Some 100% Original Burmese Songs You Should Listen To (and a CONTEST!!!)

Happy Thingyan, everyone! (ျမန္မာ့ႏွစ္သစ္မွာ မဂၤလာအေပါင္းနဲ႕ ျပည့္စုံၾကပါေစ။) 🙂

Anyhow for today’s post in honor of Burmese New Year (which began yesterday and is still in session, let’s share some songs that are 100% original and also 100% Burmese. They are not taken from any variety of outside melodies in any which way whatsoever J


If you’ve think you’ve heard this song at the 2015 Eurovision Song Contest, let me assure you that you probably dreamt it. J


No Norwegian-Irish Melodies to listen to here. Move along. J


100% Burmese. Definitely not ABBA at all. Nuh uh. No way.


Time for you to savor this Ukrain…I mean Russi… I mean Chine…I mean Burmese song. (Don’t get any funny ideas about thinking that it sounds anything like a song from VIA Gra, some Russian-singing girl band that you probably haven’t heard of until now, unless you know more about that real of the world than I do. As I heard in a similar song somewhere, “Stop! Stop! Stop!”)


That sinking feeling you may have heard this song from somewhere is just imaginary.


Okay, jokes off, I think you get the idea now. I’m very happy about the fact that Burmese Copy songs exist, and they date from the days of the military dictatorship. The Burmese renditions of these songs usually aren’t direction translations, and often more like “transcreations”. That said, the album through which I first discovered the fine art of Burmese Copy Songs is right here:

Here’s a challenge.

How many of the songs can you recognize? (Even through just the iTunes previews) Not all of them will be originally English songs, some will also be Chinese, Japanese, Russian or even further beyond.

Everyone who helps me identify a song will have the opportunity for me to pick a topic for me to write about OR write a guest post for this blog.

GOOD LUCK!!! (This is probably one of the hardest challenges I’ve issued yet!)


All About the Burmese Language

My first Independence-Day Related post of 2018! (Well, discounting the shout-out to Slovakia I gave on New Year’s Day). Today is Burmese Independence Day and I thought it would be a good occasion to write about the language.

A year ago at around this time my parents were floating the idea of visiting Myanmar (Burma) after isolationist policies were relaxed. Interestingly they weren’t the only ones thinking this way—Sammy Samuels of “Myanmar Shalom”, a Jewish-Burmese Tourist Agency (YES, there are Burmese Jews, both in the country proper and abroad, and I’ve met BOTH!) described it as a “gold rush” when we met for the first time in May.

In a mall in Yangon that looked fancier beyond most malls in America, there were photographs of the country’s many minorities with captions about their lifestyles in Burmese and in English. My father told me that the underlying implication was that the wave of investors from China, the West and Myanmar’s immediate neighbors such as India and Thailand would threaten many aspects of local culture that remained unchanged during the years of military dictatorship.

Myanmar’s internal politics are labyrinthine and the ethnic diversity found in the country is similar to the situation that was present in the Americas before European colonization happened. (Fun Fact: Europe is the least linguistically diverse continent!)

It’s been more than half a year since I took off from Yangon and since then I’ve kept up my studies of Burmese on-and-off. It has proved to be one of the most difficult languages I have encountered by virtue of the fact that it is…different. (And Lao, for many reasons, I found significantly easier both to learn and to understand).

Here are some videos that I made about Burmese and my journey learning it last month. Sadly due to some circumstances I wasn’t able to complete the Eurolinguiste 30-Day Challenge but I’m glad I did what I did:

In any case, I turned to Polyglot Polls for potential topics to write about, and I got some topics that I’m not too qualified to write about, such as:

  • Burmese street slang
  • Tai-Kadai loan words in Burmese
  • Mon-Khmer loan words in Burmese


IF YOU KNOW about any of these topics in any capacity, PLEASE let me know about them in the comments.

One thing I really have noticed was the fact that, much like with languages like Yiddish, Uyghur and Tajik, Burmese takes a lot of words from a religious language, in the case, Pali, the language of Theravada Buddhism’s scriptures.

Burmese native words are one syllable each, and so expressions that have more than one syllable are usually of foreign origin. It goes without saying that words like “telephone” and “Internet” are detectable English loan words, as well as many names for countries and nationalities.

