Found in Translation

A page in a French definitions dictionary
Bilingual life can make monolingual like feel a little limiting

When you’re been living a bilingual life, life in one language can become a little frustrating.

Yes really! During a language or cultural exchange you can get accustomed to life in two languages, with two language’s worth of words and all their nuances. How do you go back to monolingual life after all that possibility?

Moving back to the UK after living in France, one particular word that I wanted to pack in my suitcase and bring home with me was profiter. A French – English dictionary would have you believe that this means take advantage of or make the most of… but there’s a nuance to the word profiter that just doesn’t seem to translate into English.

That got us wondering about other words in other languages that just don’t quite translate…

A man sitting in a cafe with his back to the camera
Looks like a seigneur-terrace to us!
Seigneur-terraces (French)
  • Café customers who sit at the table for a long time without spending much money.
Pena ajena (Spanish)
  • That embarrassing feeling of watching someone else be humiliated
香 / xiāng (Chinese)
  • Literally translates as ‘fragrant’, but when applied to food it describes an intense, often meaty aroma that gets your mouth watering.
Shemomedjamo (Georgian)
  • Literally translated as ‘I ate the whole thing’: when you keep on eating an entire meal despite being full
Poronkusema (Finnish)
  • The distance a reindeer can comfortably travel before taking a break.
L’esprit de l’escalier (French)
  • Literally translated as ‘stairwell wit’ – a retort that you only think of when it’s too late (one of those ‘I wish I’d said…’ responses).
Sobremesa (Spanish)
  • The moment when you’re still at the table after finishing a meal – the food is still gone but the conversation is flowing.
A ring left on a table by a glass of water
Spotted! A culaccino
Schadenfreude (German)
  • A feeling of enjoyment that comes from learning of the troubles of others.
Culaccino (Italian)
  • The ring left on the table by the bottom of a cold glass of water.
孝順 / xiào​ shun (Chinese)
  • Obedience to your parents by being dutiful, respectful, and taking care of them in their old age.

What words have you learned that you would add to the list?