Here we go (aquí vamos).
Have you ever had to think longer than you should when trying to find a word in Spanish? Perhaps you feel that it should be on the tip of your tongue, but you just can’t seem to find it? You search and search, but no matter how hard you try, or how long you’ve been studying Spanish, your mind is just blank.
This situation can be particularly confusing when you are looking for a word that is very common in English. You might think: “how could I possibly not know the equivalent in Spanish?” Well, the answer is simple: there might not be one!
So, would you be interested in a list of English words that have no Spanish equivalents so that you won’t go crazy the next time you try to use one of them?
If so, then this is the article for you!
However, before we delve into these words, let’s take look at why this problem occurs. Sometimes, when a new and modern word is necessary in everyday life, we simply borrow the English word and use it with the same meaning. (Woo-hoo, less vocabulary to study!) The most obvious example that comes to mind is “selfie.” We do not have a translation for this and thus use the English word. In fact, to say this in Spanish, we would need to describe it as “a picture of ourselves,” or:
- una foto de nuestras caras (boooring… and so long).
Just imagine, you are out with your friends and want to take a picture of everyone. So, you shout “a picture of our faces!!” Everyone would look and ask “what is wrong with you”? “Selfie” is a much more catchy, quick and efficient way to gather people in front of the camera.
Other English words that do not have a translation in Spanish are as follows:
“To log in” actually means apertura de la sesión, which is something like “to open the session.” Again, it’s quite long, so we just borrow the English word. Sometimes we use iniciar sesión on websites, but this is also not quite exactly like the English version.
The actual translation of this word is multitarea, but I don’t think anyone ever uses it. However, we don’t use the English version of this word either. So, what do we use instead? Well, believe it or not, we actually take the time to say the much longer phrase hacer más de dos cosas a la vez. So, the sentence “men can’t multitask” would be:
- Los hombres no pueden hacer más de dos cosas a la vez.
I don’t know what is going on with this word, but I have gone from never having heard it, to reading it, hearing it, and even using it all the time. It seems to me like a trendy word (palabra de moda) and my students seem to think the same as they have asked me how to say it in Spanish (¿Cómo se dice en español?). This made me feel embarrassed (many times), because I didn’t know the Spanish word for it.
So, I did what I usually do when I do not know something. I searched and found similar words we could use in Spanish, such as dilación, desidia or posponer. This last one means “to put off.” However, these words do not capture the complete meaning. If we would like to use it with the proper meaning, we would need to add a few words like dejar todo para más tarde (leave everything for later). And yes, I know. It’s kind of funny that there is no word that fully encapsulates the meaning of something that is so common in Spanish culture!
So, if you would like to discuss something that a coach or mentor would typically talk about, such as “five steps to beating procrastination,” we would need to translate it as:
- Los cinco pasos para no dejar todo para más tarde.
This is word that we haven’t translated into Spanish. Everyone knows what you mean when you say “spam.” We understand it as a folder that holds undesired mail.
This word means “to have difficulties,” and in Spanish it’s translation is quite long and strange to say: tener dificultades. We can use it, but not in the same way. Instead, we generallly use costarme, and add mucho if it is something that is really hard. So, if you are struggling with past tenses in Spanish, you could say:
- Me cuestan mucho los tiempos pasados en español.
Similarly, if you wanted to say “I struggle to understand different accents,” you would say:
- Me cuesta entender los diferentes acentos.
And yeah, sorry, there’s a reflexive verb in there.
Even though this just means to close something using keys, the Spanish translation is unusually long. That is why most of the time we just say cerrar. Sometimes, in order to make sure that someone locks the main door, we will add con llave (with a key).
- ¿Has cerrado la puerta con llave? Have you locked the main door?
I love this one. Don’t ask me why. It is so simple in English, but unfortunately it has a false friend in Spanish that you’ve probably used before: realizar. However, the meanings of these two words are not even close. Realizar means “to make” or “to carry out,” while the true translation for “to realise” is again a reflexive verb: darse cuenta.
- Lo siento, no quise decir eso, no me di cuenta que Marta estaba allí. I am sorry, I didn’t mean to say that. I did not realise Marta was there.
This is a funny one. English speakers have a word for this small body part, but for us Spanish speakers, we just take the word “finger” (dedo) and add del pie. Simple, but yeah, a little bit longer.
So, if you hurt your toe, you would say:
- te haces daño en el dedo del pie.
And the last one is:
Again, it’s quite funny that a simple action does not have a perfect translation in Spanish. Spaniards will say comprobar de nuevo, comprobar otra vez or volver a comprobar. I guess we could just use aseguarse, but in English that would be “to make sure,” which is not quite right.
So, if you want to ask your friend if they double-checked something, such as “can you double-check that you did not put my socks in your drawer?” you would ask them:
- ¿Puedes comprobar de nuevo que no tienes mis calcetines en tu cajón?
OK my italki friends, that is all for now (eso es todo por ahora). I hope you enjoyed this article and learned something new.
Please note though that this article discusses only a few of the English words that don’t have translations in Spanish. However, there are many more words out there. So, keep your eyes open for a part two!
In the meantime, I would love to hear from you. Did you already know these words? Can you think of any others that don’t have an exact Spanish translation? Leave a comment below. I am sure they will be of help to someone!