Any introduction to the Spanish language will quickly show you that it has been blessed with some important thinkers throughout the course of time. From the worlds of politics, literature, art, science, and more, they have influenced thinking around the world.
Due to the large area that the Spanish speaking world covers, they come from a variety of countries. From Spain to Argentina, Colombia to Guatemala, and Chile to Mexico.
In fact, individuals from Spanish speaking countries have won a total of 24 Nobel prizes in a variety of disciplines, which just goes to show the international recognition that their thinking has received.
If you are learning Spanish, or have visited Spain or Latin America, then you might have already heard some of the names included in this list.
By examining some their quotes, you can learn about Spanish grammar, pick up some new Spanish vocabulary, as well as understand how Spanish speakers express themselves, plus a bit about the countries and backgrounds that they come from.
In fact, the only thing you can’t learn about are differences in accents across the Spanish speaking world.
Studying Spanish quotes can help you learn new vocabulary
All in all, there is a lot that can be learnt from the quotes in this article, not just in terms of learning a foreign language that is spoken by 440 million native speakers, but also in terms of how we as individuals view the world that we live in.
So get comfortable as we take you through our list of 10 interesting quotes from the Spanish speaking world.
« Es tan corto el amor y tan largo el olvido »
Which means: “Love is so short and the forgetting so long”
This Pablo Neruda quote is taken from his 1924 poem, Poema 20 from the collection Veinte Poemas de Amor y Una Canción de Desesperada (20 love poems and a song of despair).
If there was every any confusion over the similarities and differences between Spanish and Portuguese, then it is thanks to people like Pablo Neruda for setting them apart.
The Chilean poet who was a master with Spanish words, and his ability to express profound and passionate thoughts on love and romance made him a famous name of the Spanish language in Latin America and beyond.
If there was ever a reason to speak Spanish, it would be to fully appreciate this Nobel laureate’s work in the language that it was written in. If are taking Spanish lessons with a Spanish teacher, then ask him or her to dig out some of Neruda’s poems to study in your classes.
In this quote, he expertly sums up the difficulty that many people suffer in trying to forget some who they had strong feelings for.
For most people, you don’t need to be fluent in Spanish to understand the pain of losing someone close to you and not being able to forget that person!
Pablo Neruda is probably the most famous South American poets of all times. (by hilosprimitivos)
« Arból de la esperanza, mantente firme »
Which means: “Tree of hope, stand firm”
Frida Kahlo was born 1907 in Mexico City. She was a painter who is famous for painting many self-portraits after she was severely injured in a bus accident at the age of 18, which ended her dream of becoming a doctor. It also caused her pain and various health problems up until the end of her life.
From her physical pain she drew great mental strength which is reflected in her work, and could, in itself, be used as a metaphor to keep going.
Perhaps this is the basis for the quote above. Arból de la esperanza, mantente firme is a famous painting by Kahlo, which shows the canvas divided into two; one side is in darkness with the moon in the sky and depicts Kahlo sat down in traditional indigenous dress, and the other is in the day light with the sun in the sky, and shows a woman lying down on a hospital bed with bleeding scars on her back.
Focusing on the quote itself, she appears to be saying that maintaining hope is the key to moving through difficult times. As long as we have hope, nothing is impossible.
Around 40 years after her death, her work was picked up by both the feminist and LGBT movements. Feminists in particular see her work as symbolising female struggle and experience.
Her Mexican indigenous heritage also led to her work being celebrated by this group, too.
If you are going to learn Spanish, the work of Frida Kahol is an example of how you brighten up a Spanish class on grammar or verb conjugation by analysing the messages that she portrays in her paintings.
« Aprender a dudar es aprender a pensar »
“To learn to doubt is to learn think”
Every man wants to change the world, to do something, but too often this is out of self love, which gives terrifying results of vanity.
There is a very popular quote which fights against this notion:
“Learning to doubt is learning to think,” by Octavio Paz.
This famous quote comes from Octavio Paz–poet, essayist, diplomat, and Nobel Prize Literature Winner–who was born to a Mexican father and an Andalusian mother. The artist’s work is imbued with multiple influences.
His poems are often a mix of styles and inspirations.
