A trip to Spain invariably sends the senses into overdrive, with so many things to look at and touch, voices to listen to and food to smell and taste – not to mention the range of emotions we’ll feel. It would be a shame to keep our reactions to ourselves, so it’s a good idea to learn some Spanish expressions to share them.
The first bit of good news is that we can use the same verb – parecer (‘to seem’, ‘to appear’) – to say that something looks like, sounds like, feels like, smells like or tastes like something else, depending on what we’re experiencing: parece un palacio (it looks like a palace), parece jazz (it sounds like jazz), parece seda (it feels like silk), parece gas (it smells like gas), parece jerez (it tastes like sherry).
Of course, each of the senses has its own verb or verbs, which we can explore in more detail.
The Sights of Spain
There are two main verbs: ver (‘to see’) and mirar (‘to look at’, ‘to watch’). Ver covers most of the usages of ‘to see’ in English, but is also the verb used for ‘to watch TV’: vemos la tele todos los días (we watch TV every day). If you tried to say estoy mirando la televisión, it would suggest that you are staring at the TV set – not necessarily the screen! Another thing to look out for is that the ‘at’ in the English verbs ‘to look at’ and ‘to listen to’ doesn’t transfer across: miré los monumentos (I looked at the monuments). Of course, if it’s a person you’re looking at, you’ll need the personal ‘a’: miraste a tu hermano (you looked at your brother).
The Smell of Spain
If you think about it, there are two types of smelling: what your nose does to an item, and what an item does to your nose! The Spanish expressions for both involve the same verb – oler (nothing to do with ¡olé! alas). It has one of those nasty radical changes, so we see it more often in forms like huele(it smells). If you’re smelling (i.e. sniffing) something, you can say huelo la carne antes de comerla (I smell the meat before eating it). If you’re talking about what’s reaching your nostrils, here’s the way to do it: huele a pescado (it smells of fish). Don’t be tempted to say huele de algo because of the English ‘to smell of something’.
A Taste of Spain
Similarly to smelling, tasting is something you can do, or that can happen to you! ‘To taste (i.e. sample)’ something is probar – prueba el jamón, está muy rico (have a taste of the ham, it’s delicious), whereas for the taste something produces in your mouth, the Spanish expression is saber a. So you can say sabe a pollo (it tastes of chicken). Notice that it’s saber a, not saber de, and yes, that is the same verb we use for ‘to know’!
Keep Your Ears Open in Spain
Just like seeing, there are two main verbs in play here: oír (‘to hear’ – not necessarily intentionally) and escuchar (‘to listen to’ – intentionally). So we can say se oye mucho ruido en la calle (a lot of noise can be heard in the street) and escucho este programa cada semana (I listen to this programme every week) or, if it’s a person you’re listening to: estamos escuchando al guía turístico (we’re listening to the tour guide).
Reach Out and Touch Spain
The standard verb here is tocar – tocamos la piedra de la muralla (we touched the stone of the city walls). Note that there are all sorts of other Spanish expressions using this verb, one of which is ‘to play’ (a musical instrument) – e.g. ¿tocas la batería? (do you play the drums?) – which, if you think about it, generally involves touching the instrument!
That Spanish Feeling
Finally, what about how we’re feeling? If we want to say we feel proud (i.e. an adjective) or well (an adverb) we use the reflexive verb sentirse – me siento orgulloso/a, me siento bien. To say that we feel a particular emotion or sensation (expressed as a noun), we use the basic sentir – sintió un dolor en la pierna (s/he felt a pain in the leg).
But it’s always good to simplify things – let’s remember that we can always reduce ‘to feel’ down to ‘to be’ and simply say estoy encantado/a de estar aquí en España (I’m delighted to be here in Spain).