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How to Emote in Different Languages

In different languages, there are, obviously, different ways of stating emotions - happy, sad, surprised, angry, pain etc. However, the way people express their emotions in non-verbal ways differs as well!

What do I mean by this? Well, in English, when we get hurt, we say “Ow!”, or “Ouch!” For other languages, though, this is not the case. Though words like “Ow”, “Ouch”, etc. are not generally considered formal words and are therefore not reflected in official dictionaries, people use them very much in daily life - even when speaking another language, these subconscious words of expression might carry over from their mother tongue, so you could theoretically differentiate people based on how they say “Ow.”

In this post, I’ll be talking a bit more about how different cultures express pain, surprise, and happiness.

01. PAIN

Unlike the English “Ow”, most languages’ expressions for pain start with an “A” when romanised, or with an “a” sound.

English - Ouch!

Mandarin Chinese - 哎呀 (aiya)

Japanese - 痛い (itai)

Korean - 아야 (a-ya)

French - Aïe!

Tagalog - Aray!

Spanish - ¡Ay!

You might notice that some of the languages have a similar-sounding way of expressing sudden pain, and also that they’re quite geographically close to each other! It’s theorised that interactions between the culture and people could have led to similarities in language and expression.


For expressions of surprise (which kind of overlap with both pain and happiness), I’ll be translating “Wow” into the same few languages as above!

English - Wow!

Mandarin Chinese - 哇 (wah)

Japanese -うわ~ (u-wah)

Korean - 우와 / 와우 (u-wah / wah-u)

French - Waouh!

Tagalog - A!

Spanish - ¡Caray!

I think I’m kind of noticing a trend here, which is that each expression has its own commonly occurring first letter, either A (for pain) or W (for surprise and being impressed)


Let’s see if this last one follows the trend too - we’ll be looking at how “Yay!” translates over to other languages, though I do have an inkling of where this is going. Do you?

English - Yay!

Mandarin Chinese - 耶 (yeh (pronounced like yay))

Japanese -やった (yatta)

Korean - 아싸! 오예! (assa / o-ye )

French - Youpi!

Tagalog - Grabe!

Spanish - ¡Hurra!

Well, it does seem that besides the recurring first letter of “Y”, there isn’t that much similarity between the proclamations of excitement and happiness between languages.

Additionally, although I speak the languages mentioned above, a difference in culture could lead to some mistranslations - there could be a better alternative to some of the terms mentioned, so if you can think of something that suits the context better (or differs based on context), do mention it in the comments below!



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