One of my favorite things about travel is learning new languages. Whether I barely get a handle on a few critical words or actually start putting together basic sentences doesn’t matter to me. I’ve been laughed at for my (undoubted) butchering of Chinese numbers, frustrated when trying to communicate in Italian with someone who also wasn’t an Italian speaker (we just happened to be in Italy), and carried on great conversations in Spanish in multiple countries.

Spanish is obviously my favorite language, as it is easy for the English speaker, the spelling and pronunciation is consistent (well…until you start facing dialects like caribeño). But I’ve picked up bits and pieces of other languages along the way. Memorizing words doesn’t come easily. However, it’s a whole lot easier when they stick out. Here are some of my favorite foreign words.

5 Of My Favorite Foreign Words

Xarxa (Catalan)

Meaning: net/network

This tops my list of favorite foreign words. How can you not love a word with two x’s in it?? When I saw this on the Barcelona metro, I figured it meant “map” (in Spanish, mapa is a carryover from English). Turns out that map isn’t quite right. Xarxa means net or network. The ‘x’ makes the ‘sh’ sound in Catalan, which means that xarxa can be approximated as ‘shar-shah’ in English.

Catalan is the language of Andorra, Catalonia (including Barcelona), and a couple other provinces of Spain. Catalan pride is a big deal, and there has long been an independence movement that would create Cataluña as a separate country from Spain. I’m doubtful it will ever gain enough traction, as there is still quite a bit of support to remain part of Spain.

Abacaxí (Portugese)

Meaning: pineapple

This word gave me a good laugh when I first learned it. I’ve been appreciating the overlap between Spanish and Portuguese as I learn more of the latter, but it also leads to some confusion. There will no confusing of pineapple, though. It’s piña in Spanish and abacaxí in Portuguese. The latter is far better.

Schmetterling (German)

Meaning: butterfly

You can thank this video for teaching me this word. I’ll admit…the contrast of German to the romance languages is purposefully over the top, but this one kills me every time I see it. Such a rough word for such a delicate insect. In close second is krankenwagen (ambulance). Sounds like you’ll be taken to the nuthouse and not the hospital!

a city with trees and buildings

Tocallo (Spanish)

Meaning: namesake (sort of)

I would argue that this word doesn’t have a direct English translation, which is the reason I like it so much. Tocallo is something I’ve heard people call each other when they share the same first name. When I worked at a restaurant years ago, I worked with several guys from Mexico. Two were named Jesus, and they would often call each other tocallo instead of by their name (which is where I learned this). They also had nicknames, which helped reduce the confusion for everyone else.

това́рищ (Russian)

Meaning: comrade

This one will always stick with me. Years ago, when I visited Russia, one of the Russian guys in our group dared me to address another as това́рищ (the common term for addressing your countrymen from the Soviet era). The bewildered look on his face was priceless when I followed through. I didn’t learn much Russian, but there are a handful or words that have stuck with me since that trip that I will never forget, this being the foremost of them.

Final Thoughts

I love learning new words and expressions in foreign languages. It’s my hope to eventually be able to converse in Spanish, Portuguese, and French, at a minimum. I’d love to learn others, but as immersion and practice is the only way to get good, adding two other languages alongside Spanish will be tough enough as it is.

Do you love learning new languages? What are some of your favorite foreign language words?