Did you know that the English saying “To kill two birds with one stone” has an equivalent in Spanish? ¡Así es! (That’s right!), pero en español cambia un poco (but it changes a little in Spanish).
If translated literally, this saying would go: “Matar dos pájaros con una piedra”, but Spanish-speakers probably thought que eso era muy difícil (that that was too hard) and so they say, “Matar dos pájaros de un tiro” (Literally, to kill two birds with a single shot).
Spanish has sus propios refranes (its own sayings) and there are lots and lots of them. Today we will go over six really important ones that you can start using right away! You definitely want to listen to all of them porque los refranes (because sayings) hardly translate into other languages AND there are interesting stories behind them!
In fact, one of the sayings we will learn today —something about trees and shades— comes from a famous novel, El Quijote de la Mancha. So, quédate hasta el final (stay until the end) to find out which saying I’m talking about and let me know in the comments if there are similar sayings in your language!
Los refranes (sayings) are short and clever expressions that contain consejos (advice) or that highlight an obvious truth.
Additionally, los refranes (sayings) are often based on everyday situations, which makes them catchy and easy to understand.
“El que nace pa´tamal del cielo le caen las hojas.”
This saying is very Mexican because it talks about tamales, un platillo mexicano delicioso (a delicious Mexican dish) that is usually eaten en las fiestas decembrinas (during the Christmas holidays).
If translated into English, it would say, “Those who have been born to be a tamal will get the leaves from the sky”… I know! ¡No tiene ningún sentido! (It makes no sense!)
Lo primero que debes saber (The first thing you should know) is that tamales are an important part of Mexican culture and they are basically made of dough with different fillings and wrapped with corn or banana leaves.
So, this saying is telling us that if you are destined for something, life will by all means ease your way to your fate.
Nuestro segundo refrán (our second saying) has to do with drinking water:
“Agua que no has de beber, déjala correr.”
This could be literally translated as “The water you shouldn’t drink, just let it run.” ¿Qué consejo nos quieren dar? (What’s the piece of advice behind it?)
Well, there are two, actually:
- Don’t get involved in things that don’t concern you
- Don’t do something you might regret
When I was a child, I constantly heard the adults around me saying “Salió más caro el caldo que las albóndigas.”
If translated literally, it would say something like, “The broth was more expensive than the meatballs”. Yet another saying que no tiene mucho sentido (that doesn’t make much sense)… and yet, it does!
Broth is made of water, mientras que las albóndigas (while meatballs) are made of meat. Meat is more expensive than water, usually. Si pasara lo contrario (if it were the other way around), chances are things went pretty wrong.
So, este refrán nos dice (this saying is telling us) that an alleged solution was completely useless and probably created a bigger problem than there was at the beginning.
You could use this saying if, for example, you paid 2000 USD for an apparently promising Spanish course and, still, you are unable to speak fluent Spanish and you ended up feeling even more confused.
If you don’t want to end up saying “Me salió más caro el caldo que las albóndigas” in relation to your language learning process, make sure you sign up to our free Spanish training to discover an innovative method that will allow you to speak Spanish fluently without grammar drills or vocabulary lists!
En general, no se sabe quién compuso los refranes (no one really knows who is behind sayings); still, they are handed down generation to generation and tienen varias interpretaciones (they have several meanings or interpretations) —especially from one country to another.
Nuestro cuarto refrán (Our fourth saying) was actually written by a famous author, but maybe he is not as known as the character who said:
“El que a buen árbol se arrima, buena sombra le acobija.”
This saying is related to trees and it could be translated as “Whomever gets close to a strong tree will be covered by a nice shade”.
Now, you are surely wondering quién lo dijo (who said it). Remember I mentioned El Quijote towards the beginning? Well, THIS is the saying that appears in that novel. It was uttered by Sancho Panza, El Quijote’s companion.
It basically means that it is worth being related to powerful people to get their protection.
“Más sabe el diablo por viejo que por diablo.”
Literally, “A devil is wise not because he is a devil, but because he is old”. ¡Quizás ya sabes qué quiere decir! (You probably guessed its meaning already!) This means that wisdom comes with age.
I want to end this article by saying,
“Al buen entendedor, pocas palabras.”
La traducción de este refrán pudiera ser (This saying could be translated as): “Few words need to be said to those who listen”…
So, if you come across gente loca (reckless people), you might want to try giving them un consejo (a piece of advice) in Spanish using either of the phrases we learned today… dependiendo de la situación, claro (depending on the situation, of course).
Doing so will make you sound smart and clever, and you will also feel proud of yourself because aprender refranes y proverbios (learning sayings and proverbs) in another language is a challenge not many people are willing to take on.
So, al buen entendedor, pocas palabras, if you want to improve your Spanish skills, all I will say sign up to our free Spanish training! ¡No te arrepentirás! (You won’t regret it!)