literary forms with long sentences. Examples:
Another meaning for မာ | ma2 is 'healthy' as in
ကျန်းမာ | kjan3-ma2.
For a country and its people, the more appropriate word is 'strong'
as in သန်မာ | thun2-ma2.
Therefore, မြန်မာ | 'myan2-ma2'
or 'Myanmar' is 'Fast and Strong' people.
မြန်မာစကား | 'myan2-ma2 za1-ga3'
meaning Myanmar language is the language spoken by those people, and
မြန်မာပြည် | 'myan2-ma2-pyi2',
or MYANMAR when used as a reference to the country can be translated as 'The Land of the Fast and the Strong'.
To English speakers, it may sound odd, and grammatically incorrect to use both the name of the people and the country as MYANMAR. To a
Burmese speaker, it does not seem that way. People in this country are used to seeing soccer scores in the Burmese language newspapers
such as this:
မြန်မာ | MYANMAR: 0 အင်ဒိုနီးရှား | INDONESIA: 0
No Burmese had raised the eyebrows and debated — at least not from a pure language standpoint — as it seems nothing grammatically
wrong with this usage in the Burmese language.
Reference to the word "Myanmar" as a language appears to have dated back to the 11th Century Bagan Civilization. In Mya Zedi |
Mya1 Zay2-De2 Pagoda in Bagan,
Prince Yazakumar | ရာဇကုမာရ် |
the son of King Kyansittha |
Kjan2-Sit-Tha3 had erected what is now a tourist
attraction known as Mya Zedi Pillar Script —
Ya2-Za1-Ku1-Ma2 kjout sa2 engraved in
မွန်၊ မြန်မာ၊ ပါဠိ၊ ပျူ | Mon, Myanmar, Pali, and Pyu scripts.
The usage of the word မြန်မာ | "Myanmar" as a reference to the people or civilization
can be seen in a traditional saying that goes back to generations. It says:
မြန်မာအစ တကောင်းက |
myan2-ma2 a-sa1 da1-goun3ga1 meaning the origin of "Myanmar" is a place called "Dagaung". It is not clear
if the saying refers to the Rakhine ethnic people |
ရခိုင်လူမျိုး | Ya1-Khine2 lu2 myo3 with their version of
history dating back to 3325 BC starting from King Marayu, and the migration that took place in the
present day Chittagong by the
Mranma or Marma people in the same region. (Added Note:
According to Royal Chronicle of the Konbaung Dynasty, legendary Tagaung Kingdom
was founded in 850 BCE.)
The third edition of Burmese to Burmese dictionary published in 2013 by the
Myanmar Language Commission in Naypyitaw gives two definitions of the
word "Myanmar". One refers to all the ethnic people in general who have been living in this land for generations. The second definition
refers to "Bamar", which is further defined as one of such ethnic people who speak Tibetan-Burmese language. See the exact words below:
Although the United Nations (UN) recognizes the name "Myanmar", some English-educated
Burmese living abroad and a handful of foreign governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as
Human Rights Watch group, as well as some foreign media prefer to use the colonial
name "Burma" that the British gave when they colonized the country for more than 100
years. The reason is mostly political, and partly because for people like the English-educated Burmese living abroad, they are so used to the
name "Burma" without any association of the word with the colonial past; "Burma" certainly sounds more modern and Westernized than "Myanmar".
Unlike in the Western countries, names carry significant meaning and pride for the Burmese people. It is not unusual for the Burmese
people to change their personal names with the advice of the astrologers to bring health, fortune, and good luck.
The official name change of the country from "Burma" to "Myanmar" in 1989 was not
recognized by the Western powers and English speaking countries such as the United States, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand.
The main opposition party (NLD) did not support the change.
For unbiased perspectives, historians should take note that it took place after the
1988 mass demonstrations and unrest, but before the
1990 general elections. The refusal to
use the name "Myanmar" was justified by some non-supporters with the argument that the military government known as
SLORC that came to power on 18 September 1988 and still in
power after the 1990 elections was not "official" and a legal entity. Today, NLD leader
Aung San Suu Kyi is a member of the parliament.
