Every country has its share of idioms and expressions for language learners. When translated literally, they can often lose their meaning and sometimes feel awkward. Expressions are selected here in Italian, German, Portuguese and Spanish, which sound particularly strangely when it is literally translated. Idiomatic expressions cannot always be translated literally into other languages. In fact, they often only sound absurd or lose their meaning altogether.
These phrases can be difficult to translate, and it can be challenging to capture their full meaning – especially because they sometimes have specific meanings that accrue over time, sometimes from a specific era. .
According to language learning app Babel, there are some expressions that are almost impossible to translate. These are sometimes equivalent to other languages and sometimes have surprises in store for language learners.
In Portuguese, watch out for rabbits
“Compar Gato por Lebre”: The literal translation of this expression is “to buy a cat thinking it was a rabbit,” which actually means “to be a fool.” An English equivalent would be: “to buy a pig in a thump.”
“Pea dois koelhos com oma takada / kazadada so”: The rabbit returns – this time in a phrase that means “to kill two rabbits with only one shot,” which means getting two things with the same action. The equivalent expression in English would be “to kill two birds with one stone”.
In German, food is not always about food
“Das Itt Nachat Beer”: This phrase literally means “which is not my beer” but actually means “not my thing, I’m not interested, I don’t like it.” In English, we are more likely to say “This is not my cup of tea.”
“Jetst Mal Butter Be Die Die Fishe”: Literally translated, this expression means “butter for fish now!” And that means “go to!”
In Italian, it is good to be like bread
“Boono a il pane”: Its widely used Italian expression literally means “to be as good as bread”, but is actually used to describe someone “who has a heart of gold.”
“Non Acele Peli Sulla Lingua”: In fact, this expression means “no hair on your tongue”, a phrase that describes someone who “does not understand their words.”
In Spanish, watch out for spoiled milk
“Levanterse con el pie Izcierdo”: Literally, this expression means “getting up with your left foot” and means a bad start to the day or “getting up on the wrong side of the bed”. See also “ester de mala leche” or “to be in bad milk”, which means to be in a bad mood.
“Tomar el Pello”: Or “to take hair,” means children, to have fun or “to pull one’s leg.”