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The Free Online Burmese Lessons
Learn Myanmar Language, History & Culture
Myanmar — The Land of the Fast and the Strong
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The Free Online Burmese Lessons

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 interjections.

Naing Tinnyuntpu Naing Tinnyuntpu is no stranger to systematic and efficient approach. He came from manufacturing 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.

Verbs

Burmese verbs kri1-ya2 MP3 Audio File 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:

  • pyu1 chin3 - action (does/do)
  • pfyit chin3 - occurrence (be/is/are/am)
  • shi1 chin3 - presence (is at/has/have)
MP3 Audio File

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:

kja1-nau2 - I (pronoun, male term)
hsa1-ya2-woon2 - doctor (noun)
ba2 - ending polite word. (particle)

kja1-nau2 hsa1-ya2-woon2 ba2 -- I am a doctor.

MP3 Audio File

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 wi1-but (postpositional markers) MP3 Audio File and pyit-si3 (particles). MP3 Audio File 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 structure.

Example 1:

thwa3 - to go (verb)
dau1 - about to (particle for emphasis)
meare2 - will (postpositional marker to show tense)
nau2 - ending word. (particle for feeling tone)

thwa3 dau1 meare2 nau2 -- I am about to go! MP3 Audio File

Example 2:

thi1 - to know (verb)
byi2 - has reached certain condition (postpositional marker)
la3 - question ending word (particle)

thi1 byi2 la3 -- Do you know now? MP3 Audio File

Example 3:

thu2 - he (pronoun)
hmun2 - right; correct (adjective)
deare2 - affirmative ending word (postpositional marker, not a verb in Burmese grammar.)

thu2 hmun2 deare2 -- He is right! MP3 Audio File

In the last example, the ending word IS NOT a verb, but it modifies the adjective into the word hmun2 deare2, which is considered as a verb of pfyit-chin3-pya1 kri1-ya2 (verb clause that shows occurrence) type. Although deare2 seems to correspond with the verb "is", it cannot be used consistently as "is" in some other sentence constructions.

Example:

hote deare2 -- Yes!

It must be stressed that Burmese equivalent of "be/is/are/am" like deare2 MP3 Audio File 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 ba2 MP3 Audio File 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.

Pronouns

As for pronouns nun2-za3, MP3 Audio File 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:

  1. Personal Pronouns -- "I", "You", "He", "She", "It", etc..

  2. Referential pronouns -- "this","that", "above-mentioned", etc..

  3. Question Words -- "what", "who", "where" in reference to the noun.

  4. Quantitative Pronouns -- "one person", "three cups", "four items", "some", "few", "all", "half", etc..

Adjectives

Burmese Adjectives na2-ma1 wi1-thay2-tha1-na1 MP3 Audio File are classified into four groups:

  1. Qualitative -- words that describe the quality of the noun. E.g., "rich" man, "far away" place.

  2. Referential -- words that make reference to or point to something. E.g., "this" road, "that" road, "other" methods.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?"

Adverbs

Burmese Adverbs kri1-ya2 wi1-thay2-tha1-na1 MP3 Audio File are classified into five groups:

  1. "How" part of human actions -- gestures, manner, facial expressions, and behavior. E.g., "arrogantly", "sluggishly", "truthfully", "respectfully".

  2. Conditions of things and situations -- E.g., "in disarray", "in disorder", "definitely".

  3. "When" part of action words -- E.g., "early", "often", "immediately".

  4. Interrogative adverbs -- "when", "how".

  5. Words that show extent, size or magnitude -- "few", "many", "very".

Nouns

There are eight ways to categorize Burmese Nouns "nun2" : MP3 Audio File four by construction, and four by meaning:

  1. Combination; Compound |
    poun3-sut nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., sa2-oat hsine2 (book + shop) -- bookshop. MP3 Audio File

    It is possible to combine words other than nouns. E.g., (sa3 + thout + hsine2) = (eat+drink+shop) = restaurant. MP3 Audio File

  2. Original; Innate |
    pin2-ko2 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., khway3 -- dog. MP3 Audio File

  3. Qualitative |
    gome2-yay2-pya1 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., htu3-choon2 hmu1 -- the quality of being outstanding. MP3 Audio File This word is formed by the verb htu3-choon2 meaning "be outstanding" modified into a noun by the suffix particle hmu1.

