flags of different countries on white flagpoles. Hardest Words to Translate to English

Languages have a wealth of unique words and concepts that are difficult to translate. Sometimes because the concept is so foreign that there’s nothing equivalent to it. But it is also due to each language having its own unique set of rules and patterns for creating words. And this is where the morphology of different languages can differentiate from English. Let’s take a look at Japanese, Russian, Spanish, Korean, Finnish and Italian and how they differ from English. Here are 30 examples of the Hardest Words to Translate to English:

30 hardest words to translate to English


Japan’s intricate cultural expressions and concepts often lack direct equivalents in other languages.

  1. Words like “Kintsugi” (the art of repairing broken pottery with gold, emphasizing its history)
  2. “Tsundoku” (積ん読): This word describes the habit of buying books and letting them pile up without reading them. It represents the allure of collecting books and the joy of having a personal library, even if one hasn’t read all the books in it.
  3. “Wabi-Sabi” (侘寂): Wabi-sabi is a profound aesthetic concept that appreciates the beauty of imperfection, transience, and the natural cycle of growth and decay. It celebrates the simplicity, authenticity, and serenity found in the passage of time and the acceptance of the inevitable changes in life.
  4. “Mono no Aware” (物の哀れ): This phrase captures the essence of the ephemeral nature of life and the awareness of the impermanence of all things. It evokes a gentle sadness or appreciation for the beauty of fleeting moments, making one cherish the delicate and fleeting nature of existence.
  5. “Komorebi” (木漏れ日): Komorebi refers to the dappled sunlight that filters through the leaves of trees. It is the play of light and shadows on the ground, creating a serene and poetic scene that reflects the harmony between nature and human experience.
  6. “Yūgen” (幽玄): Yūgen is an aesthetic concept that conveys a profound sense of mystery, depth, and elegance in art and nature. It implies an indescribable beauty that awakens a profound emotional response and leaves a lasting impression on the beholder’s soul.


Russian boasts a rich and expressive vocabulary, with words like “dusha” (the soul or innermost self) carrying unique cultural significance.

  1. “Toska” (тоска): Toska is a deeply emotional word that describes a profound sense of spiritual anguish, melancholy, or longing. It represents a complex mix of emotions, often associated with feelings of nostalgia, existential emptiness, and a yearning for something unattainable or lost.
  2. “Zaika” (зайка): Zaika is an affectionate term of endearment in Russian, similar to “darling” or “sweetheart” in English. However, its usage often carries a sense of intimacy and warmth between close friends or romantic partners.
  3. “Pochemuchka” (почемучка): Pochemuchka refers to a curious and inquisitive person, especially a child, who asks a lot of questions and is eager to learn about the world. It implies an enthusiastic quest for knowledge and a genuine interest in understanding the intricacies of life.
  4. “Razbliuto” (разблюто): This word describes the lingering feeling of love that remains after a relationship has ended. It conveys a sense of bittersweet longing and affection for someone who was once deeply loved.
  5. “Trepverter” (трепвёртер): Trepverter refers to the witty comeback or clever retort that comes to mind too late, often after a conversation has ended. It’s that moment when you think of the perfect response long after the opportunity has passed.


Arabic has a vast array of words to describe various shades of hospitality, honor, and respect which are integral in the cultural fabric.

  1. عَزِيز” (Azeez): This word translates to “dear” or “beloved.” In Arab culture, showing hospitality is a way of expressing love and affection towards guests and visitors. The term “Azeez” reflects the deep respect and care extended to guests, making them feel valued and cherished.
  2. “كَرِيم” (Kareem): Kareem translates to “generous” or “noble.” In Arab societies, hospitality is often linked to generosity, and being “Kareem” means showing kindness, benevolence, and open-heartedness to guests. It emphasizes the idea of giving and sharing with others as an essential aspect of hospitality.
  3. “ادِب” (Adab): Adab encompasses the concept of good manners, respect, and etiquette. In Arab culture, showing proper adab towards guests, elders, and others is a sign of honor and respect. It signifies a well-mannered and courteous approach in social interactions, reflecting the importance of respecting others and upholding cultural values.


