Tag: Spanish


Ten Spanish expressions that don’t translate well into English

Terminology, Translation

Spanish is the world’s most widely spoken Romance language, and its proliferation in different countries and locales presents its own set of translation challenges. But setting intra-linguistic variations aside for a moment, even true romantics don’t love localizing these ten hard to translate terms and phrases into other languages. They’re common expressions that don’t have English equivalents. For the sake of simplicity, they all originate from Spain.

1. Puente

If you were ever a student, worker or perhaps just an architecture enthusiast in Spain, you no doubt rejoiced upon hearing this term. Used in a literal sense, puente simply means “bridge.” In other contexts, it refers to an extended weekend that arises when a public holiday falls near, but not directly next to a weekend. For example, if a holiday falls on a Thursday, workers might have a puente in which they are given Friday, as well as Thursday off work. A puente “bridges” the gap between the holiday and the weekend.

2. ¡Ojo!

Ojo is the Spanish word for “eye.” But look out! In certain contexts, it can mean “watch yourself because I’m watching you!”

3. Quedarse de piedra

Hispanophones use this expression to describe when someone is stunned or frozen from shock. Quedarse de piedra literally translates as “to stay like a stone.” For example, in order to say “I was shocked when I saw the car crash in front of me,” a Spanish speaker might say me quedé de piedra cuando vi el accidente de coche. “I stayed like a stone when I saw the car crash.”

4. Consuegro, consuegra

Explaining consuegro and consuegra in English requires multiple words and considerable mental calculation on the part of the translator. Most simply, it describes “the father/mother of one’s son/daughter-in-law.” This can make translation between the two languages challenging when a concise statement in Spanish like “That’s John; he is my consuegro” becomes “That’s John; he’s the father of my son/daughter-in-law.”

5. ¡El mundo es un pañuelo!

When you run into someone you don’t expect, the world isn’t just small, it’s un pañuelo — a handkerchief. Why a handkerchief? For a Spaniard, a handkerchief is something small enough to tuck in your pocket — and with only four corners to explore, there’s always a chance you’ll run into someone.

6. Empalagar

The Spanish language has one verb to illustrate the unpleasant feeling after eating too much of something sweet. Next time you go for that second piece of chocolate cake — and immediately regret it — you can say No debería haber comido ese pastel, es demasiado dulce y empalaga, or “I shouldn’t have eaten that cake; it’s too sugary and overly sweet-ed me.”

7. ¡Nada del otro mundo!

That news is nada del otro mundo, or literally, “nothing from the other world.” Often accompanied by a sarcastic tone, the speaker uses this phrase to convey that they are unsurprised by a particular piece of news. Apparently for Spanish speakers, news is only impressive when it comes from another world.

8. Estrenar

Estrenar is another case of the Spanish language containing verbs that don’t exist in English.

This term depicts the action of wearing or using something for the first time. For example, in the phrase “yesterday, I wore my new shoes for the first time,” Spanish-speakers can replace “wore for the first time” with estrenar. Ayer estrené mis zapatos nuevos. “Yesterday, I ‘first-time-wore’ my new shoes.”

9. Ponerse las botas

Ponerse las botas literally translates as “to put on the boots.” But don’t worry if a Spanish speaker says this after a meal. They’re not looking to leave in a hurry. Rather, it’s a way of expressing that they were well-fed. The origin of this phrase dates back to a time when boot-owners were wealthy and regularly enjoyed bountiful feasts.

10. Sobremesa

It’s not uncommon for the average Spaniard to spend hours at the dinner table, savoring a delicious meal and catching up with family or friends. The importance of this experience is reflected in their language. Sobremesa describes the time spent at the table chatting and digesting.

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Sophia Eakins is a marketing content specialist for Lionbridge, a global company delivering localization and AI training data services in 350+ languages. Her bachelor in linguistics comes from Wellesley College, with additional study at the Laboratoire Parole et Langage in Aix-en-Provence, France.


