Understanding Spanish Idioms And How To Use Them
This is an article on the subject of idioms. That's a fancy word to describe phrases that mean something other than the literal translation of the words. For instance, many people have heard of the saying "a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush". This is a phrase with a separate meaning from what the words mean. Intermediate and advanced students of Spanish will want to be familiar with common idioms because they are a big part of the language and vital to its complete understanding.
Sometimes the topic of idioms takes people by surprise because they're often used in one's mother tongue without having to give them any thought. Here are a few observations you should know about idioms in general.
- Idioms are Common
- Amount of Usage Varies
- Types of Idioms Used Varies
Idioms as language items are very popular and can be heard quite frequently in everyday conversations. Idioms are a huge part of Spanish conversation and have to be studied to some extent by everyone who is learning Spanish - Especially anyone at the intermediate or advanced level of Spanish language study.
Some people use idioms more than others - there are some folks who love idioms and practically every conversation they have will be sprinkled with a handful of idioms. Idioms are a great way for some people to sum up the topic or lesson of a conversation, and they're easy to throw in and use once you know them. Sometimes you'll find certain types of conversations (usually informal ones) lend themselves better to the use of idioms.
There are hundreds, and probably thousands of idioms in use today. And each group of people will have a set of idioms they're familiar with and use those idioms regularly. While there are idioms that are universally understood, many are group-specific and will draw a blank stare from people who aren't members of that particular group. It's a good idea to listen to what idioms a certain group of people are using before venturing out on your own with idioms. Once you have a handle on the popular idioms currently in use with the group you're in you can communicate with the added spice of idioms with the confidence of knowing you'll be readily understood.
We use idioms every day without giving it a thought. We say things like: he feels like a fish out of water, it was a close shave, you're playing with fire. Idioms are so important, there are entire books devoted to the subject.
A List of Spanish Idiom Examples
Just to give you a head start on learning idioms here is a list of some common idioms that the majority of Spanish speakers understand. The closest meaning of each idiom is included below in English. Bear in mind that the nature of idioms makes them difficult to translate exactly. In Spanish, some popular idioms are:
- de tal palo, tal astilla
- Which means "a chip off the old block".
- desnudar un santo para vestir otro
- "to rob Peter to pay Paul"
- estar como perro en bario ajeno
- "to feel like a fish out of water"
- por un pelito de rana
- "it was a close shave"
Idioms can be a lot of fun
Although the task of learning the additional meanings of idioms might sound like a lot of extra work, they can be fun. And they teach you about the Spanish speaking cultures, what they hold important and how they think.
As a speaker of Spanish as a second language, you might want to use idioms sparingly. At least until you are 100% certain of their nuances. It's much more important to be aware of idioms, and understand their definitions when you hear them, than to actually speak them. Take your time, and use a little patience, and begin using an idiom when you've heard the native speakers you talk to use it a few times.
Knowing and understanding the use of Spanish idioms is a vital step in the process learning and speaking Spanish. Having a grasp of popular idioms signifies you've moved on from the beginning stage and are in the intermediate to advanced stage of having Spanish as a second language. Idioms are a great way to ensure a well-rounded understanding of Spanish. Have fun!