Korean culture and language have specific words that convey great emotional weight which are challenging to translate precisely into other languages.

  1. “Han” (한): Han is a complex and deeply ingrained emotional concept in Korean culture. It refers to a deep-seated feeling of sorrow, resentment, or unresolved grief that arises from enduring and overcoming hardships, personal struggles, or historical traumas. Han is often associated with collective suffering and the resilience of the Korean people.
  2. “Jeong” (정): Jeong is a word that encapsulates the deep affection and emotional connection between individuals. It represents feelings of loyalty, love, and care for family, friends, and community. Jeong highlights the importance of meaningful relationships and the bonds that tie people together.
  3. “Nunchi” (눈치): Nunchi is a unique Korean concept that refers to the ability to sense and understand someone else’s emotions and intentions without direct communication. It involves being attentive to nonverbal cues, context, and social dynamics to gauge the appropriate response in a given situation.
  4. “Pali-pali” (빨리빨리): Pali-pali translates to “hurry” or “quickly” in English, but in Korean culture, it carries a broader meaning. It reflects the societal value of efficiency, urgency, and the fast-paced nature of modern life in Korea. Pali-pali emphasizes the need to accomplish tasks swiftly and efficiently.


victor emmanuel ii monument and the italian flag rome italy

Italian is full of musicality and expressive phrases, such as “dolce far niente” (the sweetness of doing nothing).

  1. “Sprezzatura”: Sprezzatura is an Italian term used to describe a nonchalant and effortless sense of style or grace. It refers to the art of making something difficult look easy, particularly in fashion, behavior, or performance.
  2. “Meriggiare”: This word refers to the act of resting or taking a nap during the hottest hours of the day, usually around midday. It conveys the Italian tradition of embracing a siesta or quiet time to escape the scorching heat and relax in the shade. The concept of “meriggiare” encompasses a sense of tranquility and mindfulness during the hottest part of the day.
  3. “Cavoli riscaldati”: Literally translating to “reheated cabbage,” this Italian phrase describes the attempt to rekindle a past romantic relationship or revive old feelings. It signifies the futility of trying to reheat something that has lost its original flavor and appeal, and it’s often used to caution against going back to failed relationships.
  4. “Magari”: Magari is a versatile and unique word that can be challenging to translate precisely. It expresses a sense of hope, longing, or desire for something that may or may not be possible. Depending on the context, it can mean “perhaps,” “I wish,” “if only,” or “hopefully.”
  5. “Dolcezza”: This word translates to “sweetness” in English, but it carries a deeper sense of tenderness, affection, and charm. It is often used to describe someone’s gentle and kind demeanor or the pleasantness of a moment or experience.


Finnish has an interesting way of creating compound words to express complex ideas, such as

  1. “kalsarikännit” (drinking at home alone in your underwear)
  2. “sisu” (determination, perseverance, and courage in the face of adversity).
  3. “Kaiho”: Kaiho is a Finnish word that expresses a complex mix of emotions, including a sense of yearning, nostalgia, and melancholy. It captures the longing for something lost or far away, as well as the bittersweet feeling of reminiscing about cherished memories. Kaiho aptly encapsulates the Finnish appreciation for nature, silence, and the fleeting beauty of moments.


Spanish has a wide array of colorful expressions, like “sobremesa” (the time spent lingering around the table after a meal, chatting and relaxing). Incidentally, “sobremesa” means dessert in Brazilian Portuguese.

  1. Tener ganas de: When you are in the mood for something or feel like doing something, you use the above-mentioned phrase in Spanish. I would translate this as a craving or an urge.
  2. Madrugar: If you don’t like to wake up early in the morning, this word will not be your favorite. Madrugar means to wake up early in the morning, just one word for a complex task, isn’t it?
  3. Estrenar: The feeling you experience when you wear something new for the first time is seriously priceless and you can’t stop talking about it or you could say “Estrenar” and point towards your new dress. The closest thing to it in English would be to ‘christen’ but without the religious connotation.
  4. Desvelado / a: Sleep deprivation can turn you into a Zombie but to explain why you are like that in that morning is not easy or is it? You could just say, “Desvelado/a” in Spanish.

