Spanish is the second most studied language in the world, and although it is difficult to say precisely, it is estimated that it has about three hundred thousand words in its lexicon. Let’s consider the combinations of these and the uses by the different variants of Spanish. We are talking about a vibrant language, where even conversations between speakers of different variants of Spanish cannot be understood so easily by each other.
There are also lovely words that have yet to have an exact translation in other languages. Today, iScribo invites you to see some of them and have fun getting to know part of Spanish speakers’ culture through their use of their language.
The fact that there are expressions or words without a precise translation is not a phenomenon unique to Spanish. It happens a lot between different languages. The reason for this is that language is the communication tool of a community, and what is essential for one is not necessarily crucial for others.
To be or to be? That is the problem
Languages have the words their speakers need: no more, no less. Therefore, learning a language implies being aware that you are also learning how to live the life of the culture corresponding to said language.
Let’s start with a beautiful distinction between ser and estar verbs. In Spanish, unlike English, we understand that in life, you can ser and you can estar, which are not the same thing. While estar implies occupying a space or becoming visible and includes a property susceptible to change, ser suggests some way of giving existence meaning. Ser transcends estar since it gives it meaning. It is the difference between essence and attribute; an attribute can change, but the essence cannot. I am a human being (essentially), and I am living on planet Earth, for example.
A fascinating use colloquially in Chile makes the difference between dejar ser (letting be) and dejar estar (letting be). When someone tells me dejé estar (I let myself be), he/she means that he/she did not do anything he should have done. On the other hand, when he/she tells me dejé ser (I let myself be), he/she means I freed myself, or I let myself go, something like the Beatles’ Let It Be.
Beautiful words without translation into other languages
The Spanish words in this selection are related to the culture around food and taking a walk, and some are linked to the night.
Sobremesa: everyone practices it, particularly on weekends. Millions and millions of families and friends spend a great time sharing at the table after eating. That pleasant moment is the after-dinner meal.
Provecho: I love this one, also because it has some controversy. For some, it is not polite to say it, while for others, it is a good wish. Anyway, there is something nice about it: by saying “provecho” or “buen provecho”, you are wishing the person who is eating, or with whom you are sharing the meal, that the meal will be pleasant. Isn’t that a good feeling towards each other? Its equivalent in French is “bon appetite”.
Now let’s move on to the night: has it happened to you that you are tired and try but can’t sleep? Well, that is what in Spanish is called desvelar(se): it means to prevent sleep or to lose sleep due to the inability to fall asleep.
Trasnochar: Are you one of those who likes to stay late? So, you are someone who usually stays up late. Some people do it only on the weekends when they go out to party, but some live a life that way because they are more productive; anyway, with them, we use the verb to stay up late.
Madrugada: refers to the moment when night and morning merge. It is before dawn and after night.
Estrenar: If one goes to the premiere of a movie in English, the verb release is used, but in Spanish, estrenar also refers to wearing a piece of clothing for the first time. It is a particular activity for many people: hoy estrenaré un vestido nuevo.
Vitrinear: It is somewhat related to the previous concept. Vitrinas are the shop windows where stores display their products. Vitrinear, therefore, is the verb that indicates going out to browse the windows without necessarily having the goal of purchasing. Let’s go window shopping is an invitation to go out and visit stores without necessarily buying. It is more of an invitation to walk.
Here comes a bonus track: la vergüenza ajena is amusing. Not all cultures have it, but the expression is understood. It is a borrowed feeling because here, one does not feel ashamed for what one did but instead for what someone else did. In English, it would be something like feeling embarrassed by someone else, although it is not precisely the same since, with that phrase, what is being done is rationalising the feeling.
I hope you enjoyed reading this article. Keep visiting the iScribo blog to learn more about the world that revolves around a language as beautiful as Spanish. Here we are, waiting for you with more topics of interest!