Así es la vida.
You’ll have many a Spanish speaker shrug and pitch this classic “that’s life” line at you when something goes wrong or your plans come crashing down around you.
As a learner, it’s only natural that you want to get beyond the basics and start talking about real-life things in Spanish.
If you’re a beginner, your head is most likely full of new verbs, words and grammar rules!
You’ve now learned the basics to get by, like yo soy (I am) yo tengo (I have) and yo voy (I go). You can do a lot with those three handy conjugations. Believe me, I’ve been there!
But, if you’re a serious beginner, you can really brighten up your conversational skills and boost your progress by learning Spanish sayings. What’s that, you say? Learning sayings while a beginner? ¡Sí! (Yes!)
I have a rule of thumb when learning foreign languages: I do my best to learn five to eight sayings that correspond to my language level. As I get better, the sayings get more complex and refined.
This is an excellent linguistic habit to develop from Day One so as to add variety and depth to your foreign language learning, because en la variedad está el gusto (variety is the spice of life)! Plus, the cultural tidbits that are afforded by learning sayings are priceless.
In this post, we’ll look at some basic Spanish sayings that are relevant to day-to-day life and will be accessible to beginners in the language.
Before we dive deep into our Spanish sayings for beginners, though, let’s start off by sharing some very good reasons why all beginners should be lookin’ up and learning sayings in the first place.
Good Reasons to Learn Spanish Sayings as a Beginner
You’ll learn advanced vocabulary and verbs from Day One
Sayings expose you to intermediate/advanced vocabulary and verbs, as they are fixed and unchanging sentences that combine both. With the sayings below, you’ll start getting familiar with verbs such as madrugar (to get up early) and haber (to be/to exist) in addition to vocabulary such as cazuela (a traditional soup eaten in Latin America) and pájaro (bird). Getting yourself exposed to these linguistic elements will provide you with a great head start!
You’ll be able to see sayings and other Spanish expressions on FluentU.
You’ll get some conversation fillers
Fillers are especially good for those awkward first conversations! You know, the ones where you keep repeating “soy americano…eh, soy [tu nombre]” (I’m American…uh, I’m [your name]). Basic day-to-day sayings will get you more active and involved in the language because you can start popping them in when common situations allow for them. They also help demonstrate your understanding of what’s being said, by allowing you to respond or react with a nicely-worded message.
You’ll get to compare Spanish- and English-language culture
By studying and using sayings, you can see what cultural references Spanish utilizes to get certain points across. For example, as you look up and begin to use Spanish sayings, you’ll notice that there are numerous references to religion and food. Perhaps because Hispanic food is in itself a religion. Or perhaps because religion is deemed as necessary for survival as food for many in the Spanish-speaking world. Words such as Dios (God), pan (bread) and vino (wine) are common in sayings.
Now that you’re convinced that sayings are an essential part of your learner package as a beginner, let’s explore some very effective study techniques you can use to memorize these practical one-liners.
Techniques for Memorizing Your Spanish Sayings
Yeah, go for it! Pick one and use it once a day, every day, for one week straight. Constant repetition can work wonders, but it has to be consistent. Try to pick a short expression to start with, maybe one with five or six words in total, and increase the word count as you progress and your memory builds. If you do this for one month, you’ll have four sayings stored fully in your memory!
Better yet, find a native Spanish speaker with whom you can practice your sayings. Verbling is perhaps the best online resource for finding the right Spanish tutor for you. This unique site allows users to have access to both private tutoring and group classes 24/7 via two-way video chat. You’ll have professional, highly qualified native teachers from all over the world delivering your lessons—including your new, awesome sayings—to you.
WyzAnt is an incredible resource for locating stellar Spanish teachers near you. This site is professional and polished, and it features well-educated and well-qualified tutors in your local area. Follow this link to see who's available close to home.
Draw the saying out, with visuals, in a notebook. For visually-inclined learners, this technique is very effective. It’s also helpful because you can associate individual words in addition to the overall meaning of the saying with pictures that you’ve drawn out yourself. When I use this technique, I write out each individual word in English and Spanish beside the object it corresponds to in the picture. Then, at the bottom of the picture, I write out the saying in both English and Spanish.
