- June 30, 2018
- Posted by: BBLTranslation
- Category: Article
Language is a funny thing. It can be used to express an infinite amount of emotions and situations. Some of the most interesting facets of language are idioms. An idiom is a phrase or saying where the combination of words has a figurative meaning, and where the words together have a meaning that is different than the actual definitions of the individual words. However interesting, idioms can prove to be a challenge when learning any language. An English learner may get confused when you tell them that your new shoes cost you “an arm and a leg,” just as a Spanish learner may be confused when you call someone a chorizo (usually a type of sausage, but in this case a thief).
Although idioms sometimes prove to be tricky, every language has them, and once you “get the hang of them,” you will find that sometimes languages have idioms in common, or have their own idioms to fill in the gaps. For example, me suena a chino in Spanish, and c’est du chinois in French are the equivalents to “It’s all Greek to me” in English, but these languages compare the anomaly to Chinese rather than to Greek – what do you think the Chinese say? What’s more, the Spanish phrase al pan, pan y al vino, vino and its French counterpart, appeler un chat un chat are both used to denote the English phrase, “to call a spade a spade.”
In many languages, although the idioms may sound different, they actually carry over between languages. For instance, in English, one could say that a friend has a “heart of gold,” while in French, it would be said that your friend has a coeur d’or, translated quite literally. Although the French and English versions are the same, in Spanish, your friend would be un pedazo de pan, literally meaning “a piece of bread.”
While some of the languages have similar idioms, as you can see others simply use different pairings of words, but most of the time the phrase itself carries the same meaning. For example, in Spanish one would say, “Estás como un flan,” while in English one would say, “You’re shaking like a leaf.” Although the words in the different idioms give a different image, a wobbly dessert versus a leaf blowing in the wind, both mean the same thing to the speaker. Another example would be the phrase, “to be the black sheep” versus Être la brebis galeuse in French – which calls the sheep mangy instead of black. This is common with many idioms across different languages. Interestingly enough, the way the idioms are presented has a lot to do with the culture of the different countries. In Spain, many of their idioms and cultural expressions have to do with food – something that is obviously very important in the Spanish culture. For example, ser pan comido (to be easy as pie) or tener mala leche (used when someone has a bad attitude or temper).
However confusing idioms may be, they’re inevitable. Whether you speak English, French, Spanish, or even Chinese, we use them each and every day, which is sometimes what makes translation so tricky. There are an infinite amount of idioms in every language, just waiting to surprise you. Here at BBLTranslation, we believe that’s one of the most beautiful things about language – it never ceases to amaze.