But one of the first things I had to learn in Burmese (as SOON as my visa got approved), was how to ask for only vegetarian food and the word that is used is သက်သတ်လွတ် (θɛʔ.θæʔ.luʔ). There were also some other things that pointed to foreign influence that was Indo-European but clearly not European, like the fact that the word for “name” is နာမည် (næɴmɛ), which is very similar to the English word “name” (it’s a Pali word.

Interestingly I notice that the patterns for liturgical-language loan words throughout the world are quite similar (and my observations tell me that they tend to skew towards nouns and higher registers of language).

But, here are some things you need to know about Burmese, whether you may be starting to learn it or want to learn a little bit or just want to read a list of facts:

  • No grammatical gender.


  • You put words at the end of a sentence in order to indicate what tense it is:


Tense Markers DONE

These will also be DIFFERENT depending on how formal (or not) the text (or spoken word) is. On inscriptions you’ll usually see formal variants. In phrasebooks, you’ll see informal.



  • Men and women will speak differently. My first day in Mandalay I went to a bank with my father and the servicewomen opened the door and told me “mingalaba SHIN” (the “shin” at the end is a “polite particle” used by women. For those unaware: it really doesn’t have a meaning, a bit like adding “sir” or “ma’am” at the end of sentences in English. I, as a man, would say “mingalaba khimya” (using a different polite particle). Also! Polite versions of “I” will be gendered as well. ကျွန်တော် (ʨənɔ) for men and ကျွန်မ (ʨəmá) for women.



  • You will also use classifier words as well. To say “I want coffee + 4” you would say “I want four cups of coffee”. To say “I want paper + 3” you would say “I want three sheets of paper”.


Here are some classifier words:

Category Words DONE

  • You can usually omit the subject of the sentence if it is implied. I remember one time I was talking to a Burmese taxi driver about Burmese music and I mentioned Chan Chan (described a musician who made her career off women’s broken hearts, in a sense). He said “very beautiful”, leaving it unclear as to whether it was the music OR the singer that he was talking about. Expect this commonly.


  • The tones are probably the trickiest out of any tonal language that I’ve encountered (with Mandarin probably having the easiest system, in my opinion). I’ll link to various sites that can help you better.


One website I would recommend is this below: provides a LOT of cultural information and provides steady information where a lot of other sites are lacking. Great for learning the Burmese script as well as tones and the finer points of language:

Another resource I would recommend for getting a very basic level is Kenneth Wong’s playlist. He has one of the most soothing voices I’ve ever heard in my life:

Concerning books, Lonely Planet is also a good bet (when I first became enthused by Burmese in 2014, WAAAAY before I know that I would end up in the country and I honestly didn’t ever think I would end up there, they didn’t have the standalone Burmese phrasebook but now they do. I have the Southeast Asia one).

Also Reise Know How is pretty much always fantastic if you read German. In case of the Burmese one, the proceeds will go to funding children’s schools in rural Myanmar.


And as for USING it:

Burmese is very lively on the internet and when I was in the country I could see why. Even among some of the temples in Bagan which are crowded with homeless people, there were people using smartphones there.

What’s more, the Burmese-American communities are also noteworthy to point out (and the U.S. isn’t the only place that has these expatriate communities). They also have many ethnic minorities of Myanmar represented as well within these communities.

Burmese music is also fantastic especially when you consider the fact that, in some cases, it somewhat resembles Tom Lehrer’s confession as Lobachevsky (“Every chapter I stole from somewhere else”). Tons of Western, Chinese and Russian pop songs are covered in barely legal manners and translated into Burmese. A lot of the lyrics are also readily available embedded as subtitles in the video (so you’ll need the Burmese script for that!).

Some songs I’ve heard rendered into Burmese include “My Heart Will Go On”, ABBA, VIA Gra (Band from Ukraine popular in the Russian-speaking world), “A Million Voices” (that almost won Eurovision 2015), and many songs that I vaguely remember hearing in produce isles in the United States. (Confession: I know pathetically little about American popular music and, to be honest, I like it that way).

Anyhow, I’m happy to answer your questions or receive your expertise.

Above all, know that Asian Languages are not scary as you may make them out to be!


