It’s Hispanic Heritage Month! In the midst of all my respiratory troubles, it completely slipped my notice that it was already independence season for Central Latin America. My paternal great grandmother’s homeland is Mexico and my mum hails from El Salvador. When I was growing up I learned English and Spanish simultaneously and I spent much of my childhood in El Salvador. There was a point when I spent six months all at once there and when I came back, it was like I had forgotten how to speak English. I guess one day I decided I’d had enough so I switched back to English. I also made up words like “sombrella” which is the conjunction of “sombrilla” and “umbrella”
Last year, I made a trip there for what I thought was going to be two weeks to a month the most. However, I ended up getting trapped for four months due to the pandemic. That meant speaking Spanish all day long, with my mum being the only person I could speak Creole with. It was a good time for me to practice, although I did give people quite a laugh when I would say words that sounded like English but had a completely different meaning. For example, I was having a conversation with my aunts about somewhere I was working. It was with a Mexican company so naturally the other people who worked in the building thought I was Mexican too. I spent the first week having people gawking at me whenever I’d walk by like I was something exotic i.e. foreign. Well, I was mentioning this to them and I called myself “una chica exotica”.
“Exotica” doesn’t mean exotic in Spanish; at least not in the sense that I meant it. I immediately felt my cheeks burn as I started to blush with embarrassment.
Another funny thing about Spanish versus English, which I assume could be true for all languages, is that there are certain words that just don’t exist in the other. Sometimes this gets a wee bit frustrating because in my mind I’m thinking about the perfect Spanish word to describe something and I just cant muster up the English equivalent. Most of the time the translations can be quite a mouthful.
Here are some examples of Spanish words that don’t have an English translation.
1. Antier – The day before yesterday
Okay, so technically this started out as two words because it is “ante ayer” but somewhere along the line it got shortened to one word and I am totally okay with that!
2. Asoleada – Feeling extremely tired.
I would hear my mum say this a lot, especially if she had just returned from the Vital Satistics office or Holy Redeemer Credit Union. Belizeans definitely know what I mean! She probably had to wait a very long while before being attended to and then she had to do many other running arounds before successfully completing her mission. She would get home feeling very “asoleada”. In other words, she felt like the sun had drained all her energy. Mind you the sun doesn’t necessarily have to be involved.
3. Estrenar – To use something for the first time
You often hear this being used when referring to the premiere of a TV show or a movie. However, it can also be used when talking about clothing or even using kitchen wear for the first time. So instead of using your Kitchen Aid for the first time, estas estrenando tu Kitchen Aid.
4. Consuegro/Consuegra – The relationship between a married couple’s parents
If I ever get married, instead of my mum referring to my husband’s mum as “my daughter’s mother-in-law” she will simply say “mi consuegra”.
5. Sobremesa – The conversation you have at the dinner table after you’ve finished eating.
This is very specific if I may say so! I don’t know about anyone else, but I know that my family here in Belize, in El Slavador, in Mexico or wherever they may be, like to sit around at the dinner table just chit chatting after they’ve finished their meal.
6. Tutear – To address someone informally
So generally if you don’t know someone well enough or if they are your elder, you will address them as “usted” out of formality and respect. However, they might give you permission to not be so formal so they might say something along the lines of “Somos amigos, mejor nos tuteamos.” Now you may address them as “tú” or call them by their first name.
7. Convivir – To hang out
This word brings back so many good memories. I first actually heard this word, believe it or not, three years ago in Merida, Mexico. My brother was studying there and we went to visit him. He had this neighbour who was named Carmen and one day she said it. It stuck out to me and when I learnt what it meant I felt all warm inside. I feel like it conveys a deeper meaning than just “hanging out”. It just doesn’t do it justice.
8. Provecho (Buen Provecho) – Enjoy your meal
Honestly the first thing I thought of when I tried to adequately explain what this means is “bon appetit” but that’s french. Provecho sounds to me like aprovechar which means to take advantage. So that would mean that provecho means take advantage of your meal? It makes sense.
Spanish is a very passionate language so there’s no surprise that they have very specific words to describe exaclty what they feel.
Do you know of any other Spanish words that are untranslatable?
One thought on “Spanish Words Without English Translation”
Such a fun story you wrote to open the post! Haha “exotica” had me laughing 😂. I’m a rather bad Latina and have never actually visited any Latin American countries (*cries*) but I grew up surrounded by my Mexican family, and my Abuela (best ever) gave me my crazy love for Spanish music and authentic Mexican cooking. Provecho/buen provecho is my personal favorite on your list 😂. Reminds me of pozole and tamales!!!