9 Spanish proverbs with animals – activity

By Britta

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 09.49.21Animals feature in many proverbs, idioms  and phrases. Funnily enough for many of these a cultural equivalent exists in other languages.

I have a long standing fascination with proverbs and their translations into other languages.

Below are nine Spanish proverbs featuring animals and I am pretty sure that you will  know most of them from your own culture.

  1. A caballo regalado no le mires el diente.
  2. Como pez en el agua.
  3. Cría cuervos, y te sacarán los ojos.
  4. Como elefante en cristalería.
  5. Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando.
  6. Matar dos pájaros de un tiro.
  7. Perro ladrador, poco mordedor.
  8. Si quieres el perro, acepta las pulgas.
  9. Ser un pez gordo.

For a fun reading activity read the proverb to students and have them match the proverb to the right animal type picture below. Note: There is an odd one out.

Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 09.49.21Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 09.33.47Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 09.31.58Screen Shot 2014-01-02 at 09.50.07

Answers: 1-C, 2-D, 3-B, 4-odd one out (elephant), 5-B, 6-B, 7-A, 8-A, 9-D; All photo Credits: maryglasgowplus.com

Now ask students to find a translation for the proverbs. You might want to split your class into pairs and have individual pairs working on one proverb only. Depending on level they might need the help of a dictionary.

Use students’ translations for a first discussion about problems of translations:

  • What are the equivalents of the proverbs in your language?
  • What are the literal translations of the proverbs into your language?
  • What do we get from literal translation that we don’t get from equivalent expressions? (Understanding of cultural differences, flavour/characterisation of other culture)
  • What are  the problems with literal translations? (Lack of precision, obscurity)

How do you incorporate translation into your teaching? How important do you consider translation to be within language teaching?

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4 thoughts on “9 Spanish proverbs with animals – activity

  1. I’m curious what the translations for these proverbs are. My Spanish is still at such a level that it doesn’t really make sense to me… Love to learn what they mean!

    • Here are a couple of translations into English:
      1. A caballo regalado no le mires el diente. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.
      2. Como pez en el agua. Like a fish in water.
      5. Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando. A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush.
      7. Perro ladrador, poco mordedor. Let the world say what it will.
      What’s interesting to me is that they all exit in German too:
      1. A caballo regalado no le mires el diente. Einem geschenkten Gaul schaut man nicht ins Maul.
      2. Como pez en el agua. Wie ein Fisch im Wasser.
      5. Más vale pájaro en mano que ciento volando. Lieber einen Spatz in der Hand als eine Taube auf dem Dach.
      7. Perro ladrador, poco mordedor. Bellende Hunde beissen nicht.
      In fact, the German translations are almost identical to the Spanish sayings.

  2. […] We have created an inphographic with some advice in Spanish on how to keep your desk tidy. You can use it to revise the imperative mood with your students while you are telling them how to keep their desks tidy…So I guess this is what we call in Spain ‘matar dos pájaros de un tiro‘ (‘to kill two birds with one stone’-see more Spanish proverbs with animals here).  […]

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