  4. Verb Modifications |
    kri1-ya2 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., ku2-nyi2-hmu1 -- help. MP3 Audio File 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.

  5. Individual Names |
    ta1-u3-hsine2 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., Yangon, Shwedagon, Aung San.

  6. Common Terms |
    a-mya3-hsine2 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., dog, city, cow, book

  7. Psychological; Abstract |
    sate-ta1-za1 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., courage, love, faith

  8. Conglomeration |
    a-su1-pya1 nun2 MP3 Audio File

    E.g., a-si3-a-yone3 -- union, league.

    MP3 Audio File

Singular & Plural Terms

Unlike in English where most people will have to look up the dictionary for the plural of "octopus", Burmese plural words ba1-hu1-woot MP3 Audio File in most cases simply add a suffix word dway2 MP3 Audio File to the noun in the colloquial language and mya3 MP3 Audio File in the literary form. Those suffix words are classified as particles.

Conjunctions

Burmese language has several conjunctions known as thun2-bun2-da1 MP3 Audio File Those conjunctions in colloquial forms are slightly different from their literary counterparts. Conjunctions are more often used in literary forms with long sentences. Examples:

  1. hlyin2 -- if (literary) MP3 Audio File

  2. hso2 yin2 -- if (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  3. dtho1-ma1-hote -- or else (literary) MP3 Audio File

  4. hto1-joun1 -- therefore (literary) MP3 Audio File

  5. dtho1-ya2-dwin2 -- however (literary) MP3 Audio File

  6. hto1-pyin2 -- moreover (literary) MP3 Audio File

  7. yan2 -- in order to; so as to (literary) MP3 Audio File

  8. pfo1 -- for (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  9. dtha1-keare1-tho1 -- as if (literary) MP3 Audio File

  10. leare3 -- also (colloquial/literary)) MP3 Audio File

  11. la1-goun3 -- as well (literary) MP3 Audio File

  12. neare1 -- with (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  13. hnin1 -- with (literary) MP3 Audio File

  14. dtha2-ma1-ka1 -- not only... but also (literary) MP3 Audio File

  15. yway1 -- and; while; because (literary) MP3 Audio File

  16. a-beare2-joun1-hso2-dthau2 -- the reason is that (literary) MP3 Audio File

  17. dthau3-joun1 -- due to the fact that (literary) MP3 Audio File

  18. lo1 -- because (colloquial) MP3 Audio File

  19. say2-ga2-mu2 -- nevertheless (literary) MP3 Audio File

What does "Myanmar" mean?

(Read 2016-09-08 updated PDF version with English and Burmese Script.)

Myan2 MP3 Audio Filemeans fast.

Ma2 MP3 Audio File means hard, firm, robust, or tough.

Another meaning for ma2 is 'healthy' as in kjan3-ma2. MP3 Audio File

For a country and its people, the more appropriate word is 'strong' as in thun2-ma2. MP3 Audio File Therefore, 'myan2-ma2' MP3 Audio File or 'Myanmar' is 'Fast and Strong' people. 'myan2-ma2 za1-ga3' MP3 Audio File meaning Myanmar language is the language spoken by those people, and 'myan2-ma2-pyi2', MP3 Audio File 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:

MYANMAR: 0
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 MP3 Audio File Pagoda in Bagan, Prince Yazakumar | Ya2-Za1-Ku1-Ma2, MP3 Audio File the son of King Kyansittha | Kjan2-Sit-Tha3 MP3 Audio File had erected what is now a tourist attraction known as Mya Zedi Pillar Script engraved in Mon, Myanmar, Pali, and Pyu scripts.

The usage of the word "Myanmar" as a reference to the people or civilization can be seen in a traditional saying that goes back to generations. It says: myan2-ma2 a-sa1 da1-goun3 ga1 MP3 Audio File meaning the origin of "Myanmar" is a place called "Dagaung". It is not clear if the saying refers to the Rakhine ethnic people 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 definitions in Burmese Script.)

