Ever heard the phrase ‘‘lost in translation’‘?
Every language learner, teacher, and translator knows how complicated it is to translate between two languages. Each language has its own intricacies that make it unique, whether it’s semantic or grammatical features.
In many cases, when we’re trying to translate a word to another language, we lose the nuance, context, and complexities of the original language. Other times, the words become simply untranslatable, which means that no translated version of the word would be able to capture the essence of the meaning in the original language.
Think about the word schadenfreude in German, fika in Swedish, or komorebi in Japanese. The English language has no equivalent meaning for these words, hence making it untranslatable.
While there are thousands of untranslatable words out there, for today, we’re gonna take a look at 19 beautiful untranslatable words that will make you reflect deeper on your feelings and life.
Saudade refers to the melancholic longing or nostalgia for a person, place, or thing that is far away from you. Saudade is deeply linked with Portuguese culture and often presents in their music and literature.
Example: Tenho saudade de você. (I miss you.)
Have you ever felt mesmerized by rays of sunlight filtering through the leaves of trees? That’s what Japanese call komorebi. The word comprises three kanji (木漏れ日) and a hiragana particle れ. The kanji character means ‘‘tree’‘, ‘‘escape’‘, and ‘‘light’‘ respectively.
Example: 窓からは午後の優しい木漏れ日が差し込んでいた。(The soft afternoon sun came in through the branches of the tree and then the window.)
Schadenfreude is the feeling of joy or pleasure when someone sees others’ failing or misfortune. If separated, schaden means damage or harm, whereas freude means joy or pleasure.
Example: In a long-awaited moment of schadenfreude, Maya smiled as her ex-boyfriend slammed face-first into the sliding glass door.
The German word waldeinsamkeit refers to the solitude of being alone in the wood, and a profound connection to the nature around you. Wald means ‘‘forest’‘, and ‘‘einsamkeit’‘ means loneliness or solitude. In a way, you can interpret it as loneliness or a deep connection with nature.
Example: Des hektischen Lebens in der Großstadt überdrüssig, zog er sich in die Waldeinsamkeit zurück. (Having grown weary of the restless life in the big city, he retired into the solitude of the forest.)
When you’re anticipating something and can’t help but to constantly check if they’ve come, you’re experiencing what Inuit call iktsuarpok. It’s the excitement of waiting for something or someone before they finally arrive.
Example: My boyfriend hasn't shown up in three days. I have some major iktsuarpok going on.
Duende refers to the feeling when you’re deeply immersed and moved by a piece of art. If you’re strolling inside a museum and suddenly feel a pang in your heart, it’s what Spanish call by duende.
Example: Walking inside the Modern Museum of Art, Annie felt an unexplainable sense of duende inside her heart.
For the early birds out there, gökotta is a Swedish word that refers to the act of waking up early in the morning solely to listen to the first bird sings.
Example: A firm follower of gökotta lifestyle, her mother always wakes up before the sun rises.
When you move abroad to study or work alone, there’s always a looming sense of loneliness from the absence of your family and friends. And sometimes, you just don’t feel belong. This is what the French call by dépaysement, in which a feeling that comes from not being in one’s country; being a foreigner.
Example: Vinrent ensuite de riches Anglais et des VIP en quête de dépaysement. (Then came rich Englishmen and VIPs in search of a change of scenery.)
Gattara is an Italian word that means an old woman who devotes herself to stray cats. Usually, these women are lonely and old, and they relish in the companionship of felines.
Example: Sembri una sorta di gattara pazza. (You kinda look like a crazy cat lady)
Rooting in Greek culture, parea refers to a group of friends who regularly gather together to share their knowledge and experience on life, philosophy, ideas, and values. Imagine those ancient philosophers huddling together and talking about ideas; that’s parea.
Example: Πέρασα το απόγευμα στο εμπορικό κέντρο με την παρέα μου. (I spent the afternoon at the mall with my friends.)
Bittersweet yet not entirely unwelcome, forelsket is a way for Norwegian to refer to the euphoria you experience when you’re falling in love for the first time. What an immensely thoughtful word!
Example: Jeg er så forelsket i deg. (I'm so in love with you)
Unlike schadenfreude, fargin is the appreciation someone feels when they’re looking at others’ success.
Example: Upon looking at her brother’s success, Anya feels a profound fargin inside her heart.
Who doesn’t know this famous Scandinavian lifestyle? While the word itself doesn’t refer to a specific kind of lifestyle, but hygge can be best understood as the comfort and warmth you feel when you’re huddling with your friends and loved ones while sharing moments together; that deep feeling of contentment.
Example: I love it when it snows. I get all hygge under my cashmere blanket and read books all night long.
Have you ever laughed at a joke so bad it became funny? That’s what Indonesian would call jayus. People who are considered as the jayus of the group can both break the tension or aggravates it even more!
Example: Candaan macam apa itu? Jayus, ah! (What kind of joke is that? It’s so dry!)
Japanese are known to have a profound philosophical view on life, and this is reflected in their language. Yugen refers to a mysterious sense of the beauty of the universe as well as the sad reality of human suffering. Pretty deep, right?
Example: When you are in a state of no mind while watching the beauty of existence, you feel those blissful moments of yugen.
We all love family dinner. Luckily, Spanish just has the exact word for that. Sobremasa refers to that tender moment when the food is already gone, but the conversation is still easily flowing.
Example: La descripción de la comida se prolonga, hasta la sobremesa, um pudim de yogurt. (The description of the dinner goes on until the dessert, a yogurt pudding.)
Do you consider yourself as a romantic who often longs for the past? Then you might often experience what Welsh call as hiraeth. Hiraeth is a particular longing for your homeland or something in the past.
Example: Cindy's hiraeth to return to her childhood was strong because she wanted to change a big mistake that she made
Wait, how do you pronounce that?
Mamihlapinatapei is a word that came from the Yaghan language of Tierra de Fuego. It refers to the wordless, meaningful look shared between two people who desire to initiate something, but reluctant to do so. Mamihlapinatapei is hard to translate due to the myriad of nuances. Bizarrely, the Guinness Book of World Records listed it in their record as the ‘‘most succinct word’‘.
Example: Maybe she would've shared his immediate response to seeing him, and it would have been a true moment of mamihlapinatapai lost.
A Different Language is a Different Vision of Life
Comprising myriad words that you never thought existed, these untranslatable words are a wonderful gift that helps us to communicate and understand our feelings and thoughts in the best ways possible.
Sometimes, we think that what we feel and think aren’t real because our mother tongue doesn’t have a word for it. However, by learning another language, you’ll open yourself to a new culture, way of thinking, opportunities, as well as understanding that your feelings and thoughts are real and valid. And it comes in the forms of wondrous, untranslatable words.
Fortunately, LingoTalk came just at the right time.
LingoTalk offers you a fully online 1-on-1 class where you will learn about the language and the culture. Our curriculum is personalized to your needs and focused on conversation skills, making it a perfect choice for learners who want to take their study or professional life abroad.
Not only that, but our classes are also equipped with a range of skilled and fun tutors that make language learning fun and engaging.
So, are you ready to start? Book your language course at LingoTalk, and see you in class!