There are some things you just won’t learn in school. Every travel blogger and their monkey’s uncle knows that getting out and exploring the world will teach you things that even 12 years of mandatory education (at least in the US) can’t. I’ve certainly been learning that ever since I arrived in Spain this past fall, and every destination along the way has held its own lesson as well.
Some of my favorite things to learn involve language. I’ve gotten lots of compliments on my Spanish here, and I truly believe that it’s due to the fact that I’m totally immersed in the language and using it every single day. I like to tell people that I’ve learned more in the nearly eight months I’ve spent in Spain than in eight years of studying Spanish at school. Not to discredit my Spanish teachers – most of them were awesome (fun fact: I actually hated my very first Spanish class freshman year of high school, but that’s a story for another post). And I’d be lying if I said those classes didn’t help me – some, like Hispanic Linguistics, did wonders in helping me get rid of my guiri accent and sound more authentic.
One of the most enjoyable parts about continuing to learn Spanish in Spain is learning words and expressions that you won’t find in your average American textbook. These are the little bits of language that you can only pick up from having a conversation with your friends in the car on the way to the beach, or by listening to your coworkers chatting in the teachers’ lounge. Drop one of these into your next Spanish conversation and you’ll sound like a pro in no time.
Note: these words and expressions are all based on peninsular (Spain) Spanish and I’m drawing particularly from my experience in Andalucia. Also, this is my first attempt at making graphics! I never claimed to be a professional.
Eres un sol
Literal translation: You are a sun
Used to mean: You’re the best!, you’re a dear, you’re a lifesaver
If you’re looking for a cute way to show appreciation to a friend or loved one, just tell them they’re a sun. Kind of cute and poetic in a way, if you think about it. Another similar one is “Eres un cielo” (you are a sky) – same thing.
No se ve ni torta
Literal translation: I/you/whoever can’t see cake
Used to mean: I/you/whoever can’t see sh*t
The first person I heard use this was driving and couldn’t see because the sun was so bright. It’s basically a more polite, cutesy way of saying “I can’t see sh*t.” Because who doesn’t love cake?
Literal translation: None!
Used to mean: A person who is always cold, gets cold easily, is sensitive to cold weather, you name it.
This is one word I wish existed in English because I am one. I’m the person shivering when everyone else feels peachy keen, and the one who feels nice and comfortable while other people are like “Ay, ¡qué calor!” and ask someone to turn off the heat. *sighs and puts on jacket*
Literal translation: None, unless you break it down into the words sobre (about) and mesa (table)
Used to mean: The time spent conversing at the table following a meal
Spanish mealtimes are infamously long due to this reason, and I’ve grown to love it. Whereas the US has a very strong “eat and go” culture, mealtimes in Spain are special moments to be shared among family and friends – not something you rush through. After eating, be prepared to stick around for another hour or two while everyone chats – this is the one and only sobremesa.
Literal translation: Half of an orange
Used to mean: Someone’s other half
Saying “other half” (in the romantic sense) in casual conversation might sound cheesy in English, but in Spanish it’s relatively common. Needless to say I was confused the first time I heard this one: a coworker asked me if I was going to visit my “media naranja” that coming weekend. Visit my half of an orange? She was asking if I had plans to visit my boyfriend, which makes a lot more sense.
Literal translation: To stay fried
Used to mean: To fall asleep
Because “dormirse” is just too easy. Why simply fall asleep when you can “stay fried” instead? I’ll leave you with that picture of sleeping puppies.
What are your favorite “untranslatable” words (in any language)? I’d love to know.