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 | Ba3-Ma3. MP3 Audio File

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 | Min3-dome3-Min3 ta1-ya3 ji3 MP3 Audio File who ruled the Kingdom of Myanmar (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" | Myan2-Ma2 Ya2-Za1-Win2 Kjan3 Mya3, MP3 Audio File as well as in Ayedawbon chronicles known as Myanmar Min Mya Ayedawbon | Myan2-Ma2 Min3 Mya3 A-yay3-dau2-bone2 MP3 Audio File and in Hmannan Yazawin | Hmun2-Nun3 Ma1-Ha2 Ya2-Za1-Win2 Dau2 Ji3 MP3 Audio File with records dating back to periods earlier than King Pyinbya (817-876 CE) | Pyin2-Bya3 MP3 Audio File 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 | Nga1-Zin2-Ka2 MP3 Audio File (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 who grew up in the British Burma casually used the word "Burma" in English and "Bamar Pyi" | Ba1-Ma2-Pyi2 MP3 Audio File 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" | Ba1-Ma2 MP3 Audio File in Burmese.

Aung San of Burma

During his struggle for independence, General Aung San used the term "Independence of Burma" | ba1-mah1 loot-lut-yay3 MP3 Audio File 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 ba1-ma1 loot-lut-yay3 tut-ma1-dau2 MP3 Audio File in Burmese.

However, Bogyoke Aung San was careful to use the word "Myanmar" in 1947 Pinlone (PangLong) Conference | pin2-lone2 nyi2-la2-khan2 ji3 MP3 Audio File when he met with the ethnic leaders and persuaded them to join the Union. (Read the excerpt of General Aung San's Pinlone Conference dinner speech in Burmese Script.)

When the Anti-Fascist People's Freedom League (AFPFL) Party | Pfa1-Hsa1-Pa1-La1 MP3 Audio File 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 MP3 Audio File known as "Pyi-Htoun-Su Myanmar Naing-Ngan" | Pyi2-Htoun2-Su1 Myan2-Ma2 Nine2-Ngan2 MP3 Audio File in Burmese was conceived for the first time. From the Burmese language standpoint, "Pyi-Htoun-Su Bamar Naing-Ngan" with the use of "Bamar" | 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" | Ba1-Ma2 in Burmese. This should dispel the mistaken belief even among the educated Burmese people today that the word "Bamar" | 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" | 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, MP3 Audio File not "Bamar ethnic people" | 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 Ba1-Ma1 Loot-lut-yay3 A-yay3-dau2-bone2 MP3 Audio File (Chronicles of Burma's Independence) in the special issue of Ba1-Ma1 Khit MP3 Audio File(Burma's Age) newspaper on August 1st. 1943. That was the day the Japanese declared the "Independence" of "Bamar" | Ba1-Ma2. On 27 November 1937 special edition of Mandalay Thuriya | Mun3-da1-lay3 Thu2-ri1-ya1 MP3 Audio File paper, he used the term "Myanmar Naing-Ngan" | Myan2-ma2 Nine2-Ngan2. MP3 Audio File (See more details in Burmese script.)

One can reasonably deduce that if "Bamar Pyi" | Ba1-Ma2-Pyi2 refers to "Burma", then the name "Burma" stands for the country of the majority Burmese ethnic people known as "Bamar" | 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 "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 "Bamar" per the dictionary definition today is limited to the main racial group who speak the Burmese Language as the mother tongue.

As such, Myanmar Immigration & National Registration Department (La1-Wa1-Ka1) MP3 Audio File identifies the race of a person as "Bamar + Mon" if her father is a Burmese and mother is a Mon. If she marries a Burmese, her children will be identified as "Bamar + Bamar Mon". In terms of nationality, all of them will be 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 "Myanmar Pyi" in place of the original "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.)


