The word translate comes from the Latin and means “carry across,” but not every phrase has an equivalent. When you’re trying to translate English to Spanish or vice versa, you may discover concepts that don’t cross the language barrier intact. To understand and be understood by native speakers, you’ll need to grow your confidence speaking the language, not just parroting phrases.
Here are just a few examples of Spanish words that don’t have an English equivalent.
Sobremesa This appetizing idea refers to when the food has left the table, but the sustenance of conversation continues.
Friolento/Friolero For the folks who are always chilly, this Spanish noun is up to the challenge of encapsulating your struggle.
Merendar As the sound of the word suggests, merendar is the mid-afternoon snack, tea, or coffee we all find ourselves meandering towards but has no specific English counterpart.
If you try to ask Google to translate Spanish to English for any of these words, you’re likely to get a convoluted result that bypasses the intricacies of the Spanish language and culture. Certain words we might ask Google to translate from English to Spanish would likewise leave Spanish speakers scratching their heads, like “flabbergasted” or the concept of a “crush.” While translations are useful, Rosetta Stone knows there’s no substitute for learning to speak the Spanish language like a local.
In the same way you might struggle to translate some Spanish words into English and vice versa, you’d face the same challenge in French . While there are quite a few French words that are cognates and English words that we’ve borrowed from French, there are also unique ideas that can’t be captured by transposing English to French.
When speaking French , you’ll discover these words get lost in translation in English.
Empêchement This word, which means “unexpected change of plans,” embodies the French attitude that you’re never late but only happily delayed.
L’esprit d’escalier Have you ever had a clever comeback occur to you hours after you should have responded? The French have a word for this that means “staircase wit,” or the kind of genius retort that only happens when you start walking away.
Flâner It’s understandable that a beautiful city like Paris might be home to the concept of flâner, a word for aimlessly strolling the streets with no specific destination in mind.
To avoid a breach of etiquette that the French might frown upon, Rosetta Stone suggests getting beyond translations and investing in a few French lessons so you can begin to speak up for yourself.
While you can lean on translations as a crutch to get you through conversations, you’ll be missing most of the flavor of the experience. This is especially true of languages like French and Italian where slang reigns supreme. Moreover, like many of the idioms used in English, lots of Italian words or phrases are figurative, which means they don’t always translate literally.
Check out these Italian slang expressions, and you’ll begin to see why Google translate will only get you so far when you want to speak the language.
Prendere la palla al balzo If you asked Google to translate this for you, it would tell you to catch the ball. This Italian slang expression actually means “take your ball at a bounce” and is meant to express the same idea as “take the bull by the horns” or seize the day.
Mettere il carro davanti ai buoi This phrase, which translates to putting the carriage in front of the oxen, is the Italian equivalent of putting the cart before the horse.
Figurati! English speakers can get confused by this Italian word, which means to appear, because it seems to communicate the opposite concept. It’s used as a dismissal or to say “it’s nothing!”
As you can see, whether you’re trying to understand English, French, Spanish, or Italian, it pays to get beyond translations and learn the language, not just the words.