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Why US citizens should embrace Spanish


The United States has no official language. While English certainly serves as the de facto language, Spanish continues to grow as a primary and secondary tongue among the nation’s inhabitants. MultiLingual’s just-released edition on Spanish details the importance of the language around the rest of the world, too.

Despite backlash from some pockets of the US population, Spanish has quadrupled in speakers over the past decades, with predictions to hit 138 million Spanish-speakers by 2050 — which would make it the largest Spanish-speaking nation on the planet.

Speaking a second language has proven social, economic and mental benefits, so perhaps now is the perfect time for North Americans to broaden their language horizons — rather than build walls designed to keep Spanish-speakers out.

The United States is a nation built upon conquests and immigration, so it should come as no surprise that there is not only one popular language within its borders. English is the most spoken language within the country; about 80% of the population speaks it as a first language. However, in total, there are more than 350 different languages used by US inhabitants, with the second-largest being español.

According to a study published by Instituto Cervantes, there are 41 million native Spanish-speakers in the United States, plus a further 11.6 million who are bilingual. This puts the US ahead of Colombia (48 million) and Spain (46 million) in terms of Spanish-speakers, and second only to Mexico (121 million). Among the sources cited in the report is the US Census Office, which estimates that the US will have 138 million Spanish speakers by 2050, making it the biggest Spanish-speaking nation on Earth, with Spanish expected to be the mother tongue of almost one-third of its citizens.

One look at the history of Spanish-speaking in the US demonstrates its ceaseless popularity. In 1980, 11 million people, or 5% of the population, were Spanish-speakers. Fast-forward to this decade and that number has quadrupled to 41 million Spanish speakers, accounting for 14% of the population.

By state, the highest concentration is in the former Spanish colonies of the south and southwest, with New Mexico at 47% of inhabitants, followed by California and Texas (both 38%) and Arizona (30%). Perhaps surprisingly, more than 6% of Alaskans are also Spanish-speakers. The language is clearly advancing with more speakers in more regions of the country, but not everyone seems to accept the increase of language diversity.

Spanish United States
County-level map of Spanish language use in the United States in 2012

Bilingual backlash

It’s safe to say these are complicated cultural and social times in the United States. People appear to be more divided than ever, overseen by an administration which still doesn’t have Spanish-language website almost two years into power. One does not need to search far to see news stories depicting a population struggling with changes brought on by the uptake of Spanish.

For example, a Spanish-speaking Houston area Walmart customer says he was discriminated against by an employee at the store. Joel Aparicio posted a video on Facebook of the employee telling him to “speak English” because “we’re in Texas.”

“This lady didn’t want to speak Spanish. She discriminated me by saying she didn’t speak Spanish,” Aparicio wrote on Facebook.

Meanwhile, in May, Aaron Schlossberg was forced to issue a public apology after being recorded in a viral video threatening to report restaurant workers to immigration officials for speaking Spanish.

“So my next call is to ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] to have each one of them kicked out of my country,” Schlossberg ranted. “If they have the balls to come here and live off my money — I pay for their welfare, I pay for their ability to live here — the least they can do is speak English,” he yelled. After the video gained online attention, the lawyer was quick to back-track and apologize. “Seeing myself online opened my eyes — the manner in which I expressed myself is unacceptable and is not the person I am,” he tweeted.

Clearly, there is some friction over the language divide. However, a review of the positives far outweigh any negatives when it comes to learning and speaking a new language — an important element to keep in mind as Spanish continues to grow within the United States.

A Spanish solution

Tens of millions of speakers present tens of millions of opportunities. Learning a new language has proven benefits in a number of areas of contemporary life, and any doubts quickly fall to the wayside when compared to the numerous positives of learning Spanish

Employees who are bilingual are simply more marketable. Increased globalization means multilingualism makes someone more attractive for varied jobs in varied locations. Meanwhile, socially, the ability to speak Spanish opens numerous cultural doors. It is an opportunity to better engage with people in the community: to embrace their culture, their music, their dance and their way of life.