TONE REFERENCE TABLE
Audio Pronunciation
Ah1 "a" in "art" with silent "rt"
Ah2 "ar" in "Argentina" with silent "r"
Ah3 "ar" in "Artist" with slilent "r"
De1 "de" in "deep" with silent "p"
De2 "de" as in "demote"; "demand"
De3 "dee" as in "deer"; "decent"
Ko1 "colt" with silent "lt"
Ko2 as in "co-author"; "cocaine"
Ko3 "cold" wit silent "ld"
Yu1 "u" in "Youth" with silent "th"
Yu2 "u" as in "university"; "utensil"
Yu3 "u" as in "user"; "Unix"
Shan1 as in "shunt" with silent "t"
Shan2 "shun" as in "chandelier"
Shan3 as in "shun"
Au1 as in "auction"
Au2 as in "Australia";"auditor"
Au3 as in "August"
May1 "maize" with silent "ze"
May2 "may" as in "May I?"
May3 "ay" in "amazing"
Sin1 "sink" with silent "k"
Sin2 "sin" as in "sincerely"
Sin3 "sin" as in "sinful"; "Singapore"
Un1 "aunt" with silent "t"
Un2 "un" in "understanding"; "umbrella"
Un3 "un" as in "under"
Meare1 "melt" with silent "lt"
Meare2 "mel" in "Melbourne" with silent "l"
Meare3 "mare" of "nightmare"
Tain1 "taint" with silent "t"
Tain2 "tain" as in "Captain"
Tain3 "tain" as in "maintain"
Bine1 "Bryant" without "r"
Bine2 as in "carbine"
Bine3 as in "combine"
Dome1 as in "don't"
Dome2 close to "dominate"
Dome3 as in "dome"
Toon1 "doont" in "couldn't"
Toon2 "mon" in "monastery"
Toon3 "oon" as in "cartoon"
Koun1 "count" with silent "t"
Koun2 "coun" in "counter-strike"
Koun3 "coun" as in "counsel"
ate cake, jade, eight, paid, bake
et wet, set, mad, yet
oot cook, put, look
out out, south, mouse, doubt
ike/ite sight, pipe, night, dice, like
ut up, nut, sucks
oat oat, coat, goat, soak
it it, pit, sit

The three Burmese Tones Vs. Mandarin Chinese Pinyin Tones

Consider the three stress levels in Burmese:

Ma1 = sounds like "Ma" in "Malaysia" MP3 Audio File
Ma2 = "ma" as in "diploma" MP3 Audio File
Ma3 = higher pitch of "Ma" as in "Mother" MP3 Audio File

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 shin2 to a higher pitch shin3 within a fraction of a second.

Further clarifications to "a1"

(31 Dec 2013)

When the Burmese character "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 "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 Ma1 Ni2 La2 should be pronounced Manila (city in the Philippines), or a girl's name Mah1 Ni2 La2 (Ms. Nilar).

MP3 Audio File

To give an another example, the word "favoritism" (noun) is spelled with the 33rd Burmese Character (Ah1), followed by the third character (Ga1) and the word "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 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".

MP3 Audio File

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 "Kah1 ba2" (please dance) and differentiate it from "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".

MP3 Audio File

INTRODUCTION TO BURMESE(MYANMAR) LANGUAGE

Mingalaba! MP3 Audio File Oh, the same to you. Thank you!

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi greets Obama

“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 —

Read the drama behind this. PDF Last Edited: 2016-09-08.

Learn the official language of over 50 million people of Myanmar — The Land of the Fast and the Strongthe most generous country in the world for the third consecutive year in 2016. A series of political and economic reforms started in 2011 has resulted in Myanmar emerging as the fastest growing economy in Asia projected for 2016 and 2017. The name "Myanmar" is not a creation by the military government back in 1989. The Kingdom of "Mien" was well-recorded by the Chinese, and mentioned by the 13th century romance writer Rustichello da Pisa in The Travels of Marco Polo (Il Milione in Italian) to describe the Mongol invasion of ancient Bagan.

“... one of the finest sights in the world; so exquisitely finished are they, so splendid and costly.”

( Marco Polo's description of Bagan temples)

Naing Tinnyuntpu

Hi, my name is Naing Tinnyuntpu. 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.

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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, YahooYahoo!, Bingbing, AOLAOL, AskAsk, LYCOSLYCOS, Yandex, and nortonNorton Safe Search.

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The Forbidden R Word in Myanmar

The Forbidden "R" Word in Myanmar: A Study on the History of Stateless Muslims in Rakhine State (PDF); 57 pages. (1,401 KB) Created: 28 October 2016. Last Edited: 4 Nov 2016.

