April 24, 2014

Learning Burmese


There are people interested in Myanmar language, and especially for expat moving here, it is good to be able to speak local language.
I cannot find a good list of self-learning Burmese; unlike learning Chinese where you can find plenty of end-to-end resources, youtube, free 'online course', apps in mobile phone, or flash card apps. Most importantly: we need the audio, because it is impossible for people who read english-latin alphabets to guess what the Burmese character sounds like.

There are some list I will share here and it is sorted based on some categories. The sources are listed in the end of this post.

Learning a Language

For me, language is a bridge for people to understand each other. Smile and body language are not enough, we need words. These are some ways to learn a language:
  • Self study from books, recording and online website,
  • Online study: some online courses that you need to pay,
  • Home tutor most costly but it is believed to be fastest way,
  • Language class: good chance to be in class where you can learn from others experiences, and opportunity to talk more,
  • Language exchange partner.
I think there are people gifted to be able to learn a language more easily. For others, commitment and hard work are crucial. You might not forget your mother language but when you don't use it much for a long time you might forget some words. When we learn new language, the essence is to memorize the words; and if we don't keep use it much, no practice, we forget.
It is believed that adult cannot learn language as good as a child; but who cares? William Shakespeare said: “If there is a good will, there is great way.” I like to breakdown things and organize it nicely:
  1. Understanding basic & Alphabets
  2. Memorize the word (vocabulary): the character itself and 'pinyin' (romanization). Moreover, spoken language might be a bit different with written.
  3. Listening
  4. Ability to mimic the sound (pronunciation)
  5. Ability to mimic the tone
  6. Grammar
  7. Reading
  8. Writing
Next steps is to memorize idiom, clause, slang, etc.

Chinese Pinyin
I am learning Chinese now. I started with the very basic: how to read pinyin and tone. It was very difficult. My mother language has no tone, and no difficult sound like ji, qi, xi, zi, ci, si, zhi, chi, shi! Plus when I try to read a whole sentence with correct pronunciation and tone: it sounds quiet horrible, it just sounds wrong. Yet!! After feeling quiet OK with that first stage, the next steps are not getting easier: memorizing the character+pinyin+tone correctly! For each character! and then memorizing the grammar..
Well, it is not easy at all for me, especially who find it very difficult to remember new words; but honestly I enjoy it. So, slowly but sure.

The idea of pinyin is very interesting, at least for me. Chinese word is a character: 天 pinyin (with tone marking) Tiān. With this "Tiān": we know how to pronounce it and what is the tone. Pinyin is exact, for sure, used by everyone, and already being set up that if you know the basic: whoever read it will sound exact the same. It is also very useful as an input method to enter Chinese characters into computers.
Pinyin and tones are very important; but remember that sometimes exact same pinyin and tone mean different word!
  • ma can be 吗 (question particle for "yes-no" questions), or 么, etc,
  • mā can be 媽 (mother), or 蚂, etc,
  • má can be 麻 (hemp), or 蟆, etc,
  • mǎ can be 馬 (horse), or 犸, etc,
  • mà can be 罵 (scold), or 蚂, etc.

Burmese without formal Pinyin
Unlike Chinese with pinyin; there is no formal 'pinyin' for Burmese.
Without 'pinyin', how to spell a word varies among all Burmese practitioners. That is quite a problem for us. That is why it is very difficult to only self study.

ကျေးဇူးတင်ပါတယ်။ means thank you: various 'pinyin':
  • cè-zù tin-ba-deh (1: omniglot),
  • chei-zu tin-bar-te (2: myanmar.ca),
  • Kyeizu tin ba de (3: wikitravel),
  • kjay3 zu3 tin2 ba2 deare2 (4: asiapearltravels),
  • cè-zù tin-ba-deh (5: soas / Okell),
  • and so on.
Another notes in learning Burmese:
  • Burmese also has tones, Okell categorizes it into 5 "tones".
  • Combination of alphabets in a word: not necessarily how to spell the word
My recommendation (at least this is what I am going to do): Only learn spoken Burmese.
1. Learn from http://www.soas.ac.uk/bbe/ and Lonely Planet Phrasebook Burmese. Focus on one pronunciation guide (I am going to use Okell's), start from the audio first, then the PDF,
2. Get a tutor,
3. Talk to locals.

*I summarize what I learn in this website: http://www.bamalearnburmese.com/. Hope it is helpful.

Start Learning

Below are some links to self study online:
Currently there aren't many books to learn Burmese, but you can find some in book stores in Yangon. You can also buy them online on Amazon and Ebay etc. Books by John Okell are quite popular.

