Sri Lanka has two official languages, Sinhala and Tamil, but it is possible to get by speaking English. The road signs and street signs are all in Sinhala first, then Tamil, and then English.
Sinhala is the country’s most spoken language, Shams identifies as a Sinhalese Sri Lankan, in which she speaks fluent Sinhala, but she also speaks fluent English. I, on the other hand, can speak a very small amount but I wouldn’t say I know enough to get by. Many people in the country can speak English which helps. If I spent a considerable length of time in Sri Lanka, then my intention would be to speak with a higher proficiency in Sinhala. I do find it difficult to learn Sinhala, as their alphabet is not the same as the English alphabet. I also find that some of the letters sound very similar to another.
Here are some important words you may need to use in Sinhala, I have written it in English, followed by Sinhala. However as Sinhala can be written using the English alphabet, I have written in English alphabet followed by the Sinhala alphabet.
Hello – aah-yu-boh-wahn – ආයුබෝවන්
Yes – o-vu – ඔව්
No – na-ha – නැත
Thank you – sthoo-thiy – ස්තූතියි
Do you speak English – o-bah in-gree-si kah-thaah kau-rah-nah-vaah-dhah – ඔබ ඉංග්රීසි කතාකරනවාද (this may look a little difficult to say)
What is your name? – oya-ge nama mokka-da – ඔයාගේ නම කුමක් ද
My name is – Mage nama ….. – මගේ නම
How are you? – Ko-ho-mah-dhah – ඔබට කෙසේද
I am good/fine – Hon-dhin in-nah-waah – යහපත
Tamil Sri Lankans speak Tamil and identify as Tamil Sri Lankan’s. There is a smaller population of Tamils in Sri Lanka, yet this is another official language spoken. I am unable to speak Tamil, and Shams only knows a few words in Tamil. The Tamil language is also found in India in the south region of Tamil Nadu.
In the large town’s in Sri Lanka, you can find the residences can speak good English or fluent English, yet in the more secluded areas, there will very few people who can speak English. Depending on where you are staying in Sri Lanka, many of the Tuk-tuk drivers may not be able to speak English, so you may find it easier to use taxi’s to get you around. I have found when I am there that the older generations that can’t speak English, but the younger generation can speak it well if not fluently. Some of Shams aunties and cousins are unable to speak English but they do try and communicate with me, and I try and communicate back. As we mentioned the younger generation such as the cousins children and our nephew can speak very good or fluent English, but I have found many people are more shy to speak English, maybe because they are afraid to make a mistake, but that’s why I make many mistakes when I speak in Sinhala so I can break the ice with them.
What impresses many Sri Lanka’s is if you speak in their language to them, and why I will always try to speak first in Sinhala or of what I can speak.
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