Spanish Idioms 1 A-Z by LightSpeed Spanish

Spanish Idioms.a to z

Probably many students of the Spanish language have had the shocking experience of having gone to a Spanish speaking country only to find that everything they had learnt in their lessons didn’t have any value to them. This happens for a couple of reasons:

1, In class, teachers normally talk slowly and clearly with good grammar. In the world outside of the classroom, people talk as they fancy. They break the rules constantly, they pronounce badly, they miss words out and, well, do just about everything that is prohibited.

2, People, and some more than others, like to talk using idioms.  An idiom is an expression that doesn’t translate into other languages yet is understood by most native speakers. The classic example of this is the high powered manager that talks in that mysterious idiomatic code to talk to his people:

Look guys, either we get this running on all four cylinders or it’s going to get wrapped around our necks and we’ll end up shooting ourselves in the foot. So it’s nose to the grindstone and backs against the wall and remember, it’s not over until the fat lady sings.

(I have no intention of translating that into Spanish!)

Get a mix of the two…

So, quite often, when you spend time in a native speaking country, you’ll come across someone who does a bit of both things. They speak badly (men much more than women) and they liberally sprinkle their conversation with idioms. (Men more than women, again in my experience.) Frankly, this can be the most frustrating experience for any learner.

I recall going to Murcia, Spain for a weekend and barely understanding anything of what was said to me. That was after spending two years in Mexico. I recall coming home very, very angry. “What language had I been learning, for God’s sake?” I remember asking myself .

Then, when Cynthia first moved to England after having spent 10 years learning English, she quite literally couldn’t understand what people said to her. I had to repeat, in English, the same thing that the person had just said  to her and only then would she understand it.

Then, of course, we come to the Spanish idioms. No matter how tuned in your ear is, unless you understand the meaning behind the Spanish idioms, it’s very unlikely that you will be able to grasp what the person is driving at. (This last sentence is a metaphor, by the way.)

I recall José, Cynthia’s father saying to me once, “En casa de herrero, cuchillo de palo.” I looked at him glazed eyed not making head nor tail of it. (Another idiom, too.) Of course, the best way to understand these expressions is just to ask.  You’ll be amazed at how difficult it is to explain them. That expression of just seven words took him about 50 to explain.

It means, “The people who should best be able to help themselves because of the skills they have, often do not do so.”

In the house of the blacksmith, wooden knives.

So, our advice is to learn the Spanish idioms. Read books, as it’s a great way to see them in use and then use Google to help with their explanation. Also, this series is designed to give you some of the more commonly used ones.


Buena suerte, chicos.

Gordon 🙂

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El Aula The verb to Move in Spanish Mudarse/Moverse etc

To Move in scale

This particular podcast lesson was requested from someone we would consider to be a ‘high level’ student with an already broad understanding of the Spanish language. And yet, despite that, this particular range of  verbs that we cover on ways to say’to Move’ in Spanish still caused him confusion.

Why so difficult?

The principle reason for the confusion is that there are different verbs for different moves. On top of that, sometimes they are reflexive and sometimes not.

It might be worth taking a little look at the difference between a standard verb and a reflexive verb.

If you ever find you way into one of my classes on Reflexive verbs you will probably hear me sing my little song, “A reflexive verb has a arse on the end, arse on the end…etc.”

Of course, that’s not strictly true because that only applies to AR verbs. However, it’s a fun way of remembering it.

Another student of mine incorrectly calls them reflective verbs. Yet, even though that not the right name, it is a great description of what they actually do.

Reflexive verbs REFLECT back the action onto the self same people doing the action.

What does that mean?

It means that unlike normal verbs that always involve the actor and the person or thing being acted upon, reflexive verbs only describe what the person or the people are doing to themselves.

Here’s an example with the verb  TO MOVE in Spanish which is MOVER or MOVERSE.

You should move yourself a bit more. = Deberías moverte un poco más. ONLY YOU ARE MOVING AND YOU ARE DOING IT TO YOURSELF. (The clue is the word yourself.)