These languages, like German, have developed unique expressions that reflect their respective cultures, histories, and ways of thinking, enriching global linguistic diversity and providing insights into the human experience.

close up photo of baggage sign

Morphology Explains The Hardest Words to Translate to English

Morphology refers to the study of the structure and formation of words in a language. Let’s take a look at the morphology of the six languages mentioned earlier and how they differ from English:


German is an inflectional language, meaning that it uses suffixes or changes within the word to indicate grammatical relationships. For example, German nouns have different endings depending on their gender (masculine, feminine, or neuter), number (singular or plural), and case (nominative, accusative, dative, or genitive). Verbs also undergo changes in conjugation based on tense, mood, and person. English, on the other hand, has a simpler system of inflection, with fewer noun and verb endings.


Japanese is an agglutinative language, which means that words are formed by combining different morphemes (meaningful units) together. In Japanese, suffixes and particles are added to the root form of words to indicate grammatical relationships and various meanings. For example, verb conjugations in Japanese can be quite complex, as different suffixes are added to indicate tense, politeness, and other nuances. English tends to use separate words for expressing these ideas.


Russian is another inflectional language, similar to German. In Russian nouns have various endings to indicate gender, number, and case. Verbs also undergo changes based on tense, aspect, mood, and person. English, in comparison, has a simpler system of noun and verb inflection.


Arabic is a Semitic language, known for its intricate system of roots and patterns. Words in Arabic typically derive from three-letter roots. And they use different patterns to form different forms of the same word. These patterns may involve adding prefixes, suffixes, and vowel changes to the root. English does not have a similar root-and-pattern system of word formation.


Korean is an agglutinative language like Japanese, where words form by adding suffixes to the root form of words. Not mention, Korean has an elaborate honorific system, which means they use different forms of words to show respect and politeness depending on the social context. English does not have as extensive a system of honorifics.


It is not a coincidence that Italian sounds beautiful. Actual poets designed it to be that way.

The Italian language evolved from Latin, the language of the ancient Romans, which was brought to the Italian peninsula around 2000 years ago. However, during the Middle Ages, as different regions of Italy developed their own unique dialects, Tuscan dialect, particularly the one spoken in Florence, emerged as a literary language thanks to the works of influential writers like Dante Alighieri and Francesco Petrarch. Their literary contributions helped standardize the Tuscan dialect and pave the way for the modern Italian language.

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Italian is a Romance language, and like English, it has a system of inflection for nouns and verbs. Nonetheless, the specific patterns and rules of inflection are different in Italian compared to English. For example, Italian nouns have different endings based on gender and number, and verbs undergo changes in conjugation based on tense, mood, and person, similar to other inflectional languages.

The phonetic beauty of Italian can be attributed to several factors:
  1. Phonemic Orthography: Italian spelling is largely phonemic, meaning words are generally pronounced the way they are written. Each letter typically corresponds to a specific sound, making it easier for speakers to correctly pronounce words.
  2. Vowel-Rich Language: Italian has a relatively simple vowel system, consisting of seven pure vowels. These clear and distinct vowel sounds contribute to the melodious quality of the language.
  3. Syllable Structure: Italian words tend to have a straightforward syllable structure, with most words following a consonant-vowel-consonant pattern. This rhythmic syllable structure enhances the overall musicality of the language.
  4. Smooth Flow: Italian speech often exhibits a smooth and flowing cadence, with words and phrases flowing seamlessly from one to another. This smooth flow is attributed to the regular stress patterns and rhythmic qualities of the language.
  5. Melodic Accents: The tonal patterns and intonation in Italian speech give it a melodic quality that is often described as singing-like.

In sum, the combination of these linguistic features and the influence of Italian art, music, and culture have contributed to the perception of Italian as a phonetically pleasing and expressive language. Its phonetic beauty has made it a popular choice for lyrical poetry, opera, and other forms of artistic expression.

Finally, the morphology of these six languages differs from English in terms of inflectional systems, agglutinative features, root-and-pattern structures, and honorifics. Each language’s unique morphology contributes to its distinct grammatical and linguistic characteristics, making them fascinating subjects for study and exploration.

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