Anyone who’s ever started learning another language has come across words that just don’t translate into English. My favorites are ‘saudades,’ from Portuguese (meaning a feeling of longing, melancholy or nostalgia), and ‘gezellig,’ from Dutch (meaning a nice atmosphere, but also belonging and time spent with loved ones). Today, Slate published an excerpt from Lost in Translation that lists many more.
My favorite is ‘tretar,’ which apparently means a third refill of coffee in Swedish. This sounds like a very useful word! Go check out the original article to find some more useful words we don’t have in English. The accompanying artistic diagrams are very sweet too.
What’s your favorite word that doesn’t translate? Are there any words from English that don’t translate well to other languages?
No language is justly studied merely as an aid to other purposes. It will in fact better serve other purposes, philological or historical, when it is studied for love, for itself.
– Tolkien, English and Welsh
I’m thinking this is true, as my Spanish and Portuguese “fluency” languishes… It’s tough to learn languages, and I like doing it. It must be harder if you hate it and only do it because someone tells you it will be useful (as thousands of Canadian schoolchildren are told each year as an explanation for why they are learning French). Knowing languages is probably a useful skill for writers too, so that the foreign phrases they insert are grammatically correct – as well as teaching us what un bon mot means. But if you don’t enjoy it, you might not get far.
Anyway, I’ve probably just hit the bottom for this semester, and that may be a reason for my lack of progress language-wise. It’s sad – I start each school year fresh off vacation and full of confidence, which always evaporates by November. But I always do survive. 🙂