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Spanish Idioms Tutorial


Christian Food for Thought:

It was rebellion against God approximately 10,000 years ago that resulted in the destruction of a one-world language--consequences that still endure to this day. "And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language. And this they begin to do; and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down and there confound their language that they may not understand one another's speech" (KJV, Gen. 11:5-6). It takes much time and dedication for man to learn just one foreign language; but, his Creator knows them all!

What Are Spanish Idioms?

The dictionary definition of an idiom is, "an expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either grammatically or that cannot be understood from the meanings of its separate words." Spanish idioms, in simpler terms, are expressions in the Spanish language that are very peculiar to non-native speakers. Every language has idioms, it's just that the native speakers are used to them so they don't seem idiomatic. For example, in English people say, "The car is running." The car isn't literally running as in running away; it is simply started and ready to be driven.

Why Should You Learn Spanish Language Idioms?

If your goal is to become fluent in Spanish, you'll have to learn Spanish idioms; there's no way around it. You simply won't be able to express what you want without a sound knowledge of such expressions. You also will never become a true translator or interpreter if you don't learn Spanish language idioms. However, don't attempt to memorize them. True language learning does not consist of memorizing phrases; you didn't learn your mother tongue that way and you won't learn a second language that way either.

If you have begun to learn classroom Spanish, you've undoubtedly come across some of the most common Spanish idioms such as the expressions: tener hambre (to be hungry) and tener sed (to be thirsty). The verb "tener" (to have/to hold) is used in Spanish where the verb "to be" is employed in English. If someone says, "Tengo sed," we should not translate his words to, "I have thirst." We should translate them to, "I am thirsty" because that is how we express being thirsty in the English language.

Let's Learn

The following Spanish idioms are only the tip of the iceberg; but, they will introduce you to the world of strange expressions in a foreign language. It is then up to you to practice, practice, practice, and then practice more with native speakers in conversation whether oral or written. I would also suggest that you read in the language as much as possible.

Spanish Idioms and Their Meanings

1. Tener en la punta de la lengua - To have on the tip of one's tongue
2. No tener pies ni cabeza - To not make any sense/to be as clear as mud/to have no rhyme or reason
3. No tener pelo de tonto - To be nobody's fool
4. Tener que ver con - To have to do with
5. Tomar a broma/a risa - To take as a joke/to find funny or amusing
6. Tomar a mal - To take something badly/to take something the wrong way
7. Echar flores a - To flatter/sweet talk
8. Echar de menos - to miss

Using Spanish Idioms in Real Conversation

Idioms are always best understood when used in a sentence. Therefore, observe how they are used in the following sentences and then attempt to do some translation with Spanish idioms yourself.

1. El nombre del cantante es.... Caramba! Lo tengo en la punta de la lengua.
Translation: The singer's name is.... Oh my! It's on the tip of my tongue.

2. No entendemos nada de la química. Para nosotros, no tiene ni pies ni cabeza.
Translation: We don't understand anything about chemistry. It has no rhyme or reason to us.

3. Tu amigo es muy listo. No tiene pelo de tonto.
Translation: Your friend is really sharp. He's nobody's fool.

4. Tu comentario no tiene nada que ver con el tema que se trata.
Translation: Your comment has nothing to do with the topic.

5. Los padres se rieron viendo las diabluras de sus hijos, pero nosotros no las tomamos a risa.
Translation: The parents saw their kids' mischievous behavior as cute, but we didn't find it funny.

6. Mi hermano siempre toma a mal lo que dices.
Translation: My brother always takes what you say the wrong way.

7. Mariano echa flores a Xiomara.
Translation: Mariano flatters Xiomara.

8. Te voy a echar de menos.
Translation: I'm gonna miss you.

Can You Translate the Following Using Spanish Idioms?

Note: The appropriate idiom for the translation appears in parenthesis in its infinitive form to serve as a hint.

1. That explanation makes absolutely no sense at all (no tener pies ni cabeza).

2. Sweet talking her won't work (echar flores a).

3. He says he had the answer on the tip of his tongue (tener en la punta de la lengua).
©2011 Ana Kirk

Related content:
Spanish Lessons on the Subjunctive--In Plain English (Part I)
Spanish Lessons on the Subjunctive--In Plain English (Part II)

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