Can you move your hand please? = ¿Puedes mover tu mano, por favor? YOU ARE NOW THE ACTOR AND THE HAND IS BEING ACTED UPON: THUS THIS IS NOT REFLEXIVE.

Can all verbs be reflexive?

An interesting question. The vast majority of verbs CAN be reflexive although some simply can’t. For example:

VIVIR = To Live, can’t be reflexive.

NACER = To be born, can’t be reflexive.

However, apart from a few select verbs, the rest can be both. Often, however, the meaning changes when the verb becomes reflexive.

Here’s an interesting example:

CREER= To Believe

¿Crees que es un buen hombre? = Do you believe/think that he’s a good man?

Él se cree superior a los demás. = He believes himself to be/think he is better than everyone else.

 Ten cuidado.

You have to be careful with these kind of verbs. Sometimes the meaning is very clear yet many times it changes completely.

The best way to understand them is to use such tools as or ask a native speaker. That way you won’t make mistakes like I did with the innocent verb Correr and its rather less innocent reflexive cousin. (And no further information can be supplied on this. Investigate for yourself.)

Enjoy the podcast. Nos vamos y nos vemos.

Gordon 🙂


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El Aula How to Say STOP in Spanish ¿Dejar-Detenerse-Pararse?

Stop in Spanish.stop scale

A great frustration for any student of the Spanish language is the range of options that present themselves “a la hora de” look for the appropriate way to say STOP in Spanish.

The Issue

The issue has to do with the way we use the word STOP in English and the way they sometimes use STOP in Spanish. As we have all found out to our disappointment and frustration, it isn’t always possible to make a direct translation from English to Spanish.

At the beginning, when we have little experience of the structure and melody of the Spanish language the best we can do is to create our sentences by reproducing word for word the English sentence that we have in our mind.

This leads to classic sentences like:

“Una usted curva” = A U-bend

“Vivo en Barco Colina.”  = I live in Ferryhill.

“Yo pintura” = I paint. (Debería ser “Yo pinto”.)

How they use DEJAR

The interesting thing about this verb is that it really doesn’t mean, TO STOP in Spanish. It actually means TO LEAVE. Now, this could seem to be a strange way of saying STOP unless you think of it in the way Spanish speakers do.

They might say, for example:

He dejado de fumar.

Which in English can really only translate as:

I have stopped smoking.

However, in Spanish it really translates as:

I have left (behind) smoking.

In English we might say something that has a similar feel to DEJAR which would be:

I have dropped the habit of smoking.

So, although DEJAR has a slightly different meaning, it can still be used to say to STOP in Spanish. At the same time, the same verb is used to say to LEAVE. For example:

Déjalo. = Leave it.

Lo dejé en marzo. = I left him in March. ( This could also mean “I stopped in March.”)

Voy a dejar tu abrigo en el dormitorio. = I’m going to leave your coat in the bedroom.

So, it’s these subtle differences in meaning that can catch us out at the beginning. However, you soon start picking up the feel for verbs and how they are used.


Direct translation is the system used by many beginners as that’s the only way they can communicate, and there are some great online translators that manage to give you a reasonable result. You must be careful, however, not to trust that what they give you is what you wrote in English. We have had the displeasure of having to mark essays written in English and then translated with an online translator which were, quite frankly, a pile of poppycock! (¡Una tontería total!)

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Native Spanish Speaker Real Spanish Our Move to Spain

What do we mean by Real Spanish?guitar scale

This is a strange claim that many Spanish learning courses use to attract you to buy their stuff. And, in fairness it has always been our goal to offer our students a Spanish that they can use. Perhaps this is what Real Spanish means.

Some books out there…

Fortunately, this is less the case these days however, when I first started to learn Spanish I would scan the shelves of our local book store hoping to find something that would catapult my Spanish forward.

Most of the time, however, all I could see were travellers books that offered phrase after phrase without any real explanation as to why you were saying what you were saying.

In addition to that, it seemed that the majority of books were focussed on Latin American Spanish which wasn’t a problem in itself, only that Spain was my closest Spanish speaking country and I wanted to focus more on that particular accent.

