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Written by Montserrat González

Montserrat is a professional translator who likes to read and write fictional stories. There's nothing she enjoys more than spending time with her friends and family.

September 23, 2020

Spanish words that are difficult to translate into English

 

It’s possible that Spanish has a vocabulary of over 100,000 words, and this implies that we will find some of them quite difficult to translate into English.

For starters, English speakers have a lot of problems to understand that the verb “to be” has two meanings: “ser” and “estar”, the first one refers to a permanent state or characteristic, and the second one to a temporal state or location. So, I can only imagine how tricky can be to translate some of the following words and phrases:

 

Te quiero

I would like to start with this one because it doesn’t have an exact equivalent in English. An expression like this does not exist. The closest phrase in English would be “I love You”; however, every Spanish speaker will tell you that in most contexts is not exactly the feeling they’re trying to convey.

When translating (let’s say we are translating literature), we’d have to understand the context and the relationship of the speakers to know if what they mean is “I love you” or maybe something closer to “I care about you.”

 

Buen provecho

Saying “Buen provecho” before eating is very common courtesy in Spanish-speaking countries, especially Mexico. We know its French equivalent “Bon appétit;” also, in Portuguese is “Bom Proveito”; in German, “Guten Appetit”, to name a few. But in English, what word or phrase could we use as equivalent?

The closest phrase to really express what we mean could be: “Enjoy your meal!”, can you think of another phrase that means the same?

 

Empalagarse

This is a feeling that we’ve all felt once. This is the sensation we get after having eaten a lot of candies or a really sweet dessert. In Spanish there’s a word to describe it, but not in English.

When it comes to sensations, they are a little harder to translate at first, when the other language doesn’t have an equivalent term. In a translation, we could explain the term in the target language, but translating the term directly is almost an impossible mission.

This is why “empalagar/empalagarse” can be translated differently according to the context.

 

Anteayer

This word as used by Spanish speakers is translated into English as “the day before yesterday”. With words like this, we’ll have a problem with the layout and design of the page, because in a document where there was only one word, now there must be four.

There are many words difficult to translate both in Spanish and English. which ones do you know? We’d like you to read your comments on Facebook, and read about words in Spanish that have made your life difficult when translating into another language.

 

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