Top 10 Spanish Concepts You Won’t Find in English
Most people, as they become bilingual, learn some Spanish concepts that are unique to the language. Some words convey certain thoughts and feelings that are challenging, to describe in any other language!
Recent studies have shown that knowing more than one language helps with the development of cognitive function—and prevents its decline as we age. There’s also been research suggesting that bilingual children develop better social-emotional and behavioral skills. You can learn more about this on our blog about the perks of being bilingual.
I have a special place in my heart for people who can speak both English and Spanish. My parents taught me how to speak English from a young age, so it has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.
Whenever I meet a bilingual person, my ‘Spanglish’ chip comes online, and I start mixing both languages. Why is it that sometimes a word or phrase… feels right in one language, but not the other?
I’ve gathered a list of common Spanish concepts that aren’t found in English, so you can learn a bit more about Latin American culture through language.
Latinos are known for their strong sense of family. This is expressed by the first of the Spanish concepts on our list, sobremesa. This word describes the time taken after dinner to talk with the people you ate with. It’s common among Latinoamericanos to stay after the meal is finished, maybe with a cup of coffee or rosa de jamaica, to talk about current events, joke around, and learn about each other.
Sometimes sobremesa lasts a few hours! This is such a common cultural practice that we came up with a word for it, which is one of the wonderful things of a family-centered culture.
Hoy, en sobremesa, me contaron de la graduación de mi vecina.
Today, after eating, they told me about my neighbor’s graduation.
2. Buen Provecho
All this talk about food sure is making my stomach growl! Before lunch starts, however, I have to make sure to say buen provecho to my office mates.
In English, you would normally say bon appétit or “enjoy your meal.” The difference is that in Latin America and Spain, saying buen provecho is a daily phrase.
This phrase is also used in comedores, or small family-owned restaurants, by wishing the other patrons a nice meal if they’re still eating once you leave the place. This nifty bit of info is sure to leave a positive impression on the locals if you ever come to visit!
(Spoken to other people in a restaurant as you leave) “¡Bueno provecho!” “Muchas gracias, igualmente.”
“Enjoy!” “Thanks so much! You too!”
Empalagar is a word for when you’ve had something so sweet you can’t even look at anything with sugar anymore. When something is ‘empalagoso’ it means that it is very sweet, and probably best accompanied by coffee or water.
Este pastel está muy empalagoso. ¿Me pasas un cafecito para acompañar, por favor?
This cake is too sweet. Can I get some coffee to go with it, please?
4. Te Quiero
Speaking of sweet things, te quiero is one of my favorite Spanish phrases. This one is truly unique since it’s an expression that falls between ‘I like you’ and ‘I love you’. Te quiero is a universal phrase of affection for friends, family, and significant others alike. It’s a phrase that indicates closeness to one another, without going too far nor falling short of said feeling.
Gracias por traerme al aeropuerto. ¡Te quiero!
Thanks for bringing me to the airport. Love you!
Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda. This is the Spanish version of “the early bird gets the worm.” The literal translation is “the one who wakes up early, God will help.” The word madrugar, implies getting up before the sun does. La madrugada starts at 1:00 am and ends at 5:00 am, but lazy people will say they have to madrugar at 8:00 am!
Mañana tenemos que madrugar para escalar temprano el volcán.
Tomorrow we get up at the crack of dawn to start climbing the volcano early.
Estrenar is a special word, one that is almost always full of joy. It means ‘to try out for the first time.’ You can use it when driving your new car for the first time or when you don the new pair of shoes you got for your birthday.
Estoy estrenando carro, lo acabo de sacar de la agencia.
It’s my first time driving the car. I just got it from the dealership.
Most university students are familiar with this one. It’s finals week and there’s too much to do, papers line the desk, covering its every last corner. Estar desvelado means to be sleep-deprived, and the word itself comes from an interesting place.
Velar refers to a state of vigilance, and the prefix des implies a lack of, so desvelar literally translates to ‘being out of vigilance,’ which is an accurate description of how people look and act when they’re sleep-deprived. Remember to always catch some z’s and avoid el desvelo! Studies show that proper sleep is integral to memory retention.
La fecha de entrega es mañana. Me va a tocar desvelarme para terminar el trabajo.
The deadline is tomorrow. I’ll have to stay up all night to finish all the work.
This word is very unique, and while it has several approximations in English, I feel there’s no way to express this feeling in another language. Desesperado could be described as being fed up.
In some cases, it can mean the same as desperate, but desesperado can go beyond that definition. Other times, it is akin to impatience. Desesperado is a mix of emotions including annoyance, impatience, hopelessness, and anger. Different levels of desesperación exist, from standing in a seemingly endless queue to looking around your house for five hours because you can’t find the car keys.
Esa alarma lleva 10 minutos sonando, ya me tiene desesperado.
That alarm has been going off for 10 minutes. I’m fed up with it.
Ganas is a word that expresses a want, coupled with an impulse leading to that action. It’s stronger than being in the mood for something but not as powerful as desire. Ganas is similar to whim, without the sudden and unexplainable nature of the word.
Tengo ganas de ver tele y comer comida chatarra.
I feel like watching television and eating junk food.
The last of our Spanish concepts is ajeno, a word that describes all that is outside of oneself, something that corresponds to someone else, or that feels unrecognizable. It applies to feelings, topics, and conversations. Ajeno can also describe freedom from something. If someone is ajeno to sadness, that means this person does not know how sadness feels like, for example.
Nunca había ido a un bar de salsa, me sentía ajeno a ese ambiente.
I had never gone to a salsa bar before. I felt like a stranger in that place.
Which word was your favorite?
Personally, my favorite of the Spanish concepts on this list is te quiero. It’s amazing how learning another language can give us new ways to express ourselves! If you want to get a head start on Spanish, I suggest you try out a free class with one of our teachers at Homeschool Spanish Academy!
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