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Words to 'WOW' when you're holidaying in Sri Lanka

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As a largely Sinhalese and Tamil speaking country, traveling to Sri Lanka can be that much engaging and impactful if you know the lingo. While Sri Lankans are an expressive group of islanders and most have some knowledge of English, especially service providers, as a tourist knowing small but important words in these languages will help you make key connections and networks that will add value to your stay.

Below is our list of words that will wow!


These two greetings, in Sinhalese and Tamil respectively have a similar meeting. Ayubowan wishes good health an Vannakkam has spiritual undertones and denote respect. These terms depending on where you are in the country can signal your openness to the locals. While these terms are not used amongst the locals, it is completely acceptable by a visitor to the country to begin or end a conversation.

Bohoma Isthuthi

This in Sinhalese basically means 'thank you very much'. This gratitude goes a long way as you make your way through the country, interacting with vendors, drivers, hotel staff and friends.


Basically meaning yes and no respectively, these simple words will help you agree or disagree with food choices, prices and other services. Your tone will be important here, saying no or naha should be conversational at best. While a stronger 'epa' is a better way to communicate displeasure if the requirement arises.


Hari or ok is widely used to show agreement, and is different from the word 'ow'. For example, do you want a coffee? Would require an 'ow' but a question like 'Rs. 1000 to take you Colombo?' should be answered with 'hari'. The words Hari connotes a strong sense of mutual agreement, while 'ow' means one's consent.

The head shake

Locals often communicate with gestures. A very cultural gesture is the head shake. Sri Lankans will shake their heads from side to side as a way to communicate agreement or 'hari', while foreigners associate that movement with disagreement. Understanding this often hilariously confusing but incredibly local gesture will allow you to communicate your requirement with a simple movement. Remember what seems like a no means yes, this one time when traveling in Sri Lanka.

Above all keep and open heart and mind, despite the language 'barriers', Sri Lankan's are incredibly hospitable and have a deep understanding of people. A few gestures and words will help you truly integrate in to the communities you visit, if your intention is to connect.

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