For members


German phrase of the day: Es kommt mir Spanisch vor

Why is something incomprehensible all Greek to you in English, but suddenly Spanish when speaking German? Here's what this odd phrase means and the history behind it.

German phrase of the day: Es kommt mir Spanisch vor
Photo credit: Francesco Ungaro / Unsplash + Nicolas Raymond / flickr

Why do I need to know this phrase?

If you’re completely baffled by something – be it because you literally don’t understand the words or because it’s simply a strange concept – this is a helpful phrase to know.

What does it mean?

Literally, this long-standing expression translates to “It seems Spanish to me,” similar to the English equivalent of “It’s all Greek to me”. And in the Spanish language itself, something is foreign when it appears Chinese to you (“Me suena a chino”). 

Everything is relative, as Italians say “It’s like German to me” (“Mi sembra tedesco”) when they’re perplexed. Hey, we totally understand that sentiment! 

The phrase “Es kommt mir Spanisch vor” is just about as frequently used as its idiomatic twin “Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof” (I only understand train station).

READ ALSO: German phrase of the day: Ich verstehe nur Bahnhof

What’s the history behind this phrase?

In Germany’s increasingly multicultural society, something Spanish isn’t actually so foreign, with many people from the southern European country residing in Germany, and Spanish being a popular second language in schools here. Spain is also a top holiday destination for Germans, with the island of Mallorca often jokingly referred to as “Germany’s 17th state”.

READ ALSO: ‘I really needed a break’: Pandemic-weary Germans find ‘freedom’ on Mallorca

So how did the idea of the culture being so foreign that it’s absolutely incomprehensible originate?

The roots can be traced back to when the Spanish language and customs were, indeed, quite foreign.

When Emperor Maximilian I died in January 1519, it was unclear who would be his successor in the then-Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation. 

Three candidates sought the crown: In addition to Francis I of France and Henry VIII of England, the late emperor’s grandson, Spain’s King Carlos I, later Charles V, also laid claim to the throne.

In the end, Charles V was appointed, first as king and ultimately as emperor. While Charles V had a rudimentary command of the German language, his court, which he brought with him from Spain, did not.

In addition to the language, German royalty also found the customs and manners of the new elite to be strange. Charles himself is also said to have been less than polite. 

The royal family were unfamiliar with all the new traditions and Charles’ way of being – they seemed, well, Spanish to them.

Here’s how to use it:

Verstehst du diese neue Programmiersprache? Es kommt mir Spanisch vor.

Do you understand this new programming language? It’s all Greek to me.

Meine Freunde unterhielten sich über das letzte Fußballspiel, aber es kam mir Spanisch vor.

My friends were talking about the latest football game, but I didn’t understand them at all.

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For members


German word of the day: Sommerlich

Dazzling blue skies and sweltering temperatures mean summer has arrived in Germany, and if you're looking for a word to describe how that feels, this is the perfect one to choose.

German word of the day: Sommerlich

Why do I need to know sommerlich?

Because this joyful word is not just easy to remember, but is also great for describing those days in Germany when the sun is shining and everyone seems to be in a relaxed and happy mood – as well as many other aspects of summer.

What does it mean?

As you might have guessed, sommerlich (pronounced like this) is an adjective that’s very close to the English word “summery” or “summer-like”. It describes anything that is typical of this time of year, whether you’re talking about the weather, what you’re drinking or the look you’ve gone for on a particular day.

For example, if you head out to the countryside for a short summer break, you might find yourself in the midst of a sommerliche Landschaft: a summery landscape with forests and fields with wild flowers in full bloom. 

Or you could be taken by surprise by a sudden heat wave and express regret that you haven’t had a chance to restock your sommerliche Klamotten, or summery clothes. 

READ ALSO: 10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

Mostly, though, you’ll find this word used to talk about those classic summer days with balmy weather and sunny skies, or weather conditions that feel like summer – even if it’s the wrong time of year. 

If you want to say something is more summery than something else, sommerlicher is the word you’ll need, and if something is the most summery of all, it’s am sommerlichsten

Use it like this: 

Bei diesen Temperaturen will ich immer ein erfrischender und sommerlicher Getränke in der Hand haben. 

In these temperatures I always want a refreshing and summery drink in my hand.

Ich liebe diese entspannte sommerliche Tage! Es ist wie im Urlaub zu sein. 

I love these relaxed summer days! It’s like being on holiday.