Stick the pictures on your fridge with a magnet, and pretty soon you’ll be looking at them every day along with your morning coffee!
Write short letters or text messages to Spanish-speaking friends or family. Don’t have any Spanish-speaking friends or family? No problem! Text a friend who’s learning Spanish (you can teach others new sayings like this), text yourself or even text people who have no knowledge of Spanish, no pasa nada (it’s fine). When they text back with a string of question marks, that gives you an opportunity to text them the translation.
You can also hop onto HelloTalk to find a language exchange partner whose preferred medium is also text messages. The aim here is to get you typing out and viewing the words of the saying together.
Write out a short imaginary dialogue, in English, where the saying could come up. Under the English saying, write out the Spanish equivalent in bold and highlight it! Read the dialogue back to yourself and out loud a few times. If you want a real challenge, try translating the entire dialogue into Spanish. Don’t forget to keep it short and simple. No matter the length, translating four to five lines that include the saying should suffice.
Now that you’re equipped with these creative techniques for drilling your Spanish sayings as a beginner, let’s get to the sayings themselves.
What makes these particular sayings pertinent to beginners is that they have direct and easy translations into English. This means your logic and cultural understanding don’t need to be too complex in order for you to “get” them and incorporate them into your day-to-day right away!
8 Cool Beginner Spanish Sayings About Day-to-day Life
We’ve chosen these eight great sayings that you can start using to show your friends that you totally get it. Each one is accompanied with its direct translation, an equivalent saying in English and practical usage ideas.
1. Más vale pájaro en mano que cien volando
Direct English translation: A bird in the hand is worth more than one hundred flying.
English equivalent: A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
Just like the English version, this saying means “work with what you’ve got.”
In the English version of this saying, the birdies are all off hiding somewhere, and you might not know their exact whereabouts or if they even exist. Meanwhile, in the Spanish, the birds are flying and completely beyond your reach. You tell me which you find more powerful.
I’d say the Spanish one strikes harder. After all, it means that the bird you’re holding is worth 50 times more than it is in the English version.
Go with the sure thing rather than gambling or holding out for something better to come along. Sure, things could possibly be better in some way—you can imagine yourself growing, developing and strengthening—but you already have something that you can use to your advantage right now. What’s really in your possession now is worth more than anything imaginary.
2. Al que madruga, Dios lo ayuda
Direct English translation: He who wakes early, God helps.
English equivalent: The early bird catches the worm.
This common Spanish saying can be used just as one would use the English equivalent. Although this expression comes off a bit trite in English, it’s quite common to use it in Spanish, even among young people.
Unlike the English-speaking bird reaping the rewards of his own effort to get up at the crack of dawn, the person in the Spanish saying is assisted by Dios (God) as a reward for this behavior. For this reason, the Spanish saying also has a tinge of “God helps those who help themselves” to it.
Colloquially, this Spanish saying is often used in a cute way to encourage someone to go to sleep early. In the situation that the speaker is motivating someone to sleep well and madrugar (get up early) for work, this saying is then often accompanied by the expression hay que levantar el país (the country must be raised up), which roughly translates to “the economy must get up and running.”
3. Nunca es tarde si la dicha es buena
Direct English translation: It’s never late, if fortune is good.
English equivalent: Better late than never.
Another practical and short saying. This saying is specifically used for situations where you or someone else is running late, which you’ll encounter frequently—after all, así es la vida.
Imagine you arrive late to a dinner or lunch with friends and everyone has already ordered and been munching on snacks—but you spy some good-looking food left on all the scattered tapas (appetizer) plates. Well, use this little saying, get a laugh from your friends and dig in! Hopefully, your fortune has been good enough that you have excellent friends who ordered plenty of tapas in anticipation of your arrival.
You can also say this to a friendly bus or taxi driver who arrives much later than the scheduled time. It’s a good-humored way to say, “hey, no worries.”
4. Dale la mano y te tomará el brazo
Direct English translation: Give him your hand and he’ll take your arm.
English equivalent: Give a man an inch and he’ll take a mile.