The benefits are not only social, or economic, but also mental. Having to grapple with two languages makes the brain work harder, which in turn may make it more resilient in later life, say academics.

One study found that, among people who did eventually get dementia, those who were bilingual developed the disease three to four years later than those who did not. The truth is that people learn to speak languages for a variety of reasons, with professional development, personal growth and relationships regularly ranking as the biggest motivators.

Whatever the reason, there is no doubt that learning a new language comes with a variety of beneficial byproducts. Furthermore, The Index of Human Development ranks Spanish as the second most important language on earth, behind English but ahead of Mandarin. Aprender el Español arguably opens up the mind, and the world, to possibilities that are simply not available with only one language.

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Dan Berges is one of the founders of Berges Institute, a leading Spanish language school for adults in New York City and Chicago.


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So, Not Enough Basque (Euskara) Understanding?

Language in the News, Localization Culture

Spanish-related topics are always hot, and not just in Europe. Catalonian separation, economic turmoil, my eight-year old sporting a Barcelona football (soccer) shirt, it’s all happening.  Besides current events in the news, Spain itself is a country rich in history, culture, with a weighty past and present world influence, and a territory that offers language professionals and hobbyists plenty of scope for exploration and discussion.

One of the languages from that region, Basque (known as Euskara), just doesn’t seem to get enough coverage, in my opinion. Perhaps that’s because I worked briefly on a Basque localization project (for an early version of Microsoft Office as it happens) or because as an Irish person I feel some affinity for the Basque people, and how their culture and language fares as a coexistence project alongside with other, bigger European entities. Maybe it’s because the Basque language–Latin character-based and all as it is–just looks so intriguing when viewed beside other languages! Regardless, I think we’re missing out on something great by this omission of coverage.

So, let’s all explore the Basque language a little more, and see what lessons it holds for other language isolates or minor languages, their promotion, their adoption and usage, as well as how such languages play out on a bigger stage.

Thankfully, Moravia have done a fine job in helping us along the road to more understanding with their eye-catchingly titled blog post Did the aliens plant the Basque language? I learned a lot from that, and I know you will too, so check it out!

If you have other Basque language or culture-related sources, then add them to the comments.

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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Et Vous, @Brute?

Language Industry News and Events, Translation Technology

Great article, courtesy of the BBC News online magazine, called Tu and Twitter. It is the end for  ‘Vous’ In French? highlights the social and political interplay of technology and language. Other languages such as Italian and Spanish are mentioned too.

Of course, Twitter isn’t going to finish off French language formality or any  social hierarchies implied, though some of the sentiments expressed in the article bring into sharp relief just how important matters of linguistic accuracy and orthodoxy can be in some cultures, and how changes can be interpreted. Nothing unusual about the French, or should I say some French people, in that regard.

Worth reading. It is of course, another good example of language usage adapting over time and circumstance, and changes reflecting context of use. Textspeak didn’t kill the English language or our ability to communicate fluidly across media or threaten interpersonal relations any more than the infinitesimally obtuse language of Finnegan’s Wake did. Twitter isn’t going to kill off vous or bring the Fifth Republic crashing down either.

It would be more than nice, however, if Twitter technology could figure out what format of “you” the receiver of tweets preferred in relation to the sender and alerted the sender to that choice. After that, the deliberate use of  tu or vous might be worth an argument over.

Interestingly, I hear that German is also subject to pressure from Twitter. As an aside, I noticed that not all new interactions adopt an informal tone. The German Windows Phone style guide from Microsoft, for example, recommends the use of Sie over du. Context of use again.

What do you think? Use the comments and let me know!

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Ultan Ó Broin (@localization), is an independent UX consultant. With three decades of UX and L10n experience and outreach, he specializes in helping people ensure their global digital transformation makes sense culturally and also reflects how users behave locally.

Any views expressed are his own. Especially the ones you agree with.


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