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Language Series: Spanish Idiomatic Phrases to learn for your Mexico Trip

Idioms are probably one of my favorite, quirky ways humans communicate ideas and concepts. As expressions meant to be taken figuratively rather than literally, they creatively and concisely express wisdom, frustrations, sarcasm, celebration, and other notions in the human experience. They add color and flavor to the language. Even though every language has versions of them, if you’re not a native speaker, you may not understand their meaning.

If you’ve got a trip to Mexico on your calendar, here are some fun Spanish expressions to keep in your back pocket (←see what I did?) to impress your new local friends.

8 Fun Spanish expressions to learn for your travels

Se me hace agua la boca

Literal Translation: It makes my mouth water.

What does it mean: This phrase describes the anticipation of something delicious which causes one to salivate.

English equivalent: To make my mouth water.

A woman in sunglasses and wide brimmed hat holds an orange smoothie and eats traditional street food from a toothpick offered by a man

Example of when it could be used:

You’re meeting up with Betsaida, owner of Me Encanta Oaxaca on your CTC trip and she takes you on a culinary tour of the city. You’re hit with all the savory smells of the fresh tortillas being made, the depth of spices used to flavor the toppings on tlayudas, and your eyes catch sight of the colorful ingredients, then BOOM: your salivary glands are activated 🤤. It’s all good, Oaxacan food has that effect on everyone. “Se me hace agua la boca.”

*I put this phrase at the top because it’s likely the phrase you’ll use most often when touring Oaxaca😉

Del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho

Literal Translation: from said to done, there is much stretch

What does it mean: This describes the lengthy process from the conception of a task or goal to its completion.

English Equivalent: It’s easier said than done.

Example of when it could be used:

Whenever our founder, Tara, decides on a new destination to design an itinerary for, each detail is examined and carefully considered to ensure ethical business practices and environmental sustainability. The accommodations, the transportation, the local guides, and the tour partner— everything is vetted and measured to provide a positive ripple effect on the destination while the traveler enjoys an exciting and wholesome visit. A socially responsible and environmentally-friendly multi-day tour? “Del dicho al hecho, hay mucho trecho.”

(A challenge, yes, but Tara loves the process!)

a darle que es mole de olla:

Literal Translation: Get to it because it’s mole from the pot

What does it mean: To get to working on something without delay (either because the task is tedious and time-consuming, just like making mole)

English equivalent: Get the ball rolling.

A group of people gathered around a kitchen stove. They're wearing aprons and appear to be cooking peppers and other vegetables together

Example of when it could be used:

Actually, it’s perfectly appropriate to use this phrase on your tour of Oaxaca when you’re cooking like an Oaxaquena in class (also led by the fabulous Betsaida) — preparing to learn a mole recipe. “¡A darles que es mole de olla!”

Acostarse con las gallinas

Literal Translation: To go to bed with the hens

What does it mean: To go to bed early

English equivalent: Going to hit the sack. Hit the hay. Turn in. Crash early.

A woman in bed with her hand on an alarm clock she appears to be setting

Example of when it could be used:

It’s your first night in Oaxaca, you’ve just met an amazing group of fellow travelers and would love to stay up and get to know them better, but you want to be well-rested for tomorrow’s adventures together, so you’re going to get to sleep early: “Acostarse con las gallinas”

Ser un ave nocturna

Literal Translation: To be a night bird

What does it mean: To stay up late in the evening

English equivalent: To be a night owl