Translating into Spanish


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Why Not Everything Can Be Translated into Spanish…

One of the most common pieces of advice we, as students, hear in the classroom when learning Spanish is “Stop trying to translate it into English.” But of course, that’s one of the hardest things to do, and  can actually be quite entertaining.

Some of the most entertaining ones are verbs. Spanish has a bunch of verbs that we don’t have in English. And, almost any word can be made into a verb in Spanish and it’s incredibly common. For example, the adjective “mad” cannot be turned into a verb in English, it would sound weird “I mad” would be improper grammar because that sentence lacks a verb. To say it properly it would be “I am mad” where “am” is the verb. However, in Spanish it’s considered acceptable to turn words into verbs.

So here ARE a few fun verbs that we don’t have in English:

Spanish English Proper English Example Proper Spanish Translated Improper English Example
Tardar To late I was running late. Tardaba. I lated.
Almorzar To lunch Shall we get lunch? Nosotros almorzamos? We lunch?
Divertirse To fun I had fun! Me divertí! I fun-ed!
Alegrarse To happy Stacy was happy. Stacy se alegró. Stacy happied.
Regalar To gift Tommy got a gift. Regaló a Tommy. (Someone) gifted to Tommy.
Merendar To tea time Let’s have tea time. Nosotros merendamos. We tea time.

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And now for some sayings from Spanish to English:

“Ojo” → “Eye”

People will tell you to be careful by pointing to their eye and saying “Ojo” or “Ojito” for little eye. The first time I heard this, I was so confused. I thought to myself “yes… that’s your eye. Why are you pointing to your eye??” It’s a way to say “Careful!” or “Watch out”.

“Se te escapa la tortuga” → “The turtle is escaping you”

If a turtle is able to get away from you, you’re not thinking very fast. It’s like telling someone “That was over your head” or “you didn’t get it”. This phrase was made popular by Argentinian soccer superstar Maradona.

“Ponete las pilas” → “Put in the batteries”

Wake up! Charge your batteries. If your batteries are low, you’re not functioning totally correctly yet.

“Cuando los chanchos vuelen” → “When the pigs fly”

It’s the same saying in English, “when the pigs fly”… Pigs will never fly. It’s an ironic way to say something is never going to happen.

“Estoy en mi salsa” → “I’m in my sauce”

It sounds weird as the literal translation but it’s like saying “I’m in my element” or I’m doing great at something.

“No tener pelos en la lengua” → “To not have hairs on one’s tongue”

This phrase is for the people that speak their mind freely. If someone was saying whatever came to their mind, they would be speaking without hairs on their tongue.

“Hacerse mala sangre” → “To become bad blood”

If someone is worried or stressing over some situation, they would be “becoming bad blood”

“Ser un cero a la izquierda” → “To be a zero to the left”

This phrase actually points out a mathematical fact that by having a ‘0’ to the left of any number, like 012, that zero doesn’t do anything or add any value to it; thus doesn’t need to be there. That is a very creative way to say “to be completely useless”.

“Hay gato encerrado” → “There is a trapped cat”

If you think something fishy is going on, then you have a trapped cat. If something strange is about to happen, you could turn to someone and say “Che, hay gato encerrado. Ojo.” Which would mean “Hey, something is off here. Watch out.”

“Bajar un cambio” → “To lower a gear”

“Cambio” here refers to the change in gear (like in driving). It means to take things down a notch/slow it down/cool down/take it easy.

“Ser tal para cual”  →  “To be such for which”

This doesn’t translate to English well. It means to be made for each other. “Ellos son tal para cual” means “They’re made for each other”.

Sometimes the words or phrases don’t always translate properly from Spanish to English. Usually it’s enough to get the point across, but sometimes it can just leave you confused! Hopefully this helped a bit . 🙂 

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