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How To Answer The Phone In Different Languages

Saying “Hello?” when answering the phone is pretty much an automatic reflex, but where did the word actually come from?

Saying “Hello?” when answering the phone is pretty much an automatic reflex, but why that word and not another, and why do so many languages use some version of “hello” as a telephone greeting? If you think that early telephone users simply decided to answer the phone the same way they greeted each other in person, you’ve actually got it backwards. That’s right, “hello” was a phone greeting before it was commonly used in person.

When the telephone was still a new invention, a debate raged about what people should say when they picked up this newfangled gadget. Alexander Graham Bell, who patented his design for the telephone in 1876, expected people to say “Ahoy!” when they picked up the phone. That was a bit too nautical for most early adopters, and it never caught on. In 1877 Thomas Edison suggested the word that finally stuck, but at the time “hello” (or “hullo”) didn’t yet mean “hi”. It was more of an exclamation used to attract attention, like, “Hello! Over here!” Once the first phonebooks standardized the usage in their “how-to” sections, “hello” caught on as a standard greeting, on and off the phone.

Internationally, the word “hello” is so closely associated with answering the phone that many languages use a derivative of it. We’ve collected phone greetings in all 14 Babbel languages, and thanks to James Chapman, dedicated illustrator of onomatopoeia, we’ve also included the word for a telephone’s ringing sound in all these languages.

English – Hello? phone sound – ring ring

Italian – Pronto? phone sound – drin drin

Turkish – Alo? phone sound –zir zir

Polish – Tak, słucham? phone sound – dzyń dzyń

Indonesian – Halo? phone sound – kring kring

Russian – Алло? phone sound – дзынь

French – Allô ? phone sound – dring dring

German – Hallo? phone sound – klingeling

Spanish – ¿Diga? phone sound – rin rin

Portuguese – Alô? phone sound – trim trim

Danish – Det’ + name phone sound – dingeling

Norwegian – Hallo phone sound – ring ring

Swedish – Hallå? phone sound – ring ring

Dutch – Met + name phone sound – tring tring

And how did the first phonebooks recommend people end their telephone conversations? With a simple, “That is all.”

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