With or without kids, travel is best when you at least try your hand at the local language. Granted, it’s getting tougher in many parts of the world. English has taken over many parts of the globe!
But still, even if you can’t whip out full sentences in another language, using a word or two can go a long way toward showing that you’re open to other cultures and that you want to make an effort to connect. Even better, it can teach your kids to be open to other cultures – and it will probably get them a few smiles in return, which always helps make traveling less scary.
Below, you’ll find a list of how to say hello in 25 different languages, as well as some facts about each language or country…because what kid doesn’t enjoy a little extra trivia?
Want to keep the language learning after this? Don’t miss our piece on how to say thank you in 25 languages!
Arabic: Marhaban (MARR-hah-bah) or Salam (sah-LAHM)
Many languages have many ways to say hello. Arabic is one such language. These are two ways to say hello, but there are many others you can learn if you’re traveling to an Arabic speaking country. Marhaban is fairly casual and most commonly used between non-religious people, while Salam is also pretty casual and usually used with people you know well (it’s a shortened form of as-salam alaykom, which means peace be with you).
Cantonese: Neih hou (nah-hoh)
Cantonese is another Chinese language, and is spoken in Southern China, Hong Kong and Macau.
Catalan is spoken in Spain, Andorra and parts of France. Some people might tell you that Catalan is a dialect of Spanish, but it’s not. It’s a unique language that spun off of Latin, just like Spanish, French and Italian did. In fact, its pronunciation is closer to French and Italian than to Spanish (but obviously hola is pretty similar to Spanish).
Danish: Hallo (hah-low) or hej (hi)
Danish is spoken in Denmark and some parts of Greenland. It’s very close to other Scandinavian languages, like Norwegian and Swedish. In fact, in written form, Danish and Norwegian are so close that most native speakers can understand either, but in spoken form, the pronunciations are different so it’s tougher.
Dutch: Hoi (pronounced hoy and means “hi”), Hallo (pronounced hah-low and means hello)
Dutch is spoken in the Netherlands, but so is English. You probably will never need to know Dutch if you visit, but it’s still fun to try, especially since Dutch words often don’t look anything like how they’re pronounced.
Persian: Salam (sah-lahm)
Persian is spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, as well as parts of Uzbekistan and Bahrain. You’ll also hear Persian called Farsi, Dari or Tajik.
French: Bonjour (bohn-zjoor…which might not help you much, but you can also hear how it’s said here) or Salut (pronounced sah-loo and it means just hi)
Bonjour means “good day,” but is used to say hello. At the end of the day, you can also say bonsoir, which is good evening. French is also spoken in Belgium, Switzerland, Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Guinea, Gabon and Mauritius.
German: Guten Tag (goo-ten tahg)
Guten tag means “good day,” and like French you can also change this greeting by time of day. In the morning, you can say guten morgen to say good morning. It’s also common to say hallo. You’ll find German in Germany, Austria and parts of Switzerland.
Greek: Yasou (ya-SOO)
Greek is written using a different alphabet than English, so street, store and other signs around the places you visit will be tough to read. The alphabet looks similar to English, but there are a few letters that will throw you for a loop – the Greek R looks like a P, for example.
Hindi: Namaste (nah-mas-tay)
Hindi doesn’t actually have one simple way to say hello and how they say it may vary by region and religion. In fact, most Hindi speakers will use “hello” in many situations. But namaste is understood as well and a great way to greet someone if you’d like to use Hindi instead of English.
Icelandic: Hallo (HAH-low) or Góðan dag (go-han dah)
Icelandic only has 320,000 speakers, and most of them are in Iceland. Unlike most languages that have changed over time, Icelandic is pretty much unchanged since it became a language in the 9th century (think about if English speakers could still read Shakespeare or Chaucer and have it sound normal…and then to explain that to your kids, bust out some Chaucer for a good night of family fun!)
Italian: Ciao (chow)
Italian is spoken in Italy, which is home to the ancient city of Rome. Rome was founded almost 3,000 years ago! And you can still see buildings in ruins almost that old today.
Japanese: Konnichiwa (cone-ee-chee-wa)
Japan is a country made up of 6,800 islands, but most of them are small and most people live on the main island where Tokyo is located. Japan has more old people than other countries on average, and there are more than 50,000 people who live here who are over 100! And there are more pets that kids in Japan, too.
Korean: Ahnyong haseyo (ahn-yo ha-say-yoh)
Korean has other ways to say hello depending on the level of respect you wish to give the person you’re talking to. Ahnyong haseyo is common and won’t offend anyone, though.
Latin: Salve (sahl-way)
Latin is an ancient language that you won’t hear spoken too many places, but you will see it written in some books or ancient places like Rome. The writer of this post minored in Latin in college so she may be biased on its importance, but she’s pretty sure you need to know how to say hello.
Mandarin: Ni hao (nee-how)
Mandarin is the spoken by more people in the world than any other language! It’s spoken by about half the population of China, which has 1.3 billion people living in it.
Norwegian: Hallo (hah-low)
Norwegian is very similar to Swedish and speakers of both languages can often understand each other. Norway is a Scandinavian country that invented skiing and has an interesting law called the Right to Roam, which allows anyone to camp in open country and lowlands for up to 48 hours without permission from the landowner.
Portuguese: Olá (oh-la)
Most surfing records have been set in Portugal due to its amazing surf, and most cork comes from Portugal as the cork tree is native to Portugal.
Russian: Zdravstvuyte (ZDRA-stvooy-te…you’ll probably need to work on this one, but here’s some help)
The largest cat in the world is from Russia – the Siberian tiger – and the country is home to more than 100,000 rivers.
Spanish: Hola (oh-la)
More than 400 million people speak Spanish (second only to Chinese)! It’s spoken not only in Spain, but also in Mexico, many parts of the US, and many countries in Central and South America.
Swahili: Jambo (jahm-bo)
Swahili is spoken in Kenya, Tanzania, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, parts of Uganda and in some other African countries. Swahili is said to be easier to learn and one reason for this is that words are pronounced just as they’re written.
Swedish: Hej (hey) or hallå (hah-low)
Swedish has the same letters as the English alphabet as well as three extra letters. So when you see things like that A in hallå with the little circle floating above it, that’s not an accent mark. That’s a different letter with a different sound than the English A.
Thai: Sawasdee (sah-wah-dee)
To be more formal about how you say hello in Thai, you’ll need to add what’s called a participle onto the end of it. Women say “sawasdee kha” (and the kha is drawn out like kaaaaa) and men say “sawasdee khrap” (which looks like crap, but is often said more like cap).
Turkish: Merhaba (MEHR-hah-bah)
Turkey is a historic and ancient country that serves as the crossroads between Europe and Asia. It’s also a country with a few surprises, not the least of which is that a popular dessert here is tavuk gogsu – chicken breast pudding, which is made from chicken, milk, sugar and cinnamon…allegedly it’s delicious. Let me know if your kids actually try it.
Vietnamese: Xin Chào (zeen chow)
Vietnam is a country where travelers need to be careful with money. That’s because $1 equals more than 20,000 Vietnam dong! So you could literally spend a million dong or more during your travels, but that means it’s also easy to forget a zero or two when you’re converting because the numbers seem so different to foreigners.