On a recent trip to the beautiful Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, Turkey I was impressed to see the stall owners switch effortlessly from one language to another as they greeted customers from different countries. Of course it takes a lot of of practice to get to that level but learning to say ‘Hello’ is a good start.

The languages were chosen based on those known by PocketCultures and our friends, plus some others that came into our heads. They are grouped according to their language families. Obviously the main drawback of this list is that it only has 20 languages, so if yours isn’t there please tell us about it in the comments!

Indo-European Languages

This diverse and widespread language group includes most European languages as well as some from further East.

1. BONJOUR – French

Where to say it:

Apart from France, Belgium and Switzerland this will also be understood in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and the sub-Saharan African countries of DR Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Guinea, Gabon and Mauritius.

2. HOLA – Spanish

Where to say it:

Outside Spain, Spanish, or Castillian as it is sometimes called, is the main language of all Central and South American countries apart from Brazil. It is also the second most common language in the USA, spoken by more than 34m Hispanic Americans.

3. HALLO / GUTEN TAG – German

Where to say it:

Germany, Austria and Switzerland

4. CIAO – Italian

Where to say it:


5. OLÀ – Portuguese

Where to say it:

Portugal and Brazil. Also spoken in former Portuguese colonies of Angola, Mozambique, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Macau.

6. NAMASTE – Hindi

Where to say it:

Northern India and Nepal. Hindi is one of the official languages of India, but is spoken as native language by only 41% of the population. Some people classify Hindi as the same language as Urdu, which is spoken in Pakistan.

7. SALAAM – Persian (Farsi)

Where to say it:

Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan. Also parts of Uzbekistan and Bahrain. NB. Persian is sometimes called Farsi. That’s the local name for Persian as it is spoken in Iran.

8. ZDRAS-TVUY-TE – Russian

Where to say it:

Russia, and as a first or second language in the Eastern European, Caucasian and Central Asian countries of the former USSR. Kazakhstan in particular has large numbers of ethnic Russians who speak Russian rather than Kazakh.

Ural-Altaic Languages

A controversial language family. Experts do not agree on which language family Japanese belongs to. We included it here in the Ural-Altaic family, but some linguists think it belongs better in the Austronesian family whilst others think it canot be classified. Likewise, there is some disagreement on whether Turkish and Korean belong to this group as well.


Where to say it:

Japanese is spoken pretty much only in Japan. The greetings above are used in the morning, around midday and in the evening respectively.

10. AHN-YOUNG-HA-SE-YO – Korean

Where to say it:

North and South Korea.

11. MERHABA – Turkish

Where to say it:

Turkish is spoken in Turkey and Cyprus. Also the languages spoken in Azerbeijan and parts of Iran, Georgia and the Balkans are very similar to Turkish.

12. SAIN BAINUU- Mongolian

Where to say it:

Mongolia. Mongolian speakers also live in some parts of Russia, China (Inner Mongolia) and Kyrgyzstan.

13. SALEMETSIZ BE? – Kazakh

Where to say it:

Almost 7 million of the world’s 10 million Kazakh speakers live in Kazakhstan. The rest are divided between Xinxiang province in China, Uzbekistan, Russia, Mongolia, Turkmenistan, Ukraine and Tajikistan. As in Mandarin, the literal translation of this greeting is ‘how are you?’

14. SZIA – Hungarian

Where to say it:

Mostly in Hungary, although parts of Austria and the Balkans have Hungarian speakers.

Afro-Asiatic Languages

These languages are spoken in North Africa and include the Berber languages spoken by desert nomads of the Sahara.

15. MARHABA – Arabic

Where to say it:

Arabic in various dialects is spoken throughout North Africa and the Middle East. It is a main language in the following countries: Algeria, Bahrain, Chad, Egypt, Eritrea, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, UAE, Western Sahara, Yemen


Where to say it:

Hausa is the native language of inhabitants of Niger and Northern Nigeria, but it is also used as lingua franca in many countries of West and Central Africa.

Niger-Congo Languages

Most African languages belong to this group, which may be the largest in the world in terms of distinct languages.

17. JAMBO / HABARI – Swahili

Where to say it:

Swahili has between 5 and 10 million native speakers who mainly live in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya. But it is used as a lingua franca for most of East Africa and second language speakers swell the ranks to a massive 80 million!

Sino Tibetan Languages

Like its name suggests, this family groups the languages of China and Tibet.

18. NI HAU – Mandarin

Where to say it:

Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world – it is spoken by at least 50% of China’s 1.3bn population.

19. NAY HOH – Cantonese (Yue)

Where to say it:

Southern China (especially Guangdong province), Hong Kong and Macau

Austronesian Languages

Mostly spoken on the islands of Southeast Asia and the Pacific, only a few Austronesian languages are spoken on mainland Asia.

20. HALO – Bahasa Indonesia

Where to say it:

Although there are over 300 different dialects spoken in Indonesia, Bahasa Indonesia is spoken by much of the population as a second language. It is also very similar to the Malay language of Malaysia.

So, now you can start a conversation in at least 20 countries! Now all you need is someone to talk to…

Is your language missing? Leave a comment and let us know.

Read More:
More about different world language families
The most difficult languages in the world
The Top 20 Languages of the World

About the author

Lucy is English and first ventured out of the UK she was 19. Since then she has lived in 4 different countries and tried to see as much of the world as possible. She loves learning languages, learning about different cultures and hearing different points of view.