He was in Spain during during the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s, and he took the side of the Republicans in the name of “anti-fascism”. He only broke with communism after the end of the German-Soviet pact, so much so that by the end of his life he was criticising the Marxist governments of Cuba and Nicaragua.
Octavio Paz was inspired by his origins, his discoveries, and also the history of the world and its various literary currents. With a life spent between many countries including Mexico, the United States, Spain, France, and India, his work reflected his openness to the world.
« La verdadera amistad resiste el tiempo, la distanica, y el silencio »
“True friendship resists time, distance, and silence”
Isabel Allende is a Chilean author who has been praised as the world’s most read Spanish author in the world.
She has written books such as La Ciudad de las Bestias, and La Casa de los Espíritus, and she has been quoted as saying she wants her books to show the tortured history of South America, and the hopes and dreams of both men and women who fight to live in a better world.
She was awarded the Chilean National Prize for Literature in 2010, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2014, and has taken up the reigns from Nobel laureates Pablo Neruda and Gabriela Mistral to continue Chile’s world renowned literary prowess.
On you journey to speaking Spanish with fluency, you will encounter a number of phrases that speak to you on a personal level. Speaking a second language allows you to communicate with more people, but it also broadens your horizons. This quote does exactly that.
Isabel Allende wants us to value real friendships (Source: Visual Hunt)
In the modern world, we all want to know who are true friends are. And friendships that meet this criteria are the ones you want. They are not built on what someone can do for you, or using someone for personal gains.
But rather they are about being able to pick up where you left off years back, without trouble or awkwardness, and having people upon whom you can rely.
« La vida no es la que uno vivió, sino la que uno recuerda, y cómo la recuerda para contarla »
“Life isn’t what one has lived, but what one remembers, and how one remembers it in order to retell it.”
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, or Gabo, was a celebrated Colombian novelist who popularised magical realism.
As one of the leading figures in literature in the Spanish language, Gabo won many prizes, including the Nobel prize for literature in 1982.
His work includes Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude), and El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera (Love in the Time of Cholera).
If you speak to any native speaker of Spanish, and most of English, they will have heard of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. However, his work is complex and as a beginner you will probably want to avoid.
However, as a more advanced learner, it is definitely worth reading some of his work as it will give the way you learn to speak Spanish a more cultural flavour.
This can be seen in the quote above. Here, Gabo is trying to encourage us to enjoy the experiences that we have, and remember how they make us feel.
The technological society that we live in sees most people trying to record special moments with photos, videos, and tags on social media. But if we step back from this, we will be rewarded internally by fully enjoying these moments.
« Tengo un día. Si lo sé aprovechar, tengo un tesoro »
“I have one day. If I know how to make the most of it, I will have struck gold”
Gabriela Mistral is a name that we have already mentioned. The Chilean became the first poet from Latin America to receive the Nobel prize for Literature in 1945.
Gabriela Mistral has helped show people there is more to Chile than snow-capped mountains
She wrote about a variety of topics; love, betrayal, travel, nature, and Latin America to name but a few.
Her importance in Latin America is well established, and if you travel to Chile, you will see her face on the 5,000 peso bank note.
Some of her key works include:
In our list of quotes that we have compiled her, this is perhaps the best piece of advice.
The message is simple; each day is a gift and we should do everything we can to make the most of it.
« Todo lo que puede ser imaginado es real »
“Everything that can be imagined is real”
As one of Spain’s most famous sons, Pablo Picasso is widely known as a co-founder of the cubist movement.
A large part of his early life was spent in Catalonia, and he had his first exhibition in Barcelona in 1900.
Whilst there, he learnt Catalan. Interestingly, people don’t often know the differences between Catalan and Spanish, and often assume them to be almost the same thing.
His eye for artistic innovation and his unique style which he started to develop whilst in Catalonia, thrust him to the forefront of all of the important artists of the 20th century.
Interestingly, Picasso’s work was already being appreciated during his lifetime mainly due to amazing range of styles that he possessed. This is something that only increased after his death in 1973.
Aside from studying pronunciation and sentence structure, your Spanish course will almost definitely include a part on looking at the work of Pablo Picasso when studying Spanish culture.
