Why are idioms essentials to learn Spanish?

Let’s picture the next scene in your mind: Mike was born and raised in the US, he has lived there his whole life and ever since Mike was a child he has never been out of the country.

However, when Mike gets to high school, he gets the opportunity to learn Spanish, he finds out that is not as hard as he thinks; And because he is a good and a disciplined student, Mike gets excellent grades in Spanish class. Finally, he finishes high school with a basic knowledge of Spanish.

Now, Mike decides to go to college and he takes an optional assignment that he really likes and he thinks that this will be a big opportunity for him to improve his skills, so guess what assignment does he take? … Yes, he takes Spanish and he goes to Spanish class for two more years.

Mike’s life keeps going on and he graduates from college, he starts working and making good money, so one-day Mike decides that it’s time to go on vacation and start seeing the world, he always liked Spain so he makes up his mind and decides to go to Europe, he thinks: “I took almost five years of Spanish in school, this shouldn’t be a big deal for me now”.

The day of the trip comes and when Mike is getting on the plane he sits next to a Spanish couple, “I should try to practice Spanish with these people to see if I can understand what they tell me”, he thinks. However, the couple starts to talk among themselves and one of them says something like:

“… No puedo creerlo, perdí la cabeza cuando vi que no tenía más de 5 dólares…”.

Mike realizes that he cannot understand anything, all he can do is catch little words that he thinks he learned in schoolso he prefers to stay quiet the rest of the trip and avoid the problem of trying to speak and understand Spanish.

What do you think? What was Mike’s problem? … well, most people would say that Mike didn’t go enough time to Spanish class or that Mike wasn’t as good as he thought for Spanish. Is this true? Not at all.

If you have been following this blog, you probably know the answer: it’s the methodthat school used to teach Mike to speak Spanish; However, there is another thing that is related to Mike’s problem to understand Spanish and this is: idioms.

Idioms are a very important part of a language because idioms are several words together that when combined, they have a meaning, but separately they don’t make sense, for example, if you’d say to a non-English speaking person:

“Hey, don’t go outside, it’s raining dogs and cats”

The Spanish person would probably feel confused, he could think something like: “That’s weird, I didn’t see any dog or cat when I was coming”

Well, In Spanish it is totally the same, there is an infinite list of idioms that people use in Spanish and their meaning can actually vary from country to country or even from city to city, inside the same country.Also, there can be some idioms that don’t mean what they mean in one country or they mean a totally different thing, for example:

If you go to Medellin, Colombia and you hear the expression:

“Yo estaba tirando caja con Andrés”.

That means, I was laughing with Andrés, but if you go to a different city of Colombia, or if you go to a different Spanish speaking country, this is not going to make sense at all, people would get it like: “I was throwing a box with Andrés”, it wouldn’t make sense.

Going back to Mike’s example, we see that the Spanish couple that Mike wanted to interact with, were talking and one of them said:

“… No puedo creerlo, perdía la cabeza cuando vi que no tenía más de 5 dólares…”.

On this sentence, we have an idiom, which is “perdí la cabeza”, and that means to go crazy, this is an idiom that most Spanish speaking countries use, so the whole sentence means “I can’t believe it, I went crazy when I saw that I didn’t have more than 5 dollars”.

We really think that idioms are essentials to learn Spanish, and this is because they are part of the real Spanish, people use them all the time and without even thinking and they should be taught in schools, but unfortunately most of the times, they don’t teach them.

So if they don’t teach idioms in schools, how do you learn idioms? Most importantly using real material in Spanish. Listen to spontaneous Spanishor read magazines, blogs or articles that are meant for Spanish speakers. Also, and more importantly interact with Spanish speakers, if you get friends who speak Spanish, they certainly can teach you what some expressions (idioms) mean.

Also as you know the internet has a lot to offer, so if you type “modismos en español” or “idioms in Spanish”, you will get a lot of idioms to learn, for now we want to give you a couple of idioms and examples so you can remember learn them and use them.

-Estar en la luna: It means to be distracted, for example:

“María se perdió el examen de matemáticas por estar en la luna”

-Loro viejo no aprende a hablar: it means that you are too old to learn something, for example:

“-Abuela, usted debería aprender a manejar.

-No hijo, loro viejo no aprende a hablar, es mejor que no.”

-Por ahí va el agua al molino: it means to start getting an idea of something that somebody is telling you, for example:

“-Adivina que hice esta mañana….

– ¿Fuiste a nadar con juan?

-Por ahí va el agua al molino, pero no fui a nadar

– ¡Ahh, entonces sí estuviste con Juan!”

-No hay moros en la costa: it means that there is no body around to ruin a plan that you have, for example:

“-Hola Ana, ¿Sí vamos a ir a la fiesta”

-Espera, voy a mirar si no hay moros en la costa.”

Diego Cuadros is a blogger and a Spanish online teacher. He uses stories to help Spanish lovers understand fast-speaking native speakers, so they don't freeze and panic in conversations.

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