As a language learner, you are also learning a new culture.
And manners and etiquette differ from culture to culture.
For example, you’ll need to alter your table manners in China or Japan and give strong handshakes in Europe.
But some of the most important etiquette you can learn is how to show proper gratitude. And the simplest way to show it is with a sincere “thank you.”
How to Say Thank You in 20 Different Languages
If you’re embarking on an international adventure—or if you just want to be prepared to show gratitude to anyone you meet in life—it’s good to learn how to say “thank you” in different languages.
1. Arabic: شكرا (shukraan)
While this is the more general “thank you” in standard Arabic, you can get a little more specific and say شكرًا لك (shukraan lak) when talking to a male or شكرًا لكي (shukraan laki) when talking to a female. It’s not a necessity to add those words, but it’s a nice touch.
2. Mandarin: 谢谢 (xiéxié)
This is the main way to say “thank you,” but you can also use 多谢 (duōxiè), which is the equivalent of “thanks a lot,” to amplify the gratitude.
3. French: Merci
Short and sweet is the basic French word for thanks, merci. You may hear people thank one another with merci mille fois, which equates to “a thousand thanks.”
4. German: Danke
If someone offers you something, it’s better to use bitte when accepting. Danke, in that context, may give off the impression that you’re declining the offer.
5. Italian: Grazie
You can add emphasis by saying grazie mille, but be warned that this can sometimes be perceived as sarcasm!
6. Japanese: ありがとう (arigatou)
Use this “thank you” with family and friends, but not with someone of a higher social status, like your teacher or your boss. For them, you may use the slightly more polite ありがとうございますいます (arigatou gozaimasu).
7. Korean: 고마워 (gomawo)
Use this informally. To show respect to strangers or those of a higher status, add 요 (yo) to the end. With someone of a higher social status, you’ll be safer using 감사합니다 (gamsahabnida) which is much more respectful.
8. Portuguese: Obrigado
Obrigado is used when spoken by a man, while women use obrigada. Choose the proper word ending according to your own gender!
9. Russian: Cпасибо (spasibo)
You may also use Большое спасибо (bolshoe spasibo) or, when trying to show immense gratitude, огромное спасибо (ogromnoye spasibo).
10. Spanish: Gracias
It seems that most of the world’s inhabitants are already familiar with the Spanish word for “thank you,” gracias. There’s also muchas gracias or muchísimas gracias for even more emphasis.
11. Cantonese: 唔該 (m̀h gōi)
You generally use this when thanking someone for an act or service, while 多謝 (dòjeh) is used to thank someone for a gift or compliment.
12. Dutch: Dank je
If speaking formally, it’s better to use dank u wel.
13. Finnish: Kiitos
This is the most common way of thanking someone, but you can use kiitos paljon in cases where you’re extremely grateful to someone.
14. Greek: ευχαριστώ (efcharistó)
It’s also acceptable to pat your chest with one hand as a small gesture conveying your thanks.
15. Hindi: धन्यवाद (dhanyavaad)
This is quite a formal way of thanking someone. You can use शुक्रिया (shukriya) which is informal. Although as mentioned earlier in our discussion of gratitude in Indian culture, we don’t recommend using either of these liberally.
16. Hawaiian: Mahalo
You may choose to say mahalo nui loa, which means “thank you very much.” This word has a rich an interesting history worth reading about!
17. Icelandic: Takk
This is a common way of saying “thank you,” but you may also use Þakka þér fyrir, which means “thank you very much.”
18. Polish: Dziękuję Ci
You can also use a simple dzięki (thanks) or dziękuję bardzo, the latter of which means, “thank you very much”
19. Romanian: Mulţumesc
This is common, but you can also use îți mulțumesc which is informal.
20. Swedish: Tack
It’s quite common to say tackar (thanking) or tack så mycket (thanks so much), the latter of which is just slightly more formal but still quite casual.
How to Express Your Gratitude Anywhere in the World
When someone does something for you, it’s always good to show them that you appreciate it. Even if it’s not a big deal, a little gratitude is just polite.
So, besides saying “thank you”, what’s the best way to express gratitude? There are a lot of acceptable ways to do it.
One universally-shared custom is the act of offering gifts. Though be careful with this: you have to consider what is appropriate when giving gifts, especially since this custom varies from place to place.
For example, if you visit Japan, you should be aware that in their culture, there are different levels of gifts and manners to keep in mind when receiving one. It is customary to bow as you accept a gift using both hands.
If you look at dining etiquette all over the world, you’ll find that showing appreciation for a meal is wildly different from place to place. In most Western cultures, it’s appropriate to thank the host (or chef in some cases) for a lovely meal.
But in China and Japan, they’ll see your appreciation when you slurp your meal up or burp at the end as an expression of real satisfaction and gratitude.
Also in China, thanking people for every small gesture of kindness can be taken as a sign that you’re being disingenuous. It can also look like you’re trying to establish the need for formalities, which can make you appear unfriendly. In a way, the less traditionally polite you are, the friendlier you’ll appear.
That applies in India as well, where a simple “thank you” can actually be a bit offensive. The reason for this is that gratitude is expected. That is to say, reciprocation is generally presumed, and therefore there’s no need to actually say “thank you.”
What can you do when you’ve just landed in a new country and you only have the manners you were raised with? Pay close attention to what the locals do and try to figure out what the courteous customs are. If that doesn’t work for you, befriend a local and ask them about customs directly.
You might also find, as a language learner, that researching a culture will aid you in your language learning experience.
One effective (and entertaining) way to understand foreign cultures is by engaging with media from that culture. Not only are you learning the language, but you’re learning about customs, gestures, and more.
There you have it! You’re now ready to receive all manner of nice things and express your appreciation and gratitude no matter where you are.
Just remember that it’s not always about what you say, but what you do that matters and the intent behind it.
It’s the thought that counts!