ULG’s Language Solutions Blog

10 Words That Don’t Translate into English

Posted by Jake Schild on March 29, 2017

Over the past two weeks, we’ve written about Lead with Language’s push to create a culture of bilingualism in the United States. The nationwide campaign launched on March 1 and has promoted language learning advocacy for students and citizens across the country.

English is the lingua franca in a number of countries and spoken by over 800 million people worldwide, but sometimes the language just doesn’t cut it. To reiterate that fact, we’ve compiled a list of 10 words that don’t translate into English.


(German) – A feeling of happiness or pleasure derived from someone else’s trouble. The word is often borrowed by English speakers, and with good reason, since there doesn’t seem to be an equivalent as succinct as the original.

Pena ajena

(Spanish) – A feeling of shame or embarrassment for others. You’d use this phrase in describing the cringe-worthiness of a coworker drinking too much at a company party. “¡Qué pena ajena!”


(Norwegian) – The happiness one feels when they begin to fall in love. Google Translate deciphers this Nordic term as “in love,” but that doesn’t do it any justice. Forelsket refers to the elation a person experiences when they’re happily settling into a new relationship.


(Pascuense) – To “borrow” from a friend or neighbor until you’ve collected all of his or her things. The word comes from the Pascuense, or Rapa Nui language, spoken on Easter Island.


(Yaghan) – A look shared by two people signaling each wants the other to initiate something, but neither person will. The Guinness Book of World Records calls this the “most succinct word.”


(German) – A gift a husband gives to his wife after engaging in bad behavior. Late night at the pub? Bring home a Drachenfutter in an attempt to make amends.


(German) – Weight gained from overeating due to emotional stress. In German, Kummerspeck translates to “grief bacon.” “Eating your feelings” comes close, but it’s a tall order to compete with an expression like “grief bacon.”


(Japanese) – To look worse after a haircut. We’ve likely all experienced this before, but there’s no equivalent word or phrase in English.


(New Guinean) – A truth that is known by everyone, but not disclosed. The English phrase, “Elephant in The Room,” is similar, but not quite the same.


(Scottish) – A word used to describe a situation in which you hesitate in introducing someone because you’ve forgotten their name. We’ve all been in this awkward situation, but until now probably didn’t have such a succinct way of explaining ourselves. “Excuse my tartle.”

Supporting Language Advocacy and Education

The English language can only go so far in helping us articulate what we experience every day. Learning a second language not only expands our knowledge base, but also connects us to different ideas and cultural references that we wouldn’t have encountered otherwise.

United Language Group is happy to support Lead with Languages in furthering language education and advocacy in the United States. To learn more about Lead with Languages, visit their website or follow them on social media.

Topics: Language Learner, Translation