Label Items in my House in Burmese (Eurolinguiste 30-Day Challenge: Day 14)

Table – စားပွဲ (zəbwɛ̀)

Document – မှတ်တမ်း (m̥æʔ.tæ̀ɴ)

Book – စာအုပ် (sa.ouʔ)

Dictionary – အဘိဓာန် (əbídæɴ)

Mirror – ကြေးမုံ (ʨè.mouɴ) OR မှန် (m̥æɴ)

Bed – အိပ်ရာ (eiʔ.ya)

Bag – အိတ် (eiʔ)

Chair – ကုလားထိုင် (kələ.tʰaiɴ)

Telephone – တယ်လီဖုန်း  (tɛlipʰòuɴ)

Cards (to play with) – ဖဲ (pʰɛ̀)

Wallet (also purse) – ပိုက်ဆံအိတ် (paiʔsʰæɴ.eiʔ)

Coat (also jacket or raincoat) – မိုးကာ (mò.ɡa)


Do YOU know any more words that YOU think should be on this list? Share them with us!


Some Burmese Expressions You Should Know (Eurolinguiste 30-Day Challenge: Day 13)

This is going to be a shorter post, haven’t done one of these since 2014 or so.

Anyhow, for Day 13 of the 30-Day Challenge (which I intend to do again next month with a different language), I have to “teach people some words”. I thought one very helpful thing to go through would be various words and expressions I thought amusing from throughout my learning materials.

I have a very useful Anki deck put together by André Müller, one of my linguistic role-models, Esperanto and Klingon Language fan, and someone who provides extremely useful and well-thought out opinions in the Polyglot online groups.

I found it a week before my trip to Mandalay was scheduled (for those of you who don’t know, Mandalay was the first stop on my journey). I wish I had discovered it sooner.

Anyhow, here are some useful expressions, from that deck to give you some idea of how the language words…differently…than others throughout the world.


ညနေ (ngá.ne) – this word means “evening” but it actually means “afternoon sun”. I think that one reason for this (thinking back to my time at Inle Lake) is that the sun actually becomes visible rather than white-ball-that-will-permanently-damage-your-eyesight right around the evening. Interestingly Irish has a word that refers to both evening and afternoon (tráthnóna). Come to think of it, the skies in rural Ireland and rural Myanmar do…resemble each other…in some respects.

စိတ်ပူ (seiʔ pu) – this means “worry” (verb) but it actually means “heart hot”, or, more accurately, this anxious feeling that your heart is actually boiling due to any number of things. This idiom perfectly captures many types of fright that are all too common in the human experience. There’s another idiom referring to worry and that would be…

အားငယ် (à ngeh) – this means “having weak strength”. The idea that having a worry is something that actually eats your strength away is something that I can’t believe I hadn’t noticed until I came across an idiom like this. Again this shows the value in learning languages, because some of the new idiomatic perspectives offered by other tongues are very helpful in making you relate to other people, situations, experiences and problems.

နားလည် (nà leh) – one of my first Burmese expressions that I ever learned (the first thing I did to learn Burmese was actually to download the Colloquial Burmese audio. I didn’t end up buying the book because I thought it would be too big for me to carry around, although I did have two other books, though) It actually means “ear going around”! This means that, in order to say “I understand” you would literally say “my ear is going in circles”, and similarly to say “I don’t understand” you would say “my ear isn’t going in circles”.

အသည်းယား (əthèh yà) – to feel disgusted, but it actually means “having an itch of the liver”. The next time I have that sensation I’ll definitely keep that in mind. Although it’s not a moment I’m looking forward to…

အသည်းကွဲ (əthèh kwèh) – in other languages, we have broken hearts, in Burmese, we have split livers.

ဈေးချို (zè tsho) – the word for “cheap” in Burmese actually translates to “having a sweet price” or “sweetly priced”. For some odd reason I can’t help but think of American slang when I read this. Similarly to be expensive is ဈေးကြီး  (zè tshì) – meaning “greatly priced”.

Tomorrow’s task for Day 14 is labeling items in my house. This. Should. Be. Fun.

Myanmar Saga + Extra Double-Feature Daredevil Language Mission!

Tomorrow I head off to the Golden Land (Myanmar / Burma).

As a Yiddishist I am actually amused by the fact that a popular Yiddish name for the United States was (and remains) “di goldene medine” (also meaning “The Golden Land”, or somewhat more accurately, “the golden country”). I’m hopping one from Golden Country to another, so it seems.

