8 Untranslatable Spanish Phrases to Know and Use

Spanish, like many languages, possesses unique expressions that reflect the culture and thought processes of its speakers. These untranslatable Spanish phrases, lacking direct equivalents in other languages, provide fascinating insights into Spanish-speaking cultures and offer a deeper understanding of the language’s nuances. Learning such phrases is not just about adding words to your vocabulary; it’s about embracing a new way of thinking and viewing the world.

Below, we delve into eight words used in Spain and Latin America that defy straightforward translation.

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1.  Estrenar

This term signifies the action of using or wearing something for the very first time. It captures the excitement or novelty of the initial experience with an item.

Example: “Voy a estrenar mi coche nuevo este fin de semana.” (I am going to use my new car for the first time this weekend.)

Additionally, the Spanish word “estrenar” is used to refer to the debut of a play, movie, or television show. It encompasses the idea of something being presented to the public for the first time, not just in the context of personal use.

Example: “Van a estrenar la obra de teatro este viernes.” (They are going to debut the play this Friday.)

2.  Friolento

This word is used to describe someone who is especially prone to feeling cold. It highlights a person’s sensitivity to lower temperatures, whether in a chilly room or outdoors. Funnily enough, there is no equivalent word for someone who tends to feel overly hot or who is sensitive to higher temperatures.

Example: “Siempre llevo una chaqueta porque soy muy friolento.” (I always wear a jacket because I am very sensitive to the cold.)

3.  Tener ganas

This phrase expresses a strong desire or intense eagerness for something. It’s more emphatic than just wanting and conveys a deep-seated urge or wish.

Example: “Tengo ganas de ver la nueva película de Christopher Nolan” (I really want to see that Christopher Nolan movie.)

4.  Merendar

This untranslatable Spanish term refers to the activity of having an afternoon snack or enjoying a light meal in the late afternoon. It’s associated with a casual, leisurely break often involving food and drink. The noun, equivalent to breakfast, lunch or dinner, is “merienda”.

Example: “¿Nos vamos a merendar algo dulce esta tarde?” (Shall we go have something sweet for our afternoon snack today?)

Girl enjoying her afternoon snack

5.  Desvelado

This word succinctly captures the state of being sleep-deprived or having spent the night without sleeping. It refers to the lack of rest and the feeling of tiredness resulting from it. The verb associated to this awful experience is “desvelarse”, as in “Me desvelé” (I wasn’t able to sleep).

Example: “Estuve estudiando hasta tarde, me siento bastante desvelado.” (I was studying until late, I feel quite sleep deprived.)

6.  Te quiero

This untranslatable Spanish phrase occupies a unique space in expressing feelings towards someone, conveying a sentiment that is stronger than liking but not as intense as “I love you.” It suggests deep affection and care, but people use it when they want to downplay their romantic feelings or isn’t 100% that what they feel is romantic love. The difference between “Te amo” and “Te quiero” in Spanish is so big and significant that saying “Te quiero” in response to “Te amo” may lead to a strong feeling of rejection.

Example: “Te quiero mucho, eres un… amigo importante para mí.” (I care for you a lot, you are an important… friend to me.)

7.  Sobremesa

This term is emblematic of the social nature of meals in Spanish-speaking cultures. ‘Sobremesa’ refers to the period of relaxation and conversation at the table after finishing a meal. It’s a time for friends and family to bond, chat, and enjoy each other’s company without rushing away from the table.

Example: “Después de comer, continuamos con una sobremesa que duró dos horas.” (After eating, we continued with a post-meal conversation that lasted two hours.)

8.  Le da vergüenza

This phrase serves to describe feelings of shyness or modest embarrassment rather than deep shame. It’s commonly applied to express the discomfort or inhibition one might feel in potentially awkward or exposing situations.

Example: “Ella se siente incómoda bailando delante de los demás, le da vergüenza.” (She feels uncomfortable dancing in front of others, she feels embarrassed.

Untranslatable Spanish phrases offer a unique window into the cultures they come from, highlighting the way different communities experience and appreciate life. For instance, terms like “merienda” and “sobremesa” reflect the Spanish-speaking world’s emphasis on the social and communal aspects of food, portraying meals not just as necessities but as opportunities for connection and relaxation. Combined with a word like “estrenar” (which refers to the joy of using or wearing something for the first time), these phrases underscore the importance of taking time to enjoy the simple pleasures of life.

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