Politics still exist but more amicable, and there is an increasing trend towards the usage "Myanmar" in English speaking countries.
The name given by the British during the colonial days was neither "Bamar" nor "Myanmar". Here is an experiment and make your own conclusions.
Randomly select at least 30 samples of English educated Burmese, and see if they can pronounce "Burma" correctly the way the British or the
Americans do. For a Burmese, "Burma" is a difficult word to pronounce as it has unnatural "r" sound in it. The closest spelling in Burmese is
Baa-Maa | ဘားမား | Ba3-Ma3.
But then, history, including the name of the country, is written by the winner of wars —
Anglo-Burmese wars in this case, and not according to Burmese
King Mindon | မင်းတုန်းမင်းတရားကြီး |
Min3-dome3-Min3 ta1-ya3 ji3 who ruled the Kingdom of Myanmar
မြန်မာ | (yes, Myanmar in Burmese language) that included the ethnic people. The Burmese version of Myanmar
history was recorded in Royal Chronicles known as "Myanmar Yarzawin Kyan Mya" |
မြန်မာရာဇဝင်ကျမ်းများ | Myan2-Ma2 Ya2-Za1-Win2 Kjan3 Mya3,
as well as in Ayedawbon chronicles known as
Myanmar Min Mya Ayedawbon |
Myan2-Ma2 Min3 Mya3 A-yay3-dau2-bone2 and in
Hmannan Yazawin |
မှန်နန်းမဟာရာဇဝင်တော်ကြီး | Hmun2-Nun3 Ma1-Ha2 Ya2-Za1-Win2 Dau2 Ji3
with records dating back to periods earlier than King Pyinbya (817-876 CE) |
ပျဉ်ပြား | Pyin2-Bya3 of Bagan civilization.
In those days, the British were known for their exploits and divide and rule strategies in
the empire where the sun never sets. It is not inconceivable that the colonial
masters had intended on dividing the "Bamar" from the rest of the "Myanmar" ethnic races. Although the British could have initially adopted the
name from Burma's (Myanmar's) neighbor Indians or from the Portuguese mercenary
Filipe de Brito e Nicote |
ငဇင်ကာ | Nga1-Zin2-Ka2
(who made an earlier contact and was executed in 1613 by the Burmese) with variations closer to "Bamar" than "Myanmar", no correction was made
after establishing diplomatic relations with Myanmar Kings. "Myanmar" to "Bamar' could be analogous to "Soviet Union" to "Russia".
A number of Burmese people including Burma's Independence Hero General Aung San
| ဗိုလ်ချုပ်အောင်ဆန်း | Bo2-joat Oun2-Sun3
who grew up in the British Burma casually used the word "Burma" in English and "Bamar Pyi" |
ဗမာပြည် | Ba1-Ma2-Pyi2 in Burmese.
After all, college student Ko Aung San was the editor of the English Newspaper "New Burma". As an author, AUNG SAN referred to the Burmese
ethnic race as "Burman" in English and "Bamar" | ဗမာ |
Ba1-Ma2 in Burmese language.
During his struggle for independence, General Aung San used the term "Independence of Burma" |
ဗမာ့လွတ်လပ်ရေး | ba1-mah1 loot-lut-yay3 in his speeches and
writing. The army he led to fight the British at the age of 27 was known in English as
Burma Independence Army (BIA) in English and
ဗမာ့လွတ်လပ်ရေး တပ်မတော် | ba1-ma1 loot-lut-yay3 tut-ma1-dau2
However, Bogyoke Aung San was careful to use the word "Myanmar" in 1947
Pinlone (PangLong) Conference |
pin2-lone2 nyi2-la2-khan2 ji3 when he met with the ethnic leaders and persuaded them to join
the Union. Here is the excerpt of General Aung San's Pinlone Conference dinner speech.
