Spanish, the second most spoken language in the world, is an official language in 21 countries and spoken in 31 countries. Speakers of the language are scattered around the world, most of them found in places that were once Spanish territories, while many more are immigrants in several countries, especially in the United States. About 534.3 million people worldwide speak Spanish today.
As a language, Spanish is a complex blend of some Romance languages, Arabic, other Spanish dialects, Latin and some indigenous languages of American Indians.
Translators attest to the fact that translation work is a complex process as there are so many factors to be considered to ensure the accuracy of the translation and its suitability to the target user.
Languages differ and most languages, even those belonging to the same category, such as English (British and American) or Spanish, have words which do not have equivalent translation in another language.
These words present additional challenges to translators, as they have to find ways to deliver the same message without changing what the original text is trying to convey.
If you’re interested in learning Spanish or already speak the language, it’s good to know things that make the language unique.
Unique words in Spanish that have no direct English translation
When learning a language, you also learn the culture of the people speaking it – their emotions, feelings, beliefs and traditions. Spanish, for one, has a range of words that do not have direct equivalents in English. Spanish speakers call it “sin traducción directa” (no direct translation). Here are some of them.
Some people enjoy the cold weather and in fact love the feeling of being cold, so they always look forward to the onset of fall and winter. While some people are quite sensitive to heat, there are people who are very sensitive to the cold, so they often go on holidays to destinations with tropical weather.
In Spanish, a person who cannot stand being cold and immediately dons a jacket or sweater when there is a draft is called friolento or friolenta.
Desvelado (masculine) or desvelada (feminine) describes a person who feels exhausted because he or she could not sleep and ends up staying awake all night.
The term does not have a direct English translation. You have to describe the feeling of being awake even if you want to sleep, perhaps combined with the difficulty to concentrate or a headache. It is slightly different from trasnochar, which means staying up all night do to something, whether to finish an assignment, catch up with work or party all night.
Estrenar can be applied to avoid shoppers. It’s a verb that means to use or wear an item for the first time, such as clothes, shoes, bags or gadgets. Most people know this feeling. Young people are susceptible to this, especially when they have a new tablet, laptop, cellphone or any trendy thing that they’ve begged their parents to buy for a long time.
Have you had the feeling of not being able to eat anything else because you’ve had something that is sickly sweet? The Spanish term for it is empalagarse. But do remember that this reflexive verb applies only to overly sweet food or drink. If you want to describe sugary food items, use the Spanish adjective, empalagoso.
Some names are very common, such as James and Emma and you’d expect many more people to have the same names. Yet, a lot of people seem surprised (and delighted) to meet someone with the same first name as them for the first time. In Spanish, the term they use is tocayo if it’s a male and tocaya if it’s a female. The closest English equivalent for this term is namesake or even name twin, but these do not work in particular contexts.
Verguenza Ajena / Pena Ajena
Pena ajena or verguenza ajena means that you feel embarrassed for a person even if said person does not feel embarrassed at all. You might have experienced seeing a person doing something to someone that makes you cringe, cover your face with your hands or squeeze your fists. For example, a person deliberately pours juice or wine on someone’s clothes at a gathering. The closest English word to what you feel seeing such a situation is awkward. But the Spanish term has a deeper sense of awkwardness after witnessing a very embarrassing moment.
The terms we have here are just a few from a list of Spanish words with no direct English translation. If you need translation, work with a native speaking Spanish translator who can provide you with accurate translation that reflects the regional nuances of the Spanish language. On your own you might want to understand the meaning of madrugar, sobremesa, entrecejo, amigovio, merendar, consuegros and me cae bien. These words do not have direct English translations as well, but you’ll have fun discovering what they mean. They will definitely increase your Spanish vocabulary and boost your understanding of Spanish culture.
About the author:
Bernadine Racoma is a senior writer for Day Translations, Inc. She travels a lot, using her diverse cultural experiences inwriting. She is a proud mother of seven, does yoga and enjoys the company of friends for food tripping and movie dates.