This saying is often used as an insult or a way to describe someone who tends to take advantage of situations. In fact, we use this saying often in English when we feel someone is taking beyond their fair share of the pie.
It’s hard to give someone an inch. I mean, an inch of what exactly are you giving? What do you own that’s a mile long? Sure, it’s just a saying and it gets the message across, but the Spanish version is more visceral. It paints a much more thorough image. Just imagine offering your hand to help someone (a classic illustration of generosity), only to have them pull you in by your whole arm—or perhaps even literally take your arm. Ouch.
Therefore, you can apply this saying to describe companies, politicians or any individual you feel is abusing help or resources. Use it in personal situations, venting about someone who took advantage of your generosity or when warning or commiserating with a friend.
5. No puede haber pollo en corral y cazuela
Direct English translation: There can’t be chickens in the corral and in the pot.
English equivalent: You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
The word cazuela is both for the pot used to cook as well as the sort of soup or stew you can cook in it. Cazuela is a name given to many different traditional soup concoctions throughout Latin America, and the actual dish will vary by region. My mouth is watering just thinking about an Ecuadorian cazuela, which is thick, piping hot, full of peanut paste, lime juice and fresh jumbo shrimp—sounds weird, but tastes out of this world.
This saying, similar to its use in English, is to make a remark on excess or when an individual’s expectations go beyond the scope of reality. They want to have something two ways, but can only have it one. For example, you can’t work your 9-5 office job and also take extended, multi-month vacations to globe-trot and sample all the cazuelas of the world.
6. Ojos que no ven, corazón que no siente/llora
Direct English translation: Eyes that don’t see, heart that doesn’t feel/cry. / What the eyes don’t see, the heart doesn’t feel/cry over.
English equivalent: Ignorance is bliss. / Out of sight, out of mind.
I will admit that I first heard this phrase in the Alexis & Fido reggaeton song, “Ojos Que No Ven.” The song is kind of naughty, in a roundabout sort of way, and uses this saying in a whole new way, with the singer trying to convince his girlfriend to turn a blind eye to his misdeeds and betrayals. If you never saw it, you won’t cry over it, right? Or maybe someone should just explain to this duo how relationships actually work.
This expression has two variations and both are acceptable. You can either use the verb sentir (to feel) or llorar (to cry) at the end. If you ask any native Spanish speaker if this verb switch has an effect on the meaning of the expression, they’ll most likely respond that they use both versions interchangeably without noticing. Feel free to do the same!
This handy little saying is a good one to use to console a friend—especially if you’re telling her to unfriend her ex-boyfriend on Facebook so she can’t stare at his pictures and cry over what’s in the past.
7. No hay mal que cien años dure
Direct English translation: There is nothing bad/evil that lasts 100 years.
English equivalent: Time heals all wounds.
This too will pass. Use this saying to relate to and console an individual undergoing emotional difficulty. Just don’t break the spell by telling them that there are indeed evil things that last 100 years (or more), like those plastic bags on the side of the road that will take 500-1000 years to finally degrade.
This one is a personal favorite because it has depth. Indeed, it was the first Spanish saying I learned while at a cafetería (coffee shop) in Costa Rica, describing a painful situation in my broken Spanish to a tica (young Costa Rican girl). She was a very patient listener and taught me this expression by writing it out on a bar-side tissue in red ink.
Also, once you become an advanced learner, do make sure to read “Cien años de soledad,” a Latin American literary masterpiece.
8. En la variedad está el gusto
Direct English translation: In variety there is pleasure.
English equivalent: Variety is the spice of life.
This is a fun Spanish saying to throw out at a party or when you feel like trying something new, whether it be a plato (dish), restaurante (restaurant), vino (wine)—anything, really!
And there you have it, a bunch of practical sayings to start using today in your day-to-day dealings as a beginner in Spanish.
Don’t forget to review the four memorization techniques discussed above in order to start putting these linguistic gems to use right away.
If you’re currently enrolled in a beginner Spanish class, try using these sayings during class. You’ll definitely ganar puntos (win points) with your profesora (teacher).
¡Hasta la próxima, amigos! (Until next time, friends!)
And One More Thing…
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