2 min. read

First things first

If you’re only visiting the big cities in Sri Lanka, chances are you won’t need to know Sinhala or Tamil. Most people will speak English fluently. If you go to more rural areas you might need to know a word or 2 to get around.

Secondly, Sri Lanka is an amazing country, with super friendly people. They will almost always greet you, if you’re able to respond in Sinhala or Tamil they’ll show you an ever bigger smile than usual!

Feel free to use our 3 week Sri Lanka itinerary as a guideline throughout this amazing country.

Sinhala and Tamil?

The 2 biggest ethnic groups in Sri Lanka are the Sinhala and the Tamil. They both have their own language and they both don’t like it if they’re mistaken for the other.

How to know who’s Sinhala and who’s Tamil? Not so easy.

The best way: once you get to know the language a bit you’ll see the difference in the words on buildings.

The easiest way, but not always correct. Most people in Sri Lanka are Sinhala (about 75%). There are 2 main regions for the Tamil (the other 25%), being the Northern provinces and the Eastern provinces. So depending on your location you could guess what to say.

Some people say there is a difference in skin colour, but that’s not correct.

Sinhala

Sinhala is the most used language in Sri Lanka. For 75% of the Sri Lankans, it’s their mother tong. According to the people we’ve met, 90% should be able to understand you.

10 basic phrases and words in Sinhala

  • Yes Ow
  • No Naa
  • Hello / goodbye Ayubowan
  • Thank you (very much) (Bohoma) istuti
  • Please Karunakerara
  • What is your name? Nama mokadhdha?
  • My name is…. Mage nama….
  • Delicious Hari rasai / rasavat
  • How much? kiyadha?
  • English? Ingirisi?

7 Days of the Week in Sinhala

  • Monday Sanduda
  • Tuesday Angahauwada
  • Wednesday Badada
  • Thursday Brahaspathinda
  • Friday Sikurada
  • Saturday Senesurada
  • Sunday Irida

10 extra words in Sinhala

  • this/that meke/oya
  • (no) spices (naa) kulubadu
  • temple vihara
  • lake weva
  • hotel hotela
  • restaurant apana sala
  • food kaama
  • tea tey
  • coffee kopi
  • water watura

20 numbers in Sinhala

  • 1 eka
  • 2 deka
  • 3 tuna
  • 4 hatara
  • 5 paha
  • 6 haya
  • 7 hata
  • 8 ata
  • 9 namaya
  • 10 daaha
  • 20 vissa
  • 30 tiha
  • 40 hataliha
  • 50 panaha
  • 60 heta
  • 70 heddawa
  • 80 assuwa
  • 90 annuwa
  • 100 seeiye
  • 1000 daha

Tamil

The language mostly used in North and East Sri Lanka.

10 basic phrases and words in Tamil

  • Yes Amam
  • No Illai
  • Hello/Goodbye Vanakkam/Poyvituvarukiren
  • Thank you Nandri
  • Please Tuyavu ceytu
  • What is your name? Ungal peyar yenna?
  • My name is…. Yen peyar….
  • Delicious Ruciyana
  • How much? evvalavu?
  • English? Ankilam?

10 extra words in Tamil

  • this/that idu/adu
  • (no) spices (illai) macala
  • temple kovil
  • lake eri
  • hotel vituti
  • restaurant unavakam
  • food unavu
  • tea ti
  • coffee kapi
  • water Tunnier

7 days of the week in Tamil

  • Monday Tingal
  • Tuesday Cevvay
  • Wednesday Putam
  • Thursday Viyazhan
  • Friday Velli
  • Saturday Ceni
  • Sunday Nayiri

20 numbers in Tamil

  • 1 onru
  • 2 irandu
  • 3 munru
  • 4 nanku
  • 5 aindu
  • 6 aru
  • 7 yezhu
  • 8 yettu
  • 9 onpadu
  • 10 pattu
  • 20 irupadu
  • 30 muppadu
  • 40 rarpadu
  • 50 aimpadu
  • 60 arupadu
  • 70 alupadu
  • 80 yenpadu
  • 90 tonnuru
  • 100 nuru
  • 1000 ayiram
Must know Sinhala and Tamil words in Sri Lanka
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