When the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) Party |
ဖက်ဆစ်ဆန့်ကျင်ရေး ပြည်သူ့လွတ်လပ်ရေး အဖွဲ့ချုပ် (ဖ.ဆ.ပ.လ) |
Pfa1-Hsa1-Pa1-La1 led by Aung San was drafting the
constitution for the independent sovereign state just a few months before he was assassinated, a formal name for
Ba1-Ma2-Pyi2 known as "Pyi-Htoun-Su Myanmar Naing-Ngan" |
Pyi2-Htoun2-Su1 Myan2-Ma2 Nine2-Ngan2 in Burmese was conceived for the first time. From the Burmese
language standpoint, "Pyi-Htoun-Su Bamar Naing-Ngan" with the use of "Bamar" | ဗမာ |
Ba1-Ma2 would not have been acceptable, as it would have excluded the ethnic people.
Some might argue that the reason why "Myanmar" was chosen over "Bamar" was because the later was not a formal word, and that the choice had
nothing to do with the ethnic people. It should be pointed out that during the Japanese occupation with the puppet government led by Dr. Ba Maw
as the head of state (1943-1945), the country was called State of Burma, or
simply "Bamar" | ဗမာ | Ba1-Ma2 in Burmese.
This should dispel the mistaken belief even among the educated Burmese people today that the word "Bamar" |
ဗမာ | Ba1-Ma2 in the Burmese language was never used as a
formal word and in an "official" capacity, and that it is just a colloquial equivalent of the word "Myanmar" |
မြန်မာ | Myan2-Ma2.
Most people today use "Bamar" as a colloquial word, and since "Bamar" is a subset of "Myanmar", the word is also used interchangeably with
"Myanmar" to describe the majority Burmese people. However, the word "Bamar" is never used interchangeably with the rest of the ethnic people
such as Kachin, Kayin, Chin, and Shan. They are known as "Myanmar ethnic people" |
Myan2-Ma2 Tine3-yin3-tha3 mya3,
not "Bamar ethnic people" | ဗမာတိုင်းရင်းသားများ |
Ba1-Ma2 Tine3-yin3-tha3 mya3. It is fair to say that the independence movements initiated
by the "Bamar" people were joined by some other "Myanmar" ethnic people only in the later time, and there was a need to use a more
appropriate term. The Pinlone (Panglong) Agreement on
12th February 1947, for example, included the signatures of the interim Burmese government, Shan, Kachin, and Chin representatives.
Karen (Kayin) people only sent observers.
General Aung San who graduated with distinctions in Burmese and Pali in his final year of high-school used both "Myanmar" and "Bamar" in
Burmese literary form as a reference to the country. He was the author of the article titled
ဗမာ့လွတ်လပ်ရေး အရေးတော်ပုံ | Ba1-Ma1 Loot-lut-yay3 A-yay3-dau2-bone2
(Chronicles of Burma's Independence) in the special issue of ဗမာ့ခေတ် |
Ba1-Ma1 Khit (Burma's Age) newspaper on August 1st.
1943. That was the day the Japanese declared the "Independence" of "Bamar" | ဗမာ |
Ba1-Ma2. On 27 November 1937
special edition of Mandalay Thuriya | မန္တလေးသူရိယ |
Mun3-da1-lay3 Thu2-ri1-ya1 paper, he used the term မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ |
"Myanmar Naing-Ngan" | Myan2-ma2 Nine2-Ngan2.
One can reasonably deduce that if "Bamar Pyi" | ဗမာပြည် | Ba1-Ma2-Pyi2
refers to "Burma", then the name "Burma" stands for the country of the majority Burmese ethnic people known as
ဗမာ | Ba1-Ma2.
It was either an oversight, considered unimportant, or deliberately left untouched by the authors of the first Constitution. The name of the
country after the independence on January 4th, 1948 was to be known as "the Union of Burma" in English.
Perhaps, the status quo was because the word "Burma" was the only choice when negotiating for the terms of independence with the British.
Moreover, the territories under the British Burma already covered all the ethnic regions (but reluctant by the British to
give independence concurrently.) No known historical records existed on the desire and debates coming from Burma's patriots and politicians at
that time to introduce a new vocabulary in the English language; such debates would have further delayed the independence.
As for the usage of မြန်မာ |"Myanmar" for the country in the Burmese langauge, it was
less of a controversy. Just as the United States is referred to as 'The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave' in The Star-Sprangled Banner,
'Myanmar' refers to anything relating to the 'Fast and the Strong' people. On the other hand, the usage of
ဗမာ | "Bamar" per the dictionary definition
today is limited to the main racial group who speak the Burmese Language as the mother tongue.