Parallel Text Books

Another short lived thrill I had was when I discovered a Penguin parallel text book which had one page in English and the facing page in Spanish. This was just what I had been looking for!

As soon as I got home a sat down to read my new treasure with great excitement only to find that the stories they had used were older than my grandmother. The English and therefore the Spanish was so out of date that it was obvious it wouldn’t serve me at all. I was quite angry that I had been foolish enough to buy such a useless book.

The truth was that I was angry because I had believed that the book was going to help me understand structures and really move my Spanish forward.  In the end the only thing that moved was the book from my hand to the top shelf of my book cupboard, never to be picked up again.

So, where do you find this Real Spanish?

Firstly, here at LightSpeed Spanish we like to think that we offer our students a decent look into what is Real Spanish. However, we are not so naive to believe that everything we teach  is of value to everyone.

The Spanish speaking world is so large (Now it has become the second most widely spoken language in the world.) that it would be impossible represent Spanish from every country, region, zone and village in the world.

The truth is that the real Spanish can only be found in its subjective form out there with the people who speak it. If you want to speak real Spanish from Mexico, then you need to go there and spend time, holidays, immersion courses in the area you like. That way you will learn a Spanish that is real to that area.

So what’s the point of learning Spanish from Spain if I go to Latin America?

Great question and one that many students ask us. The good news is that 95% of the Spanish you learn from any country will travel and be understood by any native Spanish speaker. The extra 5 % is what you will learn once you are in that area.  So you needn’t worry too much about learning the wrong things.

So, listen in to the podcast as we talk in Spanish about our plans to move to Spain in 2016.


Saludos, Gordon 🙂

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El Aula To Become in Spanish Volverse Hacerse and Convertirse en

To Become in Spanish.butterfly scale

This is probably the most interesting podcast that we’ve done in a long while. Why? Because, despite all these years of learning Spanish I (Gordon that is.) was still a little confused about all the ways that you could say To Become in Spanish.

Now that we have been able to put more specific parameters in place in English I can really start to see the differences between the three verbs that we cover in this blog:



Converstirse en

Let’s look at the first one.


As we discuss in the blog, this verb can be used as to Become in Spanish.

El hombre se hizo profesor. = The man became a teacher. 

To help to avoid mixing this one with the others, however, most times this verb implies that some effort has been put into getting there.

Thus the best way of knowing if this verb should be the one to use to say to become in Spanish then all you need do is this:

Say the sentence with WORK TO BECOME. If it makes sense then you probably should use HACERSE.


She became an engineer. = She WORKED TO BECOME an engineer THIS WORKS! Se hizo ingeniera.

She became quite evil. = She WORKED TO BECOME quite evil.  THIS DOESN’T REALLY WORK!

In the second example, you probably wouldn’t use Hacerse because the sentence doesn’t really sound natural.  (This would sound better with TURN INTO.)


Again, this is used to say To become in Spanish, but has a slightly different underlying meaning to Hacerse. Volverse is the act of turning into something.

So, the best way to know if you should use this verb is to add TURN INTO into the sentence. If it makes sense, then it’s likely that you will use VOLVERSE.


He became a friendly guy. = He TURNED INTO a friendly guy. THIS WORKS! Se volvió un hombre amable.

He became a soldier. = He TURNED INTO a soldier. THIS DOESN’T WORK! (Hacerse would be better as you work to become a soldier.)

Convertirse en

This is another verb you can use to say To Become in Spanish. This one, however, has the feeling of a transformation or evolution. Thus, the way to know if you should use this verb is:

Try adding the words TRANSFORM INTO in place of BECOME. If it sounds correct, then you probably should use CONVERTIRSE.


The boy became a man.= The boy TRANSFORMED INTO a man.  THIS WORKS! El chico se convirtió en hombre.

We became neigbours. = We TRANSFORMED INTO neighbours. THIS DOESN’T WORK.


So, now that you have more of a clear view of how to say To Become in Spanish, you can watch the video and reinforce what we’ve covered here.


Gordon 🙂

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