Who says Burmese is hard to learn?

Canadian ambassador speaks Burmese callout icon youtube Foreigners Speaking Burmese
Watch a YouTube Video by Canadian Embassy in Yangon showing Canadians speaking Burmese.

Forget the myth that Burmese is hard to learn. Watch Canadian Ambassador Mark McDowell (August 2013 - September 2016) introduces himself in Burmese. He will also show you how to wear Longyi the right way.

Lesson 1: Tones in Burmese Language

  1. Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System with Script
  2. Vowel: A
  3. Vowel: E or I
  4. Vowel: U
  5. Vowel: O
  6. Vowel: Au
  7. Vowel: Un or An
  8. Vowel: In
  9. Vowel: Ay
  10. Vowel: Eare
  11. Vowel: Ain
  12. Vowel: Ome
  13. Vowel: Ine
  14. Vowel: Oon
  15. Vowel: Oun
  16. Single Tones
  17. Low, High, Creaky tones & Glottal Stops corresponding to 1,2,3 Tone System
  18. Romanization Examples

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.

Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System with Script

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.

Vowel: A

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 in "artist".

I will be using Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System to describe those 3 tones as ...

Ah1
Ah2
Ah3

MP3 Audio File

Sa1
Sa2
Sa3

MP3 Audio File

Ka1
Ka2
Ka3

and so on.

MP3 Audio File

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.

Ah1 -- stupid MP3 Audio File

Ah2 -- verbally picking up a fight MP3 Audio File

Ah3 -- have free time MP3 Audio File

Sa1 -- to start MP3 Audio File

Sa2 -- letter MP3 Audio File

Sa3 -- to eat MP3 Audio File

Ka1 -- to dance MP3 Audio File

Ka2 -- to shield MP3 Audio File

Ka3 -- to exaggerate MP3 Audio File

Vowel: E (or) I

The first tone will be like "de" sound in "deep". A good example of second tone will be "de" as in "demote". The third tone has more stress to it, such as "dee" in "deer".

De1
De2
De3

MP3 Audio File

I have to use "e" instead of "i" in this case, because "Di" will sound like "Dianna".

More examples of 3 tones with the Vowel "E" or "I":

Si1 -- sounds like "seat" without "t" ending. -- to scrutinize.

Si2 -- normal stress or tone as in "si" of the word "seduce". Yes, it does sound a bit like Spanish "si" - not "sy" as in "cyber". -- to arrange and organize objects.

Si3 -- pronounced as "see". -- to ride a vehicle.

MP3 Audio File

Pi1 -- try saying "Pete" with silent "t". -- to be trapped under (something).

Pi2 -- Stress normally as in "Pe" of "Peru" -- be able to pronounce correctly.

Pi3 -- pronounced just like "pee" or "pea". This is close enough to Pyi3 -- to finish.

MP3 Audio File

E1 -- as in "eat" with silent "t".
E2 -- as in "Egyptian".
E3 -- as in "e-commerce".

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: U

First tone example: a short "u" sound as in "Youth" with silent "th"; a short "u" sound in "amused".

Second tone example: Neutral tone of "u" as in "University".

Third tone example: stressed "u" which sounds like "ew" in "New", or as New Yorkers would say "Noo" in "New York".

Another third tone example would be a stressed "u" sound in "user".

Yu1 -- tender care as in yu1-yah1

Yu2 -- to take something.

Yu3 -- crazy, mentally disturbed.

MP3 Audio File

More examples of 3 tones with the Vowel "U":

Ku1 -- as in "uncouth" with silent "th" -- to treat a patient.

Ku2 -- stress normally as in "Kuwait" -- to help.

Ku3 -- sounds like "Cool" with silent "l" -- to swim.

MP3 Audio File

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.

Pu2 -- as in "pu" sound of "pudding". -- hot.

Pu3 -- sounds like "pool" without "l" ending. -- to be joined.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: O

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.

Ko1
Ko2
Ko3

MP3 Audio File

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:

Doh1
Doh2
Doe3

MP3 Audio File

Toh1 - to touch lightly.

Toh2 - short as opposed to long.

Toe3 - push and shove.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Au

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 "d".

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!