As such, လူဝင်မှုကြီးကြပ်ရေးနှင့် အမျိုးသားမှတ်ပုံတင်ရေး ဦးစီးဌာန (လ.ဝ.က) | Myanmar Immigration &
National Registration Department (La1-Wa1-Ka1) identifies the race of a person as
"ဗမာ + မွန်" | "Bamar + Mon" if her
father is a Burmese and mother is a Mon. If she marries a Burmese, her children will be identified as
"ဗမာ + ဗမာ မွန်" | "Bamar + Bamar Mon". In terms of nationality,
all of them will be မြန်မာ | Myanmar. In this way,
various ethnic groups in this country
who speak more than 100 different languages and dialects can maintain their racial identity, and yet still be united in 'The Land of the
Fast and the Strong' that they call home.
The usage of မြန်မာပြည် | "Myanmar Pyi" in place of the original
ဗမာပြည် | "Bamar Pyi" in the
National Anthem thus reflects the inclusion of all the ethnic people.
Putting aside the politics, "Aung San of Burma", I am sure, would have no
objection if he had lived to see the independence of "Burma".
(Posted, re-wrote, and edited several times for objectivity, historical accuracy, and to support with reference links in the week and the following
two weeks of the 68th anniversary of the Union Day on February 12th, and 100th birthday
of Bogyoke Aung San on February 13th, 2015.)
The three Burmese Tones Vs. Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Tones
Consider the three stress levels in Burmese:
Ma1 = sounds like "Ma" in "Malaysia" မာ |
Ma2 = "ma" as in "diploma" မား |
Ma3 = higher pitch of "Ma" as in "Mother"
For those who are familiar with Mandarin Chinese, close counterparts in Pinyin tones are:
Ma1 = Pinyin 4th tone.
Ma2 = sounds like Pinyin 3rd tone as in "ma3 lu", which means
"the main road" in Mandarin Chinese.
Ma3 = Higher pitch level and close to Pinyin 1st or 2nd tone as in "Ma2 fan", which
means "to bother" in Mandarin Chinese.
If you pay close attention to news-readers on the radio, you will note that some ending words in burmese
sentences are spoken not exactly in a flat monotone, but stressed from a lower to a higher level somewhat like
the Pinyin 2nd tone. For example: the ending word spoken by female radio news announcers almost always shift from
ရှင် | shin2
to a higher pitch ရှင်း | shin3 within a fraction of a second.
Further clarifications to "a1"
(31 Dec 2013)
When the Burmese character မ | "Ma1" is used as a
stand-alone character, it sounds like "Mah1"
("Mark" with silent "rk".) It is clear enough when this vowel is used at the end of the word (or sentence) , or shown as a stand-alone character.
However, when "Ma1" appears in the beginning, or in the middle of words, it will in most cases ( but not all) sound like
a short "Ma1" as in မလေးရှား |
"Malaysia", not "Mah-laysia".
In written Burmese language, there is no way to differentiate full "Mah1" sound and short
"Ma1". Even Burmese people will have to look at the context to determine whether the word
မနီလာ | Ma1 Ni2 La2 should be pronounced
Manila (city in the Philippines), or a girl's name Mah1 Ni2 La2 (Ms. Nilar).
To give an another example, the word "favoritism" is spelled with the 33rd Burmese Character
အ | (Ah1), followed by the
third character ဂ | (Ga1) and the word
တိ | "Ti1". A Burmese child who has not learned this word
wouldn't know whether to pronounce this as Ah1 Gah1 Ti1 or Aga1 Ti1, or
Agati1,or the correct pronunciation, which could be better expressed in romanization as
အဂတိ | Ah1 ga1-ti1 with full
Ah1 and short ga1. It could also be expressed as
Ah1 gati1, but there is still a possibility of mispronouncing the middle syllable
as "gut" instead of the correct short "ga1".
I now see this as an opportunity to further enhance the romanization by adding "h" to the vowel "a1" when appropriate. This way, I can better express
the word ကပါ |
"Kah1ba2" (please dance) and
differentiate it from ကမ္ဘာ | "Ka1 ba2" (the World).
