Three words that can instantaneously change the way one feels, yet culturally could mean entirely different things, are the words: “I love you”. People who share the same language across the world do not necessarily share the same cultural meanings. In Havana, Cuba the key phrase that expresses the most important of human emotions (to love) is not necessarily the same in other cultures.
If you live in Havana and experience a cross section of life there, you will begin to see more clearly the inability of the English language to provide an equal expression for that emotion “te quiero” is perhaps one phrase which has been lost in translation. Not only is it an expression that is foreign to the English language, but it’s meaning is also very difficult to explain at least not without providing a full explanation of its cultural or sub-cultural context.
One can easily Google the word and find the definition to be either “I want you” or “I love you.” However whether it is a Google translation or a dictionary translation, it does not convey the actual meaning of that emotional expression.
As a language neophyte, “te quiero”, might leave you perplexed as “amar” which is translated “to love.”
When a simple Spanish translation makes confusion
Imagine yourself outside a secondary school in a Havana neighborhood, where you witness a gathering of students hanging out together awaiting the bus and you hear a teenage girl saying “Te quiero!” to a teenage boy! A little perplexed, you think to yourself; “Doesn’t that mean I want you?” Unsure of what you have just heard, you consult your pocket dictionary, and there it is; “I want you” written in black and white.
“What exactly are these kids saying to one another,” you wonder! The actual meaning lies in the context or cultural experience. Many of the expressions we use are bound by specific cultural experiences and any accurate translation must provide the cultural context in order for it to convey the actual meaning.