Au1 -- to throw up in disgust as in au1-un2.

Au2 -- to shout.

Au3 -- deep voice.

MP3 Audio File

More examples of tones with the Vowel "Au":

Pau1 -- try saying "pulse" without "lse" ending. -- light in weight.

Pau2 -- somewhere in between "pulse" and "Paul". How about "Pauline"? -- exposed, or "politician".

Pau3 -- sounds like "Paul" without "l" sound. -- abundant.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Un (or) An

The first tone example: "aun" as in "aunt".
the second tone example: Normal stress of "un" in "understanding".
The third tone example: the word "un" stressed as in "under".

Un1 -- to be amazed as in un1-au3.

Un2 -- to throw up.

Un3 -- to return change as in a-kjway2-un3.

MP3 Audio File

More examples with the Vowel "Un":

Lun1 -- sounds like "lunt" in "blunt". -- fearful.

Lun2 -- somewhat between "lunt" and "London" as in luncheon -- to fall out from the place due to an abrupt force, such as when the roof being blown away by the strong wind.

Lun3 -- stressed "Lun" in "London". -- road, street, path.

MP3 Audio File

For some words, it seems more natural to use "An" rather than "Un":

khan1 -- sounds like British "can't" -- not American "can't". -- Grand as in khan1-nya3.

khan2 -- unstressed "can" as in "canoe". -- to collect water.

khan3 -- stressed to the level of the word "cun" in "cunning". -- dried up.

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".

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: In

In1 : "ink" with silent "k"
In2 : "In" as in "Indiana".
In3 : "In" as in "Innate"

MP3 Audio File

Hsin1 -- sounds like "sink" without "k" ending. -- to stack up.

Hsin2 -- normal stress of "sin" in "sincerely". -- elephant.

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".

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Ay

Ay1
Ay2
Ay3

MP3 Audio File

First tone example: sounds like "maize" without "ze" ending.
Second tone example: "May" as in "May I ?" without stressing on "may".

Third tone example: "may" stressed like in "amazing".

may1 -- "maize" without "ze" sound. -- forgotten.

may2 -- "may" as in "May I?" -- prefix used in front of some female names.

may3 -- stressed like in "amazing". -- to question.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Eare

The closest one can get to the first tone is "self" without "lf" ending. Another example would be "wealth" without "lth" ending.

Second tone sounds like "Sal" in "Salary" without "l" ending, or "pal" without "l" ending in "maple".

The third tone will be like "sell" without double "l" ending. It belongs to "Wear", "tear", "pear" sound group.

hseare1
hseare2
hseare3

MP3 Audio File

More examples on tones with the Vowel "Eare":

meare1 -- sounds like "mad" without "d" ending. -- to put on an unhappy face.

meare2 -- not so much stress on "mare" like in "marry-making". -- indication of intention.

meare3 -- stressed like "mare" in "nightmare". -- black in color.

MP3 Audio File

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.

Eare1 -- as in "Edward".
Eare2 -- as in "Editor".
Eare3 -- as in "Elephant".

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Ain

Ain1
Ain2
Ain3

MP3 Audio File

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".

lain1 -- to roll.

lain2 -- to lie.

lain3 -- apply or rub on the skin or hair.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Ome

Ome1
Ome2
Ome3

MP3 Audio File

First tone examples: "on't" sounds as in won't, don't.
Second tone example: "Om" with silent "m" in "Romania".
Third tone example: Fully stressed "Om" with silent "m" in "Rome".

tone1 -- to retaliate as in tone1-pyan2.

tone2 -- shivering, rattling, vibrating.

tone3 -- to chop.

I will use the "m" variant for some words like "gome2". With "n" it will sound like "gone".

To romanize this vowel, I have no choice but to use "m" variant because with "n", it becomes number "one".

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Ine

Ine1
Ine2
Ine3

MP3 Audio File

First tone example: "kind" without "d" ending.

Second tone example: the closest is unstressed "mine" in "minute". I am referring to the word "mine-nute" as in "minutely small", not the hour and "min-it" with the same spelling.