Also note that ending words such as suggestion "ba2" would sound smoother if you can slightly extend and prolong it to "ba3".
INTRODUCTION TO BURMESE(MYANMAR) LANGUAGE | မြန်မာဘာသာစကား အပြောအဆို သင်ခန်းစာများ - နိဒါန်း
Oh, the same to you. Thank you!
“I use Burma very often because I am used to using it. But it does not mean that I require other people to do that as well.”
“And I'll make an effort to say Myanmar from time to time so you all feel comfortable.”
— Aung San Suu Kyi, Foreign Minister and State Counselor on April 22, 2016 to the foreign diplomatic corps —
To a Westerner, spoken Burmese sounds somewhat like Korean. Grammatically, the structure of Burmese language is simple,
easy to learn, and quite similar to Mandarin Chinese. While Mandarin Chinese has 4 tones, Burmese is quite happy with
just 3. Unlike English, there are no complicated tenses and verb structures to worry about. The only major challenge in
learning Burmese language will be to get the right "stress" or "tone" when speaking to a native speaker, and perhaps
confusion with words which sound similar, but have different meanings according to the context in which they are spoken.
Hi, my name is Naing Tinnyuntpu | နိုင်တင်ညွန့်ပု | nine2-tin2-nyoon1-pu1. This website offering free online burmese lessons has expanded and improved through the years.
It has started out just for fun without any audio or script, but now it includes more serious grammar materials. I wish you good luck and have fun.
Cool song in the background by Myanmar singer Jenny. Lyrics by Si Thu [986KB]
You can leave your comments, feedbacks, and suggestions down the page. As a result of one suggestion,
Learn Myanmar Script on this website now appears consistently among the best on Google,
Zipped Audio files for lessons 2a,2b,2c,28,33 and 59 with corrresponding text, CSV, and Excel files
to aid in sorting and self-study. (Last Uploaded: 2017-03-15)
Burmese language has 3 tones. The first tone is best described as a short utterance, while the second tone is neutral
without stress in it. The third tone in Burmese has a kind of prolong lingering stress to it. It's almost as if you need more
air from the lungs and more energy from the throat to get the third tone out.
Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System with Script
Reference table for Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System using the character "ka1" is available for
download. This is a summary
version of Myanmar Script Learning Guide in lesson 33.
Revision: B Revised Date: 2015-01-01 File Size: 108 KB Number of Pages: 4
I used "blue" color code to indicate the vowel sound and "red" as tone. For simplicity, consonant modification symbols in "green" are
not used as in lesson 33. Yellow background indicates the base for a particular vowel from which the tones
can be changed. Since this is only a summary reference, variations in spelling are not shown.
Consider the sound of the
first "a" in "America". That's the first tone. Compare this
to "Ar" in
"Argentina". That's the example of the second tone. When you scream with pain
as in "Arghhhhhhh...." you put lots of stress to it. It is like "Ar" without
the "r" sound in "Artist". That's the third tone.
So, there you go. The first set of 3 tones with the Vowel "A" are...
Ah -- sounds like "Art" with silent "rt" ending. Ar -- "Argentina" with silent "r". Aah -- "ar" sound without "r" ending
I will be using Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System to describe those 3 tones as...
And yes, just a small "stress" or "tone" difference and you will have words with completely different meanings.
Here is just to give you examples on how meanings of certain words could change with just a slight difference in tone.
ကူ | Ku2
-- stress normally as in "Kuwait". -- to help.
ကူး | Ku3
-- sounds like "Cool" with silent "l".
-- to swim.
ပု | Pu1
-- pronounced like "poof" without "f" ending.
-- short in stature. From my personal experience, the last syllable of
my last name is often mispronounced by the Americans as "pu3" in the third tone, instead of the
correct "pu1", which I find it quite amusing :-) Mandarin Chinese speakers will have no problem as it is
equivalent to the 4th tone in Pinyin.
ပူ | Pu2
-- as in "pu" sound of "pudding". -- hot.
ပူး | Pu3
-- sounds like "pool" without "l" ending. --
to be joined.