The range of styles that he worked on probably gave birth to this quote. In a literal sense, his vivid imagination allowed him to recreate his thoughts on canvas.
But in another sense, the essence of this quote implores us to not be held back by thinking things aren’t possible, and to push the realms of possibility at every chance.
Pablo Picasso’s style is famous worldwide. Photo credit: pedrosimoes7 via VisualHunt.com / CC BY
« Donde una puerta se cierra, otra se abre »
“When one door closes, another one opens”
Miguel de Cervantes is probably the most famous name in the history of the Spanish language, and in particular in its literature.
He is the write of Don Quixote, which is widely considered to be the first modern novel, and has been translated into more languages than any other book apart from the Bible.
If you choose to study Spanish, you could study at the Instituto Cervantes, the Spanish government’s organisation to promote the study of Spanish language and culture, and whose name comes from Miguel de Cervantes.
He gave the world a number of great quotes, such as the one above which is equally well known in both English and Spanish.
« Este mundo no va a cambiar a menos que estemos dispuestos a cambiar nosotros mismos »
“The world won’t change unless we’re willing to change ourselves”
Rigoberta Menchu perhaps isn’t the most well known figure from the Spanish speaking world, but this Guatemalan Nobel Peace Prize winner has had a big impact on the world.
She has worked tirelessly to promote the rights of Guatemala’s indigenous community, and particularly those of the female indigenous population.
Since Guatemala’s civil war finished in 1996, she has campaigned to have political and military figures tried for crimes committed during the civil war in Spanish courts due convictions in Guatemala for such crimes being almost impossible.
Rigoberta Menchu was influential in a ruling saying Spanish courts could hear cases of war crimes in Guatemala (Source: Pexels)
After Spain’s highest court ruled that Spanish courts could pass judgement on foreign genocides, Spain called for the extradition of 7 members of the Guatemalan government.
In 2015, a former Police commander was convicted in a Spanish court for his role in an attack on the Spanish embassy in Guatemala city in 1980, which cost the life of Menchu’s father.
He was one of many Mayan peasants who occupied the embassy to try and draw attention to the suffering that was being inflicted on them in the countryside, but the Guatemalan National Police firebombed the embassy, killing all but one of the protesters.
Her push for justice and change is central to the quote above. She sees the promotion of change within ourselves is crucial to external change.
This is something important to her, such as can be seen as the change in Guatemala partly due to her campaigning, and the reconciliation in the country that she has been involved in.
« Seamos realistas y hagamos lo imposible. »
“Let’s be realistic and accomplish the impossible.”
This well-known quote from the Argentinian-born revolutionary has gone around the world.
A well-known legend, Ernesto Rafael Che Guevara remains today one of the symbols for the struggle for freedom around the world. A communist figure of the revolution in Cuba, he sought to extend the revolution to Bolivia, but also Africa.
Latin America in particular has given the world a number of revolutionaries, mostly due to the long struggle against colonial rule. Simón Bolívar, Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez, and Che Guevara are all left wing revolutionaries who divide opinion enormously, but all claim to have fought imperialist powers.
Che in particular has become a important in popular culture. His face can be found on t-shirts, posters, mugs, and murals.
This portrait has become an icon ¦ source: smithsonianmag
His largely legendary status lies in the fact that he died young (at the age of 39) whilst pushing for revolution in Bolivia, whereas other revolutionaries survived a lot longer.
The majority of quotes attributed to Che Guevara are unsurprisingly related to the revolutionary fight. Where as other quotes in this collection have talked about love, friendship, and philosophy, this quote reflects his desire to keep fighting, no matter how heavily stacked against him the odds were.
We could go on a long time with Spanish quotes, popular proverbs, sayings, and beautiful texts.
Feel free to look up other proverbs from around the world, learn a quote a day to immerse yourself in the world of your favourite Spanish-speaking artists.
Remember that learning a new language is more than just learning the verbs and being able to hold a conversation. It also means immersing yourself in a new world, and a new culture. To do this effectively, you visit the country that you want to learn more about. But don’t underestimate the importance of learning beginners Spanish before travelling!