Learning some basic expressions and key words in the Armenian language can become pretty useful when travelling in Armenia. The majority of the population doesn’t speak foreign languages, that’s why these Armenian phrases to learn and tips can really help you avoid many issues and easily overcome the language barrier.
Intro to the Armenian language
Yes, generally Armenian is difficult, but this is pretty relative. It can be considered difficult to learn due to various historic and cultural reasons. After all, at some point it all comes down to what your native language is. You see, there are languages which seem not to have anything in common, but may have many similarities from the gender of nouns to sequence of tenses. In this sense, Armenian is difficult especially for those whose primary language significantly differs from it. What we will talk about is far from linguistics and closer to practicality. And if you want to take a look deeper into the linguistic aspects of the Armenian language, I’ve written an informative post here: What is the Armenian language like and is it difficult? Another funny way of learning Armenian words is to look at weird Armenian surnames.
Reading names and signs
The Republic of Armenia has a special law “About Language” which requires that all signboards, letterheads and labels shall be in the Armenian language. So, simply speaking, don’t be overwhelmed by the seemingly unfriendly approach to foreigners. The good news is, most, if not all signs and names, have their latin-letter equivalents, so you will barely find yourself at a place without a single familiar letter.
Moreover, almost all cafes, restaurants, fast food chains, banks in the capital city Yerevan and several tourist-friendly towns and communities all have important info in English. As a minimum you can expect to find one staff member that will help you out in case you need elaboration on something. But maybe this will encourage you to looking into learning Armenian – maybe consider one of those language apps I shortlisted for that. 🙂
A handy cheatsheet of Armenian phrases to learn
|Expression in English
|Pronunciation in Armenian*
|I need help
|Yes oknootian karik oonem
|Ես օգնության կարիք ունեմ
|Is this bus going to …. [destination]
|Ice avtoboose gnoom a [destination?]
|Այս ավտոբուսը գնու՞մ է [destination]
|How much is it?
|What is the price?
|How are you?
|I am well
|Yes love am
|Ես լավ եմ
|I don’t speak/I don’t know Armenian
|Yes chgeetem hayeren
|Ես չգիտեմ հայերեն
*I did my best to write these transcripts up in an English-freindly way. 🙂 In other words, I’ve done the hard work for you – if you see it saying “Yes love am” just pronounce it as if you were reading it in English. That way the final phrase is going to sound like the most proper Armenian pronunciation. And don’t forget the wierd word “achqi ulunk”. That’s the word for “blue eye” talisman for evil eye protection.
What other languages do locals speak?
The most popular foreign language among locals has so far been Russian. The Russian language is understood by all generations and fluently spoken by youth and older people.
As of today, English is the second foreign language in Armenia. It has been gaining popularity during recent years and is mostly spread among the youth. Other languages like French, Spanish and Italian are also taught extensively in Universities and private language schools, but still have a long way to get to English and Russian.
By the way, Armenia is home for ethnic minorities such as Greeks, Yazidis, Assyrians, Ukrainians and Kurdish people and they all speak their languages.
5 tips to get by without knowing the language
1. Learn or keep notes of the basic Armenian phrases
Believe me, you’ll feel so comfortable if you know basic expressions and words like: “Hello”, “Yes/No”, “Do you speak English/Russian/…?”, “How can I get to [the destination name]?; weekdays, etc”.
Armenian phrases may sometimes be difficult to learn, remember and pronounce. So visual representation is always easier to memorize. Look for visualized translations and charts.
There are many people on social media that make educative posters like this one for learning basic expressions and correctly pronouncing them easier. Locals will appreciate seeing you’ve made the effort.
2. Use a translator app
Fortunately and due to the technological advancements the language barrier is no longer a huge issue. Most widespread free translator apps have offline versions you can easily use. All you will have to do is download the app, choose Armenian and download the language pack for offline translation. With the pronouncing feature in place, you can just let the device speak out and not worry about being misunderstood.
Google Translate is the most versatile application with advanced functionalities. It’s free of charge, works on Apple & Android devices. It’s able to create written translations for words that you type, speak and even take a picture of.
3. Pre-download and use multilingual apps
Getting around can become a true nightmare if you don’t understand the local language. So, you should consider extensively using special apps that are designed to make your travel experience smoother even if you don’t know a single Armenian word to get by.
First and foremost, use offline maps. Google Maps has a special feature of downloading offline maps of different geographical areas. Another full-feature map app that you can download and install to use offline is Maps.me. Both maps are free of charge, work both on Apple and Android operating systems and ensure proper functionality when offline.
Install other helpful multilingual apps for food delivery, electronic payments, parking spot finder and other similar services. I’ve compiled a separate list of useful apps, so you don’t have to search for each of them separately.
4. Use gestures and mimic
Armenians are very emotional when it comes to using mimics and gestures when telling stories, showing directions and communicating. So, even if you’re pretty modest be ready to make use of them more often.
Expressing confusion, smiling at a stranger that showed the way, clarifying the route with hand gestures will help you feel more in tune with the vibe of locals. As a result, things become much easier to handle – trust me.
5. Do some slight research on the mentality and generic character of Armenians
This one is not a must-do, but an additional thing that will help dive deeper and understand the grounds and reasoning behind many things. These include any interaction between you and locals, from the hyper-hospitality of Armenians to the communication you may have with a taxi driver.
Believe me, having an insight into typical, usual features of locals will contribute to smoother relations with them. This tip will especially become helpful when you go on shopping and need bargaining skills. There’s a special post dedicated to Cheap shopping in Armenia I wrote. Make sure to check that out.
What’s the takeaway?
To sum this up, the conclusion is – getting by in Armenia without knowing the Armenian language is totally possible, you just need to make some effort and make use of these recommendations. Consider bookmarking the page to have quick access to the above-mentioned Armenian phrases to learn when you’re out and about exploring my homeland.
Keep in mind the tips I mentioned. Each of them has been tested hundreds of times and proved effective. And all of them together will make you adapt immediately and get super comfortable when traveling in Armenia. You can also start by learning some basic Armenian with the best apps available for English speakers. But first, decide if you want to learn Eastern or Western Armenians because they do have some differences. So, check out the posts and start your learning journey!
Oh, yes, you might also want to read about funny Armenian stereotypes to fully know the culture. Enjoy your stay and don’t forget to share your insights on how which of these tips really worked for you on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips.
Featured image credits: Armineaghayan on Wikimedia (CC)