Saying It Like a Native: Exploring Spanish Idioms
There is nothing more colorful and expressive than Spanish idioms!
Of course, in English, we have words and phrases that are very characteristic of our culture. But idioms in Spanish are more varied and so much fun.
So, if you want to learn to speak Spanish like a native, keep reading and learn everything about Spanish idioms, their meaning, and the importance of understanding the culture through these expressions.
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Idioms and Their Significance in Language and Culture
Idioms are an essential part of any culture’s everyday life and language.
You’ll realize that these phrases and expressions don’t always make sense, and their literal meaning may not relate to the topic you’re writing or discussing.
That’s the fun part, actually!
So, what is an idiom, and what is it used for in communication?
In English, for example, we often use the phrase “break a leg” to wish someone good luck.
We don’t want that person to literally break a leg; rather, it’s a way of saying to do their best to get good results.
According to the Cambridge Dictionary, an idiom is “a group of words in a fixed order with a particular definition that is different from the meanings of each word on its own.”
This applies to the idioms of any country and culture. These expressions offer a unique glimpse into a specific language and culture.
You can even find such unique and particular idioms in different regions of the same country!
Expressions in Spanish and idioms offer us an insight into the language that goes beyond communication theory.
These phrases are the creation of a combination of culture and history that function as a type of code for those who live in a community or country.
Read also: 25 of Our Favorite Spanish Idioms for Kids
Spanish Idioms and Its Contribution to Communities
Symbolic expressions in Spanish or idioms are part of each Latin American social group’s cultural and historical identity.
These phrases are used all the time in communities, among friends, family, and co-workers.
Idioms in Spanish are taught between generations and are also used as historical references, warnings, and even jokes.
Through these expressions, you’ll be able to see the values, spiritual and religious beliefs, social structures, type of politics people prefer, etc.
The culture and lifestyle of Spanish-speaking countries are often influenced by religion. In this case, Catholicism. That is why many idioms mention God, Christ, or The Saints.
Idioms From Different Spanish-Speaking Countries
All Spanish-speaking countries share the same language, Spanish; however, each one has different idioms, phrases, and expressions that can even mean different things from one country to another. So, be careful!
We have chosen five clear examples of these Spanish idioms.
1. Estar al loro – Spain
This expression means you must be attentive or aware of what is happening around you. The Spaniards have two versions of the birth of this phrase.
The first version indicates that it was born during the Spanish Civil War. The Italians used to say “sono loro,” which means “son ellos” (it’s them), every time they saw a plane. They wanted to say to be aware that the enemy was around.
The second version, which many people prefer, is that “loro” in Madrid slang refers to the radio set, and from there begins the action of being informed or attentive to what is happening.
Another curious fact is that loro in English means parrot.
An example of how to use this idiom is:
Asegúrate de estar al loro en las plataformas y participar en el concurso.
Make sure you’re watching the platforms to enter the contest.
2. Traje facturas para comer – Argentina
Yes, people in Argentina eat facturas. But they are not the same type of facturas you get when you buy something or pay for a service. Facturas in Argentina does not mean receipts.
In Argentina, the facturas refer to the sweet breads that are never missing during breakfast or when you’re having a snack.
In this country, they call their cakes facturas because pastry chefs used this term as a clever way to draw attention to the value of their work.
A classic facturas would be a coffee with milk and a medialuna or croissant. Other traditional ones are the vigilantes, cañoncitos, suspiros de monja, sacramentos, and bolas de fraile.
These very particular names were chosen by a group of anarchist bakers who, in protest, mocked the police, the army, and the church through the names of their bakery creations.
An example of how to use this word can be:
Al regresar del trabajo compraré unas facturas para el desayuno de mañana.
When I return from work, I’ll buy some facturas for tomorrows breakfast.
3. Berraco – Colombia
This Colombian word is used in the Paisa and Coffee region, including Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda, and Quindío.
The berraco idiom can be used when describing an angry, exalted person or to highlight the virtues of a person as talented, outstanding, or brave.
Some examples of this can be:
Mario está muy berraco con Luisa porque no le ha devuelto el dinero.
Mario is very angry with Luisa because she has not paid him back.
Karla es muy berraca para grabar videos. Mira cómo quedan de bien sus videos de instagram.
Karla is very talented when recording videos. Look how good her Instagram videos look.
Another way of using the word berraco is when you want to express discontent or admiration regarding a situation or something.
Qué berraco problema no poder llegar a casa porque hay mucho tráfico.
What a big problem not being able to get home because there is a lot of traffic.