The first tone will be like "Colt" without the "lt" ending sound.
The second tone sounds like the first "co" of "Coca Cola".
The third tone example: try saying "cold" without "ld" ending.
ကို့ (ကိုယ့်) | Ko1 ကို (ကိုယ်) | Ko2 ကိုး | Ko3
Due to eccentricity of English language, I will use "OE" or "OH" instead of
the vowel "O" for the consonants "d" and "t" as follow:
That's a tough one to give examples. Try saying "Scott". The first tone is "ott"
in "Scott" without ending "tt" sound; it is
closer to British pronunciation of "o" rather than what an American would
pronounce, i.e., "Scutt". It sounds like "odd" with silent
Au1 : "Au" sound in "Auction". Au2 : "Au" as in "Australia". Au3 : "Au" sound of the word "August".
It should be noted that Burmese doesn't have closing sounds of the words. Just like "s" in French is silent
in "Paris" and pronounced "Pa-ree",
Burmese doesn't have any closing sounds you would
expect in English. No "ch", "sh", "s", "r", "f" "l", "m", "n" ending consonants-- none. How would you go
about saying words with silent ending? Simple. Those ending consonants always need some kind of tongue play and or closing of the lips.
Don't move your tongue and don't close your lips, and you will be speaking perfect Burmese!
အော့ | Au1
-- to throw up in disgust as in အော့အန် |
ခန်း | khan3
-- stressed to the level of the word "cun" in "cunning" --
I choose the "An" variant of "un" only because some words are already associated in English
with certain pronunciations. Well, English is just like that. I will never understand why "P-U-T" is pronounced "Poot", but "B-U-T" is "But".
အင့် | In1 : "ink" with silent "k" အင် | In2 : "In" as in "Indiana". အင်း | In3 : "In" as in "Innate"
Hsin1 -- sounds like "sink" without "k" ending.
-- to stack up.
ဆင် | Hsin2
-- normal stress of "sin" in "sincerely". --
ဆင်း | Hsin3
-- just like "sin" in "sinful".
-- to go down.
What's the difference between "Hsin3" and "Sin3"? "Hsin3" has more hissing sound. Mandarin Chinese speakers will be able to detect
the difference. If you can't, just say "Sin3".
အေ့ | Ay1 အေ | Ay2 အေး | Ay3
First tone example: sounds like "maize" without "ze" ending.
Second tone example: "May" as in "May I ?" without stressing
Third tone example: "may" stressed like in "amazing".
မေ့ | may1
-- "maize" without "ze" sound.
မည်း | meare3
-- stressed like "mare" in "nightmare" --
black in color.
You may ask why don't I just drop the middle "e" and shorten those as
mare1 mare2 mare3
The reason why I didn't was because I couldn't use it consistently for words starting with the vowel "a" that sounds like "air", so
I came up with this "eare" coding to associate the word with the burmese sound group below.
ဧည့် | Eare1 -- as in "Edward". အယ် | Eare2 -- as in "Editor". အဲ | Eare3 -- as in "Elephant".
First tone example: "laint" as in "complaint" where "t"
ain't included in the ending sound.
second tone example: somewhere between "laint" and "lane" such
as in "flamboyant".
third tone example: fully stressed "lane".
Those words with single tones are categories by themselves. Those have English equivalent sound groups. I will refer
to those groups as (c1, c2, c3, ..., c8). Since they can be expressed by English spellings without ambiguity,
I will leave out the numbering.
Remember, there are no closing sounds in Burmese, so try saying those words without tongue play and keep your lips apart
for the ending parts of the words.
Low, High, Creaky tones & Glottal Stops corresponding to 1,2,3 Tone System
This section correlates Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System with the tone classification in some studies: Low, High, Creaky tones and & Glottal Stops.
Some consider "Glottal Stops" as the fourth tone while Burmese children are taught only three tone variations in school as in
က ကာ ကား | ka1, ka2, ka3. "Tone" variations
in Burmese as well as Chinese "Pinyin" always have the same vowel base. That means, you cannot go
ka1, ka2, ka3
and then go kut
as the fourth tone.
