How To Answer The Phone In Different Languages

Saying “Hello?” when answering the phone is pretty much an automatic reflex, but where did this convention actually come from?
July 24, 2020
How To Answer The Phone In Different Languages

Most of us say “Hello?” when we pick up the phone without a second thought, but why that word and not another, and why do so many languages use some version of “hello” as a telephone greeting? The Earth wasn’t created with telephone technology already in place, and we weren’t born knowing how to answer the phone. 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. And how did the first phonebooks recommend people end their telephone conversations? With a simple, “That is all.”

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.

How To Answer The Phone In 14 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? (allo?)
phone sound – дзынь (dzin’)

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

how to answer the phone infographic

So are you ready to answer the phone in 14 different languages? Take our fun quiz and find out.

Want to learn how to finish the conversation?
Author Headshot
John-Erik Jordan
John-Erik was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a suburb named after Tarzan (yes, really). He's lived in Berlin since 2009 and has been Babbel Magazine's managing editor since 2015. Most of his free time is taken up by unhealthy obsessions with science fiction, tabletop games and the Dodgers.
John-Erik was born in Los Angeles and grew up in a suburb named after Tarzan (yes, really). He's lived in Berlin since 2009 and has been Babbel Magazine's managing editor since 2015. Most of his free time is taken up by unhealthy obsessions with science fiction, tabletop games and the Dodgers.

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