On one hand, I feel significantly confident in my ability to say a lot of “touristy” things in Burmese, although I’m not fluent (and I have problems reading the Burmese script, too!).

This is my first tonal language that I’ve taken seriously since my “polyglot awakening” in 2013 or so, and as a result I’m quite worried about whether I’m getting it right but luckily the fact that I have a musical ear certainly hasn’t hurt.

Where am I? Well, let me put it this way: part of me feels that I’m walking into a test that I haven’t studied for. At all. And that this test determines my future.

But another part of me feels that I’m entering into the testing room with as many “cheat sheets” as I want.

Now, time for me to tell you that I got caught off guard!

Apparently I have layovers in the United Arab Emirates and in Thailand (and Thailand only on the way there).

So you know what this means:

I’m also on a mission to see how much Gulf Arabic I can learn on the plane to Dubai, as well as elementary Thai on the way there.

(This, in addition to Burmese, which will be in quite good shape, I think, after three weeks).

Time for me to layout my plans:




I’m gonna have to memorize as many phrases in “Birmanisch für Myanmar – Wort für Wort” to the best of my ability, including how to put sentences together and all that fun stuff. The fact that my life may depend on knowing this stuff means that my memory is probably going to go into Jedi mode. I’ll see how well I do (or how badly I do).

What’s more, I also have five Burmese Memrise courses in offline mode on my phone, including a complete guide to the characters. I know that various Pali loan words are not pronounced the way they are spelled (see my previous post on Burmese here), but I expect to be able to read Burmese by the time I set foot in Mandalay for the first time.

Interestingly this is my least urgent mission. I got time for this. My most urgent mission would be.


Surprise Gulf Arabic EXTRAVAGANZA!



If only I found out that I was having a layover in Dubai literally two days ago, I would have a book (I wasn’t told this due to miscommunication. My parents are the ones that are bringing me along to play translator).

I managed to get the Lonely Planet Middle Eastern Phrasebook purchased online. It will come to me tomorrow, and I hope that it will arrive before the shuttle to the airport does.

But even if that doesn’t happen, I have other tools for Gulf Arabic, namely a Peace Corps Guide (primarily aimed at Saudi Arabia) that is 300 pages long, as well as a Japanese-based Gulf Arabic app, and the free preview for the Gulf Arabic Kauderwelsch book (I wouldn’t underestimate those free previews given how helpful one of them was for me in Iceland).

Thanks to me having done Dari on Mango Languages (to help improve Tajik), the Arabic alphabet isn’t as strange to me as, let’s say, Thai characters.

I’m focusing on the casual Gulf Arabic for this time. Will probably only use in the airplanes or on the airports. But at least that will be enough to write an article on. I hope.

I am reminded of one of my friends, a fluent speaker of Egyptian Arabic, who remarked that Gulf Arabic sounded like “frog talk”. Part of me has dreamed of learning it ever since.

What do I intend to do? Go through the books and the apps on the plane, and the book (that will hopefully arrive!) using mnemonics along the way. Write as much as I can. If there are native speakers I can interact with, great! This will be a challenge I remember!


Thai: Something New




Got an Italki language exchange partner who wanted to learn Northern Sami from me (which I forgot a while ago but am relearning bit-by-bit to prepare for the lessons). She’s teaching me elementary Thai in exchange and I’m enchanted by everything about it, the same way that I am enchanted with…pretty much every language I’ve ever studied.

Thanks to her help I’m headed into this situation with more wisdom than with my “see how much Gulf Arabic you can learn in a day” assignment.

I still have zilch idea how to read. At all.

But I am capable of speaking. A little bit, but I’m capable of that little bit.

And that is something.

PLAN: Same as for the Gulf Arabic one, except for I’ll be studying it on the plane from Dubai to Bangkok. I also won’t be studying this for the “way back” trip.


Vanishing for the Vacation.


I’m not going to be writing posts during my trip to Myanmar (May 10th – May 29th). I’ll even leave my computer at home.

I’ll miss all of you, but I really, REALLY look forward to sharing the results of my daredevilry with all of you!


Another announcement:




“Using Video Games to Learn and Maintain Languages”.


I’ll get to that soon enough. But first I have to take on some adventures.


While I’m my adventures, I’ll be thinking of you, dear reader, and knowing that I can share my ventures as inspiration to make your linguistic dreams come true!

See you in June!

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