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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


A busy street at night.  People are walking between buildings and street vendors under hanging lights

Example of when it could be used:

When you’ve had a thrilling day touring Oaxaca and you’re so amped up that you can’t possibly think about going to sleep yet, you opt to go on a late-night taco tour and dance salsa with your new Oaxaca friends. “Ser un ave nocturna”


Quedarse de piedra

Literal Translation: Stay like a stone

What does it mean: To be shocked or amazed

English Equivalent: Knock your socks off


a black and white image of a woman in a field looking off to the right. She appears to be amazed at what she sees

Example of when it could be used:


When you first see Hierve el Agua in Oaxaca and are stunned by its famous cascades (just like the minerals left behind from the freshwater springs at the top of the mountain): “Quedarse de piedra.”


Dar la vuelta a la tortilla

Literal Translation: to flip an omelet/tortilla

What does it mean: To change a situation, often to a position of advantage

English equivalent: to turn the tide or turn the tables


a hand turns the page of two photos. The first is an image of factories with pollution and smog. The page being turned to shows blue skies, green trees, and clean water of a lake

Example of when it could be used:

When enough travelers and communities across the world come together and demand the tourism industry puts the needs of the planet and destination communities ahead of making a profit. When enough tourism companies hear consumer demands for ethical and sustainable business practices and make the necessary changes. Then tourism becomes a force for good, and helps cultivate thriving communities and a healthy planet: "Dar la vuelta a la tortilla"


No hay color

Literal Translation: “There is no color,”

What does it mean: There’s no comparison, the two things being compared are very different.

English equivalent: “It’s like apples to oranges”


Example of when it could be used:


You’re at Hierve el Agua staring out over the mountains surrounding Oaxaca. Standing at the top of the natural petrified waterfall, you think about all the new and sensational things you’ve done on the trip. The mezcal you’ve tasted, the textiles you’ve learned to weave in the traditional way, and the people you’ve met that have shared their culture with you. Then you try to think about the last vacation compared to this CTC Oaxaca tour: “No hay color”


If you haven’t yet read our previous blog about why you should most definitely learn some of the local language before you travel, you can read that here.


We’ve got a whole list of places that CTC travels to, with local languages and their own idiomatic expressions to learn. Stay tuned for more fun phrases in new languages.


References:

  1. Bevis, Michael. 10 Mexican Proverbs and Idioms. Mexico Over the Wall. March 17, 2017.


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