The suffix word သံ | thun2
from the word အသံ | a-thun2
means voice, sound, or noise. Although some of
those voices or sounds in the Burmese language can be made to go up and down using tone marks (while maintaining the same vowel sound), some
are just single tones and impossible to combine with tone change symbols. Official Burmese language by the Myanmar Language Commission recognizes four sound or
သံ | thun2 groups as follow:
သက်သံ | thet-thun2
- First tone: - Ah1, E1, U1, Ay1, Au1, O1, In1, Oun1, Ine1, Un1, Ain1, Ome1, Eare1.
There are 18 of those with 23 different spellings, out of which 18 of those use tone change symbol
out myit, which looks like a dot (.) under the character. In total, there are only 13 distinct sounds
as represented by romanization with 1,2,3 tone system above. This group is identified as
Creaky Tone by some studies. Myanmar Language Commission defines this group as
တက်သံ | tet-thun2
- Second tone: - Ah2, E2, U2, Ay2, Au2, O2, In2, Oun2, Ine2, Un2, Ain2, Ome2, Eare2.
There are 18 of those with 23 different spellings. In total, there are only 13 distinct sounds as represented by the romanization
with 1,2,3 tone system above. This group is identified as Low Tone by some studies.
Myanmar Language Commission defines this group as Rising tone.
နိမ့်သံ | nain1-thun2
- Third tone: - Ah3, E3, U3, Ay3, Au3, O3, In3, Oun3, Ine3, Un3, Ain3, Ome3, Eare3.
There are 18 of those with 21 different spellings, out of which 18 of those use tone change symbol
wit-sa1-pout, which looks like a column(:). In total, there are only 13 distinct sounds as represented by
romnanization with 1,2,3 tone system above. This group is identified as High Tone by some studies.
Myanmar Language Commission defines this group as Falling tone.
တိုင်သံ | tine2-thun2
- Single tone Groups: - Ate, Et, Out, Ike, Ut, Oat, It
There are 10 of those using the closing thut which looks like a small "c" over the second character when
spelled. In total, there are only 7 distinct sounds as represented by romanization with 1,2,3 tone system
above. This group is identified as Ten Glottal Stops by Myanmar Language Commission.
Let's test out a few phrases with the tone system:
-- How much?
ဘယ် | beare2
-- 2nd tone with the Vowel "Eare" such as "mare"
tone in "marry-making". So, it has a normal stress like "bare"
လောက် | lout
-- belongs to single tone group (c4). It is clear enough, so not numbered.
လဲ | leare3
-- 3rd tone with the Vowel "Eare". Stressed like "mare"
in "nightmare". Just replace "m" initial consonant sound
-- Where do you want to go?
ဘယ် | beare2
-- 2nd tone with the Vowel "Eare" such as "bare"
သွား | thwa3
-- 3rd tone with the Vowel "A", stressed like Ahhhhh....,
so it would sound like tha-waahhhh".
ချင် | chin2
-- 2nd tone Vowel "In"; normal stress like "sin"
in "sincerely". Just replace "s" with "ch"
sound, i.e., "chin" in place of "sin".
လဲ | leare3
-- 3rd tone just like "mare" in "nightmare".
Replace "m" with "l" and say it.
sa3ja1zo1 -- let's eat!
စါး | sa3
-- third tone with the Vowel "A"; fully stressed as Sahhhhh....
ကြ | ja1
-- first tone with the Vowel "A"; short tone
like "ja" in "Japan".
စို့ | zo1
-- first tone with the Vowel "O"; a short tone
comparable to "colt" without "lt" sound. Replace "c"
with "z", i.e., "zolt" without "lt" ending.
To the beginner, it may all sound confusing at first, but the tones will get automatic and natural with practice. When I first learn
Mandarin Chinese, I initially had trouble remembering Pinyin tone system. I used to refer back to the tone and pronunciation table, and with
repetition, the tones become second-nature. I have included the tone reference table on the left column of every lessons for easy reference.
MP3 sound files and Burmese script are later additions to the original lessons. Happy learning Burmese!!
The Free Online Colloquial Burmese Lessons are developed by Naing Tin-Nyunt-Pu.