This idiom is also used in other Latin American countries such as Honduras, Nicaragua, and Panama. However, the meaning may vary, or its use may not be as common as in Colombia.
4. Llave maya – Costa Rica
The Llave maya idiom refers to what we all know as a USB memory or USB key. People, stores, websites, or companies use this term in Costa Rica.
But where does this particular name come from?
The best-known version is that one of the first companies to bring USBs to the country was from Taiwan and the word Maya could be read in the name.
At the same time, the device was shaped like a key, so both terms were unified and the Llave maya was born.
One of the characteristics of Costa Rica is that the brand of a pioneering product in the market is taken as a common name for all products of the same type but of different brands. For example, Gerber for baby food and Chiclets Adams for chewing gum.
In the rest of Latin America and all over the world, the only term used for USBs is, well, USBs, so this is quite a unique idiom Costa Ricans use a lot.
An example of the use of this idiom can be:
Préstame tu llave maya para compartirte los archivos que debes imprimir.
Lend me your llave maya to share the files that you must print.
5. Estar agüitado – Mexico
This Mexican phrase indicates when we feel sad or emotionally sensitive.
According to the Dictionary of Mexicanisms, it’s equivalent to being sad, depressed, with a low spirit, and it’s also used to refer to plants and animals.
Mexicans don’t know where the word originates. However, the historian Ángel María Garibay proposes the word agüitarse, and agüitado are of Nahuatl origin.
He explains that these words come from the Nahuatl word güito or huito from the primitive form huiton used in many places in the central region of Mexico. These words mean stupefied, decayed, deadened, or stupid.
In this type of idiom, we see how the indigenous or ancestral languages directly influence Latin American societies’ modern vocabulary.
Here’s an example of how to use this phrase:
Oye Jorge, estoy agüitado porque mañana operan a mi mamá de la espalda.
Hey Jorge, I’m agüitado because tomorrow my mom is having an operation on her back.
Incorporate Spanish Idioms Into Everyday Conversations
Using these phrases and expressions in your daily conversations with native Spanish speakers can enrich your fluency.
They’ll boost your language skills, and you and those around you’ll have a lot of fun.
You should consider that using an idiom in Spanish is more subtle than when you use common phrases to express your point of view.
The first thing you should do is understand the idioms. Familiarize yourself with the meaning and listen as much as possible to Spanish-speaking people.
Your ears and brain must be exposed as much as possible to these distinctive Spanish expressions and phrases so you can recognize when they are used and even in what tone they are said.
Analyze the context to gain insight into the meaning.
You’ll not find these expressions in textbooks in Spanish, so you should look for other ways to familiarize yourself with the idioms and their meanings.
One of these ways is immersive learning through resources such as movies and TV shows made by Mexican, Dominican, Colombian, Argentine, and Spanish production companies.
Also, you can learn these expressions with the help of books or articles written in Spanish and music composed by Latin Americans or Spaniards.
If you’re constantly watching, reading, or listening, you’ll quickly learn these phrases and be able to use them in no time.
Hurry up and pick up your phone! Yes, really!
Editor’s pick: 45 Ways to Say ‘To Take’ in Spanish (Plus Common Idioms)
Why Should You Understand Idioms in Language Learning?
To correctly use an idiom in Spanish, is essential to know its true meaning and not its literal meaning
Spanish speakers use these phrases daily, so not learning them would make it difficult to understand what they say in some contexts.
Understanding these Spanish phrases will help you catch the meaning of the conversation and enrich and improve your comprehension of how Spanish-speaking people feel when using these phrases in their conversations.
It’s basically like putting yourself in their shoes and feeling first-hand what using these idioms is like.
By understanding these expressions, you can quickly adapt to the culture of any Spanish-speaking country.
But, above all, learning the idioms and studying them in detail will allow you to use them without any problem, and you’ll be closer to the natives.
If you want to learn as many Spanish idioms as possible, read these 50 Spanish Idioms To Use in Your Everyday Conversations.
Ready to Be an Expert in Spanish Idioms?
These particular expressions of each culture can be very fun to use, and without a doubt, you’ll start to be more fluent and be able to interact with native Spanish speakers without any problem.
Although sometimes learning idioms like the Dominican expression “¡Que lo que!” meaning “What’s up?” can be very easy, you’ll also find more complex ones that will take longer to fit into your vocabulary.
Remember that although they sound unusual to you, they are part of the culture and history of the Spanish language, therefore, it’s vital that you know the meaning of each of them.
On this learning path, you cannot miss the accompaniment and teaching of native, authentic Spanish instruction to absorb Latin American culture’s idioms, slang, and expressions.
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