There’s a reason why “hello” is one of the first words we learn when studying a language. As it’s often the first word we utter in a conversation, so too is it a first step in learning a new language.

As part of our January challenge in which we learn to say “hello” in 25 different languages, here’s how to say it in Japanese, Lakota Sioux, Igbo, Spanish, Quechua and Hindi. Stay tuned next week to learn more.


A country where the ancient meets modern, Japan has lured travelers for generations. The Japanese language has a distinct mystery to it, largely thanks to its uniqueness. For English speakers, it’s a difficult one to master, but learning a few phrases can unlock a host of cultural and traditional experiences.

こんにちは (Konnichiwa) - ko-nee-chee-wah - One of the most familiar greetings in Japanese is actually more like “good afternoon.” You wouldn’t really use this before 11am or after around 6pm.

おはよう (Ohayou) - o-hai-yo - American learners are likely to hear something similar to the name of the Buckeye State (Ohio) in this informal greeting that means “Good morning.”

Cultural note - In Japan, people often greet each other by bowing. A bow can be anything from a simple nod of the head to a deep bow at the waist, depending on the level of formality or sign of respect.

Badlands National Park, which the Lakota people call Makȟóšiča (sometimes written as Mako Sica), in South Dakota © Mark Read / Lonely Planet

Lakota Sioux

Spoken by over 30,000 people throughout the US and Canada, Sioux (pronounced “soo”) is a language with three distinct dialects – Western Dakota, Eastern Dakota and Lakota. Speakers of the Lakota dialect, of which there are about 2000, primarily live in North and South Dakota.

Háu - how - This greeting is typically reserved for men, while women say “háŋ” (han).

Haú kola - how kolah - Adding "kola" to this phrase makes it a bit more formal. The phrase literally means “hello, [male] friend,” but it's reserved for situations in which men want to show the utmost respect and loyalty to each other.

Háŋ maske -  han mahshkay - A similar phrase used for women speaking to other women, denoting an almost sisterhood connection.

Cultural note - The generic "how" seen spoken by many Native Americans in Hollywood films is thought to have been taken from Lakota Sioux, but improperly imposed on non-Lakota characters.

A modern theatre against a blue sky
The National Arts Theatre in Lagos, Nigeria ©HorploadWorks Photography / 500px


Native to Eastern Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea, Igbo has several dialects and around 25 million speakers. Igbo is one of the national languages of Nigeria (alongside Hausa, Yoruba and several others).

Ǹdêwó - n-DEY-woah - This formal greeting can be used in many types of situations.

Cultural note - The term “Igbo” often means “community,” as in the expression “Igbo bia lere” (Community, come see!).

Two tango dancers against a background of a blue wall
Tango dancers, La Boca, Buenos Aires, Argentina ©Irene Sekulic/500px


One of the most widely spoken languages in the world, a good grasp of Spanish can come in handy in places as diverse as Spain and Argentina.

Hola - OH-lah - As far as greetings go, Spanish speakers aren’t usually a formal bunch, and this form of “hello” can be used in most situations.

Buenos días - BWEH-nohs DEE-ahs - Tack this on after a friendly “hola” and you have yourself a “Hello, good day.” This is commonly used after noon and before evening.

Pronunciation tip - There are some key differences in the way Spanish is spoken, depending on what part of the world you’re in. In Latin American Spanish, for example, the letters Z and C are pronounced with an S sound; in most of Spain, it’s a slight TH sound.

The Taj Mahal with the Yamuna River in the foreground
Taj Mahal, Agra, India © Jitendra Singh - Indian Travel Photographer/500px


With over half a billion native speakers in India alone, Hindi is the fourth most-spoken first language in the world. And as one of India’s official languages (the other is English), knowing a little Hindi will get you a long way throughout the Indian subcontinent.

नमस्ते (Namaste) - nah-mah-stay - This traditional greeting, usually said with palms together and fingers pointing upward, translates to “I bow to you.”

Cultural note - Due in part to British Colonialism of India through the 19th and 20th centuries, English has benefited from several loanwords from Hindi. It’s where words like jungle, pyjama, bungalow and shampoo come from.

Machu Picchu perched atop a mountain
Machu Picchu, Peru ©Martin Bisof/500px


South America’s most widely spoken pre-Colombian language, Quechua was once the main language family of the Inca Empire. Now around 8 million people speak Quechua throughout the Andes, and varieties of the language can be found in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia and Argentina.

Allillanchu - ah-yee-YAN-choo - This common greeting translates to “Hello, are you good?” A typical reply would be “Allillanmi” (I am fine).

Cultural note - In some parts of the Quechua-speaking world, the language is referred to as “Runa Simi," which means “The People’s Language.”

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