Learning How To Say Thanks In A Foreign Language

One of the simplest things I do in foreign languages also happens to be the one that people seem to find most impressive: simply saying "thanks". The trick is, doing it in their language.

I recently went to lunch with several coworkers, and I recognized the waitress's accent as Romanian, so when she brought out our food, I told her mulţumesc — Romanian for "thank you".

It's just one word, and I really don't know much more than that in Romanian. But that one word is priceless, because I not only got a warm smile and great service from our waitress, but I also had several coworkers saying, "I don't believe it. You're like a walking encyclopedia of languages!"

Sure, it feels good to get that kind of compliment from my coworkers — being respected where you work is important — but that's not why I do it.

I do this because words in your native language naturally carry a deeper meaning. Hearing "gracias" is less meaningful to me than hearing "thank you", and I'm sure it's the same for anyone else.

But what's more, there are so many people who have come here to America (or wherever you're reading this) and left behind their family and their country and their culture. Even if I can only do it in a word or two, I would like to make people feel more at home. I find the reaction I get from a well-placed salamat, obrigado or dziękuję to be worth far more than the few minutes it took me to learn those words.

If you'd like to get smiles from strangers and maybe a little extra recognition from your colleagues, one easy way is to learn some useful ways to say thanks.

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Author: Yearlyglot
I'll lead you through a 12 month journey from knowing absolutely nothing about a language to having professional fluency.

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  • Absolutely agreed. This is one of those very few phrases I tell people you NEED to know at a bare minimum if you're traveling to a country for anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks (any longer than that and you really should consider a serious study of the language)--you MUST know:
    "Thank you"
    "Excuse me"
    "How are you?"
    "I'm fine"
    "Help me"
    "I'm injured"
    and...most important of all... by far...drumroll please...
    "Do you speak English???" :D
    P.S. Ever had that backfire on you where you tried to guess their language and got it wrong, such as mistaking an Ukranian accent in English for a Russian one or mistaking a Brazilian for a Spanish-speaker? That's the only possible downside to this I see.

  • yes, i was also thinking about this possibility of misguessing :) it's a nice trick to say thanks (or any other word) in their language, but i believe sometimes it might be risky to rely just on their accent of english and not their language itself.

  • Understanding accents is really a matter of understanding languages. I don't "guess". When you a language and its pronunciation rules, you know the sounds -- that language's "signature", if you will. And when you actually know some of the language, it's even easier. For example, understanding that Slavic languages have no articles makes it easier to rule out Romanian if the speaker says things like "Here, please, I bring you bread."Furthermore, unlike life here in America, most of the world tends to have a "look" that matches their ethnicity. Romanians have recognizable features every bit as much as I can look at a person and tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, and Philipino. Again, I'm not guessing, I'm reading the clues in front of me.(Incidentally, Ukrainians and Russians both understand "Spa-SEE-ba".)

  • I haven't had it misfire very many times... perhaps less than 5 times ever.But when you guess wrong, you still have two things in your favor:
    1) you're still saying thanks, and if they recognize that, they're not going to be offended, and
    2) if you guess wrong, you're probably just going to say something they don't understand anyway, so if they ask "What?" You just answer, "I just said thanks".

  • as for the first point, offended probably not, but if i was the one whom someone thanks using the wrong language, i would either:
    1. think that they are speakers of that language themselves; or if it was clear that they're not, then
    2. think to myself that they are quite dumb or even a bit arrogant to say that (i mean, if they don't know it well enough, they shouldn't pretend of being too smart).however, since you're that good at identifying accents and you're not only guessing but figuring it out in a more confident way, i'm not talking about you personally. these were just my thoughts about a possible situation in general :)

  • "I do this because words in your native language naturally carry a deeper meaning." I respectfully disagree. Speaking from personal experience, I think it is possible to be come fluent a non-native born in a second language to feel the other language just as deeply as your native language. I have felt my cheeks burn with embarrassment, felt dizzy with pride, and scared by what people have told me in a language I have simply learned. (Even if I have learned it for a good percent of my life.)

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