Finding Tutor:
  • Ask your local friends!
  • Check Facebook group "Burmese / Myanmar Language Learning"
  • Moe Myanmar Language Center: http://moemyanmar.com/
  • http://www.language-school-teachers.com/default.asp?selX6=97
Language course:
  • Global Enchanting Education Center
709, 7th Floor, Bayintnaung Tower (2B),
Kamaryut Township, Yangon
Tel: 09 5181316, 09 73127074
  • Bilingual Language Centre
No. 7 (Ground Floor), Thu Kha Mein Street
Queen Shin Saw Pu Quarter, San Chaung, Yangon
Tel: 09 500 6431 Email: nyalinphyu@gmail.com
  • Institut Français de Birmanie
340, Pyay Road, Sanchaung
Rangoun (Yangon)
Birmanie (Myanmar)
Tél: 95-1-536 900, 537 733, 537 122
  • The Yangon University of Foreign Languages offers one-year classes in Burmese to foreign students. Application must be made through your embassy in Myanmar, to be approved at government-level. If approved, your academic year will begin early December and finish at the end of September, with a 2-month break between semesters to do some travel and sightseeing.
Yangon University of Foreign Languages
119-131 University Avenue
Kamayut 11044, Yangon
Tel: 95-1-535985, 513193
Language Exchange Partner:
  • http://www.mylanguageexchange.com/city/Yangon__Burma%20(Myanmar).asp
  • http://www.italki.com/partners/burmese
  • http://www.conversationexchange.com/
Facebook links:
  • www.facebook.com/UFLYangon
  • www.facebook.com/institutfrancaisbirmanie
  • www.facebook.com/groups/BurmeseMyanmarLanguageLearning/ --> you can also find some very helpful PDF such as Learning Burmese - courses and resources 2014.pdf *where you can find list of teachers
  • www.facebook.com/burmeselesson
Online & Mobile App:
Burmese Phrasebook:
(1) http://www.soas.ac.uk/bbe/file53735.pdf (John Okell)
(2) http://www.myanmar.ca/language/thankyou.htm
(3) http://wikitravel.org/en/Burmese_phrasebook
(4) http://www.asiapearltravels.com/language/lesson2.php
(5) http://www.omniglot.com/language/phrases/burmese.php
  • http://mingalapar.com/burmese-language/
  • http://seap.einaudi.cornell.edu/system/files/Burmese%20Language%20Phrases%20with%20Audio_0.pdf
  • http://www.public.navy.mil/bupers-npc/career/language_culture/Documents/Language%20Learning%20Links%20v3.3.pdf :
  • DLI Language Survival Kits (ONLINE/SCORM/PDF/MP3): http://famdliflc.lingnet.org/index.aspx
  • Northern Illinois University Burmese Script, Basic and Intermediate Courses (ONLINE/AUDIO):
  • http://www.seasite.niu.edu/Burmese/language.htm
  • University of London Burmese By Ear Language Course (PDF/MP3): http://www.soas.ac.uk/bbe/
  • Learn101 Burmese Language Vocabulary and Grammar (ONLINE/PDF/MP3): http://learn101.org/burmese.php
  • Cornell University Burmese Language Short Phrasebook (PDF/AUDIO): http://seap.einaudi.cornell.edu/system/files/Burmese%20Language%20Phrases%20with%20Audio_0.pdf
  • Cornell University Burmese Script Tutor (ONLINE): http://lrc.cornell.edu/asian/courses/bu/materials/scriptanime
  • Cornell University Burmese Language Audio Exercises (ONLINE/AUDIO): http://lrc.cornell.edu/students/workbooks/burmese/Dictations
  • Department of Defense Burmese Language Familiarization (PDF): https://www.wuala.com/rick12/DLI%20courses?key=elOjzFi48Hxj
  • Burmese Script Chart From the Library of Congress (PDF): http://www.loc.gov/catdir/cpso/romanization/burmese.pdf
  • YouTube Burmese Language Lessons (ONLINE): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADThbZQuBiU&list=PL3CA77EEECB81C722
Online Burmese <-> English dictionary:
No 'pinyin' so far....
  • http://www.burmese-dictionary.org/
  • http://www.ornagai.com/
  • http://www.planet.com.mm/dictionary/index.cfm
  • http://www.sealang.net/burmese/dictionary.htm


Learning from Burmese by Ear
Writing Burmese Script on Mac Computers
Writing Burmese Script on Windows Computers


Last update: March 30, 2016
* = New

* To be able to see Burmese font, I download it here: https://code.google.com/p/zawgyi/wiki/MyanmarFontDownload

To see Myanmar font on Google Chrome, use this plug in:

We created website http://www.bamalearnburmese.com/ to learn Burmese from 0. It will include basic Burmese Script, audio, exercise, common phrases, mini dictionary, flash card app (click HERE to download the free offline Android app), other mobile apps (coming soon), and BAMAlearnburmese Flashcards on Quizlet. We will add new content and audio, so stay tuned!
Please send feedback / just say hi: hello@bamalearnburmese.com.

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