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The Similarities Between English and Spanish

Painting by Ellen Langer
Credit: Harriet Murray

As Spanish and English teachers, my husband and I have found many similarities in both languages, as well as many differences. Today we would like to talk about the similarities between English and Spanish, especially the popular sayings and proverbs, or should we say proverbios y refranes that Spanish and English share in their own way.

Some of these proverbs are easy to guess or to understand, even if you don’t know the language, and some others you wouldn’t have a clue to their meaning, even though you know it, but in your mother language.

Proverbs, as you know, are wisdom reduced to a few words for many specific cases. There are some that even rhyme, and just by listening to them you get the old knowledge that is passed from generation-to- generation. Although, there are some that require a little explanation to be understood.

Here are some of these refranes that we want to share with you:

“The early bird catches the worm,” or “Al que madruga dios le ayuda. Both sayings have the same meaning: Getting up early in the morning is good for you. However, it is said it in a different way. The translation of the Spanish proverb is that if you wake up very early in the morning, God will help you.

“Home sweet home,” or “Hogar dulce hogar,” is one of the nicest sayings and an easy one to understand because the words are usually known by both English and Spanish speakers.

“Better late than never,” or “Más vale tarde que nunca,” is a proverb that expats might think is good to know in Mexico. It’s used exactly the same way in both languages.

“A picture is worth a thousand words,” or “Una imagen dice más que mil palabras,” means the same with a little change. The translation of the Spanish proverb is that an image says more than a thousand words, which is practically the same. Do you agree?

“Speak of the devil and he shall appear,” or “Hablando del rey de Roma y el león que se asoma,” is a proverb we use when we are talking about one person and this person shows up. The translation of the Spanish version is talking about the king of Rome, and the lion shows up. This Spanish refran is very different from the English version. In Spanish, we prefer to talk about the king of Rome better than the devil.

Talking about Rome, there’s one proverb that goes like this: “When in Rome, do as the Romans,” or “A donde fueres haz lo que vieres.” The translation is, wherever you go, do whatever you see.

“Like father like son,” or “De tal palo tal astilla,” is another way to say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The translation of the Spanish proverb is: Of that wooden stick, the same chip. We love this one.

“Practice makes perfect,” or “La práctica hace al maestro,” is a very useful proverb for us teachers because it is so true when it comes to learning a language.

“Time is money,” or “El tiempo es oro,” in Spanish means that time is gold and gold means money, so it is another way to say exactly the same thing, but in different appreciation.

There are many more proverbs that English and Spanish have in common. We’ll talk more about them in our next blog. Meanwhile, don’t forget to use them next time, in Spanish, of course.

Nos vemos.


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