Language helps us pinpoint exactly how we feel. But every language has its limits. Sometimes, it’s hard to find the right words in your native language to express how awesome, weird, horrifying, or hilarious a situation can be. That’s part of what makes learning new languages so fun—it opens up a whole new world of expression.
For example, delightful in English falls flat when what you really want to say is nakakagigil in Tagalog, which means that is so cute I NEED to pinch it.
Or how about the word compromise? Sure, an agreement was reached, but taraadin (تَراضٍ) in Arabic makes a far more endearing point—it means a happy solution for everyone.
In this There’s a Word for That series, we’re taking a look at the words and phrases that get to the heart of extraordinary and everyday situations. Through world-traveler Celinne Da Costa’s keen eye and real-world experiences, we’ll break down the meaning behind each word.
Now, here’s a glimpse into hacerle ganas, a Spanish saying Celinne learned in Guatemala, that can help you find your strength when you need it most.
INTERVIEW: The meaning of “hacerle ganas” (warning: explicit language)
What does hacerle ganas mean?
The expression hacerle ganas captures a sentiment of strength and perseverance: Specifically, what it means to keep moving forward towards a goal, even when faced with adversity.
Hacerle ganas roughly means “to create the desire.” It is rooted in the common idiomatic expression tener ganas de (“to have the desire to…”), which is used to express what we wish and want to do. Hacerle on the other hand, refers to something we have to do (e.g. our homework, errands, work).
In other words, hacerle ganas means creating a desire that previously wasn’t there, often out of necessity. Think of when you’ve been in the middle of something important and faced obstacles. You may have had to hacerle ganas––create the desire to finish the task at hand.
Practice saying hacerle ganas out loud using the audio file below:
LISTEN: How to pronounce “hacerle ganas”
What experience have you had that shaped your understanding of hacerle ganas?
In Celinne’s words, here’s how a trek up Acatenango Volcano changed her perspective on perseverance.
I came to understand this cultural expression when I really, really needed to hacerle ganas.
I recently attempted the hardest hike of my life, a 3,976 meter high, uphill climb to the peak of Acatenango Volcano in Guatemala. It all started with my visit to Antigua, a small colonial city famous for being surrounded by volcanoes. Upon expressing my admiration for the picturesque volcano that greeted my balcony view every morning, a local I befriended suggested that I hike it.
I almost didn’t go. My friend warned that the journey would be extremely challenging—five hours of uphill hiking before reaching basecamp, then another two hours at 4 a.m. the next day to reach the peak. In the end, I caved—I couldn’t resist the magic of having front-row seats to the Volcán de Fuego’s (Volcano of Fire’s) infamous lava eruptions.
Before I knew it, I was off climbing Acatenango with a team of 11 courageous strangers. A few hours in, I was seriously questioning why I had opted into this struggle. My legs were shaking, my heart was beating out of my chest, and the weight of my backpack felt heavier by the minute. By the time I had reached basecamp, I was exhausted, soaked to the bone from my own sweat, and shivering against the rapidly declining temperature.
I felt defeated at the prospect of having to climb two more hours at dawn, but I also knew it was the only option. I refused to give up on this once-in-a-lifetime experience when I’d already made it this far. From then on, I had to hacerle ganas just to put one foot in front of the other. Despite the pain, I knew it would be worth it.
The next morning was as brutal as I suspected, but the breath-taking beauty I witnessed confirmed that I had made the right decision. The arid, dusty landscape made me wonder if I was walking on the moon—until I saw it. The rays of the rising sun warmed my bones as I stood paralyzed by the majestic sight of Volcán de Fuego’s peak spewing lava and ash. In that moment, I was reminded that so much of what we can accomplish is determined by our belief that we can do it.
What does hacerle ganas mean to you?
When I shared the physical and mental struggles of my experience with my Guatemalan friend who recommended the hike, she revealed that hacerle ganas is a practice of persevering through situations and mustering desire where it previously wasn’t there. It’s showing up for your own goals and fueling the wish to see them through, even when you are feeling discouraged or demotivated.
“You have to finish whatever goals you established for yourself. You know you want to do it, and so you have to do it. There is no option. Hacerle ganas is the way.”
When we encounter obstacles in the path towards our dreams, hacerle ganas asks us to roll up our sleeves and tackle the situation with determination. As my friend jokingly said, you just need to grab your attitude and do it.
Want to build on your Spanish knowledge? Rosetta Stone can help you get conversation-ready.
Celinne Da Costa (@CelinneDaCosta) is a brand identity strategist and writer who shares real, human stories around the world.