9 Spanish School Expressions You Shouldn’t Take Literally

Working in any school means that you’ll encounter colorful language, from teachers as well as students. When I first arrived in Spain I was confused about different terms my students and teachers threw around, and many times this was because they used a figurative expression which I took literally. For example, why was my co-teacher so worried about finding “pork chops” in the classroom?

There are tons of new expressions I’ve learned during my time in the Spanish school system; read on to get a grip on figurative expressions you’ll encounter in a Spanish high school:

Who doesn’t love a nice puente?!

1) Chuleta – In Spain, a “cheat sheet” literally means a “pork chop”! Just when you thought Spain couldn’t possibly have any more pork…

Use it: Tenían chuletas en los bolis. / They had cheat sheets in their pens.

One cheat sheet for algebra class, please!

2) Dar mucha guerra – Teachers use this expression for ornery students who give them problems or literally, wage war. I love this phrase for the bellicose image it evokes!

Use it: Este chaval siempre da mucha guerra! /This kid is such a pain!

3) Pesado  Literally meaning “heavy,” you will hear this to refer to situations or people which are suuuuuper annoying.

Use it: A student exclaims “Qué pesado eres!” to a classmate who just won’t be quiet

4) Puente – What we call a “long weekend,” the Spanish refer to as a “puente.” When a holiday spans from Saturday and Sunday to the previous Friday or following Monday or (or both, you lucky duck!) you get, quite literally, a bridge.

Use it: Qué planes tienes para el puente? / What plans do you have for the long weekend?

No, er, not that kind of bridge…

5) Tener la edad del pavo - Working in a high school, you’ll often hear teachers remark that the students have “the turkey’s age.” The phrase refers to the awkward age at which kids aren’t really kids…but they aren’t really adults, either. If your students are gangly, grumpy, rebellious, or just plain teen-agery, use this expression to describe that phenomenon.

Use it: Sólo les interesa el maquillaje / el fútbol / etc…. tienen la edad del pavo! / They are only interested in makeup / football / etc….they’re teenagers, for sure!

Kids on the brink of the turkey age

6) Qué morro tiene! - The first time I heard this expression used, I looked it up in the dictionary, puzzled; why had my co-teacher remarked that the student had a big snout? However, I soon realized that in English this would be along the lines of a “cheeky” person, someone with a lot of nerve. If you hear a student talk back, this is the expression to pull out of your bag of tricks!

Use it: Crees que puedes llegar 10 minutos tarde cada día? Qué morro tienes! / Do you think you can arrive 10 minutes late every day? You’ve got a lot of nerve!

7) Pensar en las musarañas – Instead of daydreaming, Spanish says that one is literally thinking of shrews.

Use it: No sabes in cual parrafo estamos? Has estado pensando en las musarañas, seguro! / You don’t know which paragraph we’re on? You’ve certainly been daydreaming!

8) Aprobar por los pelos – Whereas in English we would say that to barely pass is to “pass by the skin of one’s teeth,” in Spanish students squeak by “por los pelos” or “by a hair.”

Use it: Adrián aprobó mates? Sí, pero por los pelos. / Did Adrián pass math? Yeah, but just barely.

9) Me está tocando las narices – Spanish has many playful phrases to express annoyance, and this is another great one. to say that someone is annoying you (although students would never do that), you can say that he/she is “touching my nose a lot.”

Use it: La clase se comportó fatal hoy; todos me estaban tocando mucho las narices! / The class was awful today; everyone was really getting on my nerves!

These are just a few of the words and expressions heard in Spanish schools—which one is your fav?

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3 Comments

  1. I feel for the one adult I have in my FCE class full of teens. He’s always saying, “You are all in Turkey’s Age!” and we love it so much, we egg him on!

    The chalet got to me, and it had me teaching my students the work “chicken cutlet”

  2. Even though I work in a colegio, I can DEFINITELY relate to these :) Over the past 5 months I’ve been learning some of these phrases during our breakfast break at recess, and I remember being so confused at first. Like, what do you mean he’s touching your noses?? Haha. I haven’t heard “tener la edad del pavo” yet, but I really like that one.

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