The third tone example: "tine" sound in "tiny", or simply "mine".

kine1 as in "kind"
kine2 as in "kinetic"
kine3 that rhymes with "pine"

MP3 Audio File

khine1 - belong to the person named "Khine2".
khine2 - durable and strong.
khine3 - order.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Oon

Oon1
Oon2
Oon3

MP3 Audio File

First tone example: "doont" sound in "couldn't".
Second tone example: "Kung" sound in "Kung Fu", or "mun" in "monetary" or "monastery".
Third tone example: "Coon" as in "Cocoon".

toon1 -- similar to "doont" sound in "couldn't". -- wrinkles of the skin.

toon2 -- the same stress level as "mun" in "monastery". -- crow of the cock.

toon3 -- as in "cartoon". -- to push.

MP3 Audio File

Vowel: Oun

Oun1
Oun2
Oun3

MP3 Audio File

First tone example: koun1 - "Count" without ending "t".
Second tone example: koun2 - "Coun as in "Counter-strike".
Third tone example: koun3 - "Coun" as in "Counseling".

MP3 Audio File

soun1 - to wait.

soun2 - blanket.

soun3 - harp.

MP3 Audio File

Eight Single Tone Groups

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.

(c1) cake, jade, eight, paid, sake, bake. E.g., sate - mind MP3 Audio File
(c2) wet, set, mad, yet. E.g., set - machine MP3 Audio File
(c3) cook, put, look. E.g., woot - wear clothes MP3 Audio File
(c4) out, south, mouse, doubt. E.g., thout - to drink MP3 Audio File
(c5) sight, pipe, night, dice, like, wide, guide. E.g., bite - stomach MP3 Audio File
(c6) up, suck, duck, mud. E.g., yut - stop; stand up MP3 Audio File
(c7) oat, coat, goat, soak. E.g., hote - true; yes MP3 Audio File
(c8) it, pit, sit. E.g., chit - love MP3 Audio File

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 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 MP3 Audio File and then go kut MP3 Audio File as the fourth tone.

The suffix word thun2 MP3 Audio File from the word a-thun2 MP3 Audio File 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 thun2 groups as follow:

  • thet-thun2 MP3 Audio File - 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 Checked tone.

  • tet-thun2 MP3 Audio File - 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.

  • nain1-thun2 MP3 Audio File - 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 romanization 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.

  • tine2-thun2 MP3 Audio File - 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.

Another thing to take note. The four thun2 groups: Check tones, Rising tones, Falling tones & Glottal Stops in the official listing all add up to the total of 46 sounds with four missing sounds:

oon1<<MP3 AUDIO>>
oon2<<MP3 AUDIO>>
oon3<<MP3 AUDIO>>
oot<<MP3 AUDIO>>

Burmese 1,2,3 Tone System used in this website covers the missing vowel group "oon" (See lesson 47) and Single Tone Group "oot" (See lesson 56). The Burmese Script version of this page has the list of 46 sounds with romanization and MP3 audio files.

Romanization Examples

Let's test out a few phrases with the tone system:

beare2 lout leare3 -- How much?

beare2 -- 2nd tone with the Vowel "Eare" such as "mare" tone in "marry-making". So, it has a normal stress like "bare" in "strawberry".

lout -- belongs to single tone group (c4). It is clear enough, so not numbered.

leare3 -- 3rd tone with the Vowel "Eare". Stressed like "mare" in "nightmare". Just replace "m" initial consonant sound with "l".

MP3 Audio File

beare2 thwa3 chin2 leare3 -- Where do you want to go?

beare2 -- 2nd tone with the Vowel "Eare" such as "bare" in "strawberry".

thwa3 -- 3rd tone with the Vowel "A", stressed like Ahhhhh...., so it would sound like tha-waahhhh".

chin2 -- 2nd tone Vowel "In"; normal stress like "sin" in "sincerely". Just replace "s" with "ch" sound, i.e., "chin" in place of "sin".

leare3 -- 3rd tone just like "mare" in "nightmare". Replace "m" with "l" and say it.

MP3 Audio File

sa3 ja1 zo1 -- let's eat!

sa3 -- third tone with the Vowel "A"; fully stressed as Sahhhhh....

ja1 -- first tone with the Vowel "A"; short tone like "ja" in "Japan".

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.

MP3 Audio File

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!!