The following article is from Paul, an English teacher who lives in Argentina. Paul writes on behalf of Language Trainers, a language tutoring service offering personalized Spanish courses to individuals and groups. Check out their free Spanish level tests and other resources on their website. Visit their Facebook page or contact firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Hola estudiantes! Here is a guest post from Paul of Language Trainers about 11 English phrases we use all the time but that don’t exist in Spanish, and how to substitute them with similar Spanish phrases. I really enjoyed these helpful tips and hope you do, too!
As anyone studying Spanish knows, learning a new language is a lot more than just translating and memorizing words. For example, it’s possible the same word in translation can have a vastly different meaning or connotation (“actualmente” doesn’t mean “actually”). Often times, you’ll encounter phrases that don’t exist in your native language.
And this relationship goes both ways: when studying Spanish, you’ll find that many widely-used English phrases simply don’t exist in Spanish. This forces us English speakers to get creative, which can often turn out to be quite challenging. To alleviate this burden on English speakers — who are already up to our ears with verb tenses and conjugations — here are some common English-language phrases that have no exact Spanish translation, as well as how to skirt around them to get your point across with alternative Spanish phrases.
- Looking forward
“I look forward to hearing from you”: the ideal way to say you want to do something while maintaining a professional distance, and the perfect way to end a letter or voicemail. Sadly, miro adelante simply does not exist, and will likely be met with blank stares.
Though it might seem a little direct to English ears, verb esperar will come in handy here. “I look forward to seeing you soon” becomes Espero verte pronto; “I look forward to your response” becomes Espero tu respuesta. (But don’t forget to use “usted” forms if the context is formal.)
- Get your hopes up
“Don’t get your hopes up,” you warn your friend as she buys her lottery ticket. But if your friend is a Spanish speaker, saying something like No pongas arriba tu esperanza will simply confuse her.
The verb ilusionarse (and ojo, it’s reflexive) is the closest thing to a direct translation that you’ll find. “Don’t get your hopes up”, then, becomes No te ilusiones.
“You dropped your wallet,” you warn somebody walking hurriedly down the street. But in Spanish, you find yourself scrambling for words: indeed, “to drop” simply isn’t a verb in Spanish.
If the dropping is done accidentally, caer is the verb you’ll want to use: Se te cayó la billetera means “You dropped your wallet” (or, more literally, “Your wallet fell from you”). If the dropping is intentional, you’ll have to be more specific. Depending on the intensity of the action, consider using tirar (to throw) or tumbar (to knock over).
“I’m excited to get lunch with you!” In English, we throw around the word “excited” with abandon, using excitement to describe situations from the genuinely thrilling to the mundane. But watch out: in Spanish, excitado (or excitada) translates closer to “aroused”, so be careful when telling your professor that you’re excited to take his class.
Here, you’ll find utility in the ever-elusive ganas. “I’m excited to get lunch with you” becomes Tengo muchas ganas de almorzar contigo.
- Can’t wait
“I can’t wait to get lunch with you!” If you’re *really* excited for the lunch in question, you might find yourself using this expression. But saying No puedo esperar, while grammatically correct, implies that you are literally unable to wait, and your lunch plans might get canceled.
“No veo la hora” is a suitable way to say that you can’t wait to do something: No veo la hora de almorzar contigo aptly expresses your enthusiasm. And as with “excited”, ganas can be used here: “I can’t wait!” becomes ¡Me muero de ganas!
- Have a good time
“Are you having a good time?” you ask your friend at a party. It’s tempting to translate this word-for-word — ¿Estás teniendo un buen tiempo? – but as easy as that would be, it doesn’t work like that in Spanish.
Pasarla bien nicely expresses this idea. So if you want to know if your friend is enjoying the party, you can ask him, ¿La estás pasando bien? Or, if you tell somebody to “Have a good time”, you can say ¡Pásala bien!
“Ugh, whatever!” Very few of us get through our teenage years without muttering this phrase at least a few times. But even the angstiest Spanish-speaker will never be caught saying ¡Cualquiera! to show how little they care.
In translations of TV shows and movies, you’ll most likely see Como quieras (note the subjunctive) or simply Bueno to express “whatever”. Lo que sea (again, subjunctive) and Me da igual are other good alternatives. If you want to infuse this with a little more attitude, consider turning it into a question: ¿Qué me importa?
- Catch up
“You need to catch up,” your teacher tells you after you hand in your third late assignment. If you’re taking classes in a Spanish-speaking country, your teacher will certainly not tell you to coger arriba (and especially if you’re in Latin America, be extra careful with the verb coger, which has a vulgar double meaning).
Instead, your teacher might use the phrase ponerse al día: “You need to catch up” becomes Tienes que ponerte al día. If you’re talking about catching up in a more literal sense — for instance, if you’re trailing behind your fast-walking friend — you’ll use the verb alcanzar. “I couldn’t catch up with her” becomes No podía alcanzarla.
“I’ll wipe the counter before cooking dinner.” It’s a smart and hygienic decision, and one that’s hard to translate into Spanish. This is because, like “to drop”, the verb “to wipe” is absent from the Spanish-language lexicon.
Limpiar is an easy fix: “Wipe your face” becomes Límpiate la cara; “Wipe the counter” becomes Límpia la mesada. If you want to get into particulars, you can specify which cleaning instrument is to be used: Pása el trapo/servilleta/toalla sobre la mesada.
- No big deal
“Don’t worry; it’s no big deal.” Saying that something is “no big deal” is a gentle way to diminish somebody’s worries; everyone says it. But in Spanish, saying that something no es un gran trato is used only by confused English-speaking foreigners.
The most literal translation for “It’s no big deal” is probably No es gran cosa. You can say No pasa nada or No importa to get your meaning across.
“Nevermind!” This is the phrase I miss most when I speak Spanish — it’s a quick and non-aggressive way to tell somebody to forget about it.
In Spanish, however, you’ll either have to be more direct or more literal, as “nevermind” isn’t a word. Olvídalo (literally “forget it”) is an accurate if heavy-handed way to get your point across; Ya no importa (literally “It doesn’t matter anymore”) lacks the poetic concision of “Nevermind” but nonetheless gets the job done.
Of course, this list only scratches the surface: there are countless words and phrases in English that sound unnatural or simply don’t exist in Spanish. But here are some of the most common ones, which will hopefully make your Spanish-language conversations go a bit smoother. So the next time you want tell your friend that you’re excited to see her, or that you hope she has a good time, or that she needs to wipe her mouth, you’ll know just how to do it.
English speakers: do you struggle to find ways to say other words or phrases in Spanish? Spanish speakers: do you have any alternative Spanish phrases for any of the items in this list? Let us know in a comment!