You may not be able to speak the language fluently in every country that you visit, but knowing how to at least say hello will get your conversations started on the right foot. Not only is it a good way to show respect for the local people and customs, it's also the first step to developing a deeper appreciate for the culture as a whole.
So far, as part of our January challenge, we've learned to say hello in Japanese, Lakota Sioux, Igbo, Spanish, Hindi and Quechua. Now, here’s how to say it in Indonesian, Italian, Pashto, Burmese, Swedish and Vietnamese. Stay tuned next week to learn more.
A Sino-Tibetan language from the Tibeto-Burman branch of the tree, Burmese is the mother tongue of Myanmar, though the country’s minority ethnic groups often speak it as a second language after their own.
မင်္ဂလာပါ (mingalaba) ming-guh-lah-ba - Use this formal “hello” when you need to greet someone politely. It’s appropriate any time of day.
နေကောင်းလား (nei kaung la) nay-cown-lah - Technically this means, “how are you?” but it’s often used as an informal greeting as well.
Usage tip: Burmese is a tonal language, so factors like pitch and vowel emphasis can impact meaning. As it's the national language of Myanmar, it's spoken and written across the country in same way, but regional pronunciations of some words and phrases may vary.
With the fourth-largest population in the world, Indonesia is home to hundreds of ethnic groups speaking more than 700 languages, including English, Dutch, and local dialects like Javanese. But Indonesian (or Bahasa Indonesia) is the official tongue, used in music, media, and literature – not to mention conversation – across the archipelago.
Halo - HAH-lo - This casual greeting means “hi” or “hello” and should be reserved for friends and family.
Selamat pagi - suh-LAH-mat PAH-ghee - Use this before 11:00 a.m. or noon to say good morning.
Selamat siang - suh-LAH-mat see-AHNG - This greeting, meaning “good day,” is the one to use until 3:00 or 4:00 p.m.
Selamat sore - suh-LAH-mat sore-AY - In the hours before sunset, use this to say good afternoon.
Selamat malam - suh-LAH-mat mah-lahm - After the sun goes down, use this to say “good evening.”
Cultural note: Indonesia and Malaysia are close neighbors, and minus the odd word or phrase, their languages are almost identical, much like American and British English.
More than 96 million people visit Italy each year, far outnumbering the 60 million or so that reside in the Bel Paese full-time. Given the influence of tourism in the country, English is widely spoken, but you’ll never go amiss with an Italian phrase or two in your back pocket.
Ciao - chow - Meaning both hello and goodbye, this might be the most familiar foreign greeting out there. But don’t go overboard – in Italy, ciao is only appropriate for informal settings, so save it for conversations with friends, family, and small-fry.
Salve - SAL-vey - This is the one you want for a casual “hi” or “bye.”
Buongiorno - bwon-JOUR-no - Use this common greeting for good morning and its counterpart, buonasera (BWO-na-SEY-ra), for goodnight.
Cultural note: While the vast majority of Italians speak Italian, there are two geographical pockets with a second official language – in the Aosta Valley, it's French, and in the Trentino-Alto Adige region, German – and a few with unofficial second languages as well. Greek is frequently spoken in parts of Calabria and Apulia, you’ll hear Slovene around Trieste and Gorizia, and there’s such a sizable Albanian expat community in one particular corner of Sicily that the language even appears on the road signs.
One of Afghanistan’s two official languages and common in Pakistan as well as parts of Iran, Tajikistan, and the United Arab Emirates, Unesco estimates that Pashto is spoken by some 45 to 55 million people worldwide. The language is written in modified Arabic script and has three main dialects: Northern and Central Pashto are mostly spoken in Pakistan, while Southern Pashto is standard in Afghanistan.
السلام وعلیکم (asalām o alaykom) - ah-sah-lahm-oh ah-lay-koom - Translating to “peace be upon you,” this formal hello is widely used across the Arabic speaking world as well. It's best for greeting a group of individuals or when meeting someone for the first time. It's also a polite way to show respect to your elders. To return the greeting, say wālaykom asalām (wah-lay-koom ah-sah-lahm).
سلام علیکم (salāmā laykom) - sah-lahm ah-lay-koom - This is a more colloquial hello; the appropriate response is wālaykom salām.
سلام (salām) sah-lahm - A casual, everyday greeting for friends and coworkers; reply with a simple wālaykom.
Culture tip: It’s not typically customary for men and women outside of the same family to shake hands while greeting each other verbally, but in some areas, those strictures are beginning to loosen a bit. Still, to be on the safe side, men should only extend a hand to other men; when greeting women, the proper move is to place a hand over the heart instead of initiating physical contact.
Spoken by nearly 10 million people, 85 percent of whom live in Sweden, Swedish is the main language of Sweden, though the country’s five national minority languages – Finnish, Sámi, Meänkieli, Romani Chib, and Yiddish – are also protected by law. Svenska, as it's also known, is one of two official languages Finland, where it's spoken by 5.2 percent of the population.
Hej - hey - There are more formal Swedish greetings and more casual ones too, but hej is an equal-opportunity way to say hello.
Usage tip: In a good mood? Double up and say “hej hej” to convey that you're glad to see someone, especially if you're feeling friendly.
An Austroasiatic language from the Mon-Khmer family, Vietnamese is the mother tongue of Vietnam. English is common as a second language, though French, Chinese, and Khmer speakers are also represented within the country’s borders.
Xin chào - sin chow - There are variations for elders and young kids as well as people you’re close with and those who demand more respect, but this greeting meaning “hi” or “hello” otherwise covers the bases. It’s suitable any time of the day.
Usage note: In many languages, diacritics denote proper pronunciation, but in Vietnamese dialects, they indicate tone of voice, lending different meanings to words that are otherwise identical. Vietnamese has six different tones, five with tone marks and one neutral tone without a mark.
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Lonely Planet 2021 Challenge #1: How to say “hello” in Japanese, Lakota Sioux, Igbo, Spanish, Hindi and Quechua
The Lonely Planet 2021 Challenge: Learn to say hello in 25 different languages
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