Dropping the Ball with English: Brazilian Expressions That Don’t Translate Literally

drop the ball imageHave you ever been talking to a Gringo in Portuguese and heard him or her say some really crazy stuff? Maybe something like, “Vamos pendurar fora” (hang out) or “procurando para fora” (looking forward)?

Well, as crazy as you think these gringos may be, do you know that you probably do the same thing when speaking English?

We’re excited to introduce our new BILINGUAL Real Life English For Brazilians Podcast. We explain it in Portuguese, and then we have the same conversation (almost) in English. Recommended use!  Relax, have fun, listen in Portuguese first, then in English. Please let us know what you think!

1-RLE GRINGOS Chad & Justin explain in Portuguese (13:16)
Pisando na bola

2- The SAME natural conversation (almost) in English (14:05)
Dropping the ball

Listen to more podcasts | Leia este texto em Português | Join the RLE International Community

That’s right, a lot of the time when learning another language the speaker has a tendency to literally translate many of the figurative expressions from their mother tongue.  This can be very confusing for the person you’re talking to, and sometimes embarrassing for the speaker, trust me I’ve done this a lot in Portuguese.

For example, if you were to literally translate the expression “dar um bolo” into English, the person you were talking to would be like, “Hey man, not only did you not show up, you forgot my damn cake!”

If that sounds like something you probably do, don’t worry because today you’re going to learn how to accurately translate many of your favorite Portuguese expressions into English without making yourself sound like some crazy Brazilian who’s always promising cake but never delivering it.

9 Portuguese Expressions You Must Know In English


Meaning- To not show up to an appointment or meeting you had planned with a friend or colleague.

Here’s how you say it in English:

Stand someone up – When you make an appointment or arrange to hang out with someone but don’t actually go. This is commonly used romantic dates.

– “Sorry for standing you up yesterday, I totally forgot about our date.”

Flake out-To forget about a social event or something you were supposed to do. This is usually just an honest mistake and not intentional

-“I’m really sorry I didn’t go to your party, I flaked out last night.”

Ditch-To intentionally forget about someone or something because you don’t like them or don’t want to be in that situation.

-“Can I get a ride home with you?”
-“Sure, but what happened to your date
-“she ditched me!”

Leave someone hanging – To make someone wait a long time for you or to leave something uncompleted.

Hey, you really left me hanging at the party, I didn’t know anyone and you arrived really late.”


Meaning- To understand an idea or concept after a period of time.auto-estima-caiu-a-ficha

Here’s how you say it in English:

I just got it – To understand something a little while after it was said.

-“Didn’t you find my joke funny?”
-“Ohh, hahaha, I just got it.”

Get the message- To understand someone when they are talking to you indirectly

-“Hey do you wanna go out with me this weekend?”
-“ahh, well, you know… you’re  nice guy but..”
-“It’s ok, I got the message.”

Catch on- To understand how something works after a little time and practice

-“I didn’t know how to use the use the new printer, but now I’m starting to catch on.”


Meaning – To do someone a favor or help them in a time of need.

Here’s how you say it in English:

You really saved my butt/ass – To tell the person that they really helped you out with something.

-“Hey, you saved my butt on the weekend! I couldn’t have finished my project without you.” 

Do me a solid (slang) – This slang term is common in American English. The expression implies that someone did or will do you a favor.

-“She really did me a solid and told my boss that I was sick when really I was horribly hungover.”


drop ballMeaning – To ruin an event or situation because of your lack of responsibility or punctuality.

Here’s how you say it in English:

Drop the ball– When you make a mistake or forget to do something. This is usually when it affects other people as well as yourself. This is because in American culture most of the sports are hand sports, baseball, basketball etc. In these sports if you DROP the ball you are making a big mistake.

-“Hey reserve the table at the restaurant for Bob’s birthday?”
-“Sorry, I totally dropped the ball.”

Screw up – To make a mistake that has a negative consequence.

-“He really screwed up and forgot about his girlfriend’s birthday.”

Fuck up- To make a mistake that has negative consequences (swear word, use with responsibility). Learn how to corectly use the word fuck.

-“How did you go in your final exam?”
-“Ahhh, I fucked up big time. I didn’t study at all so I failed.”


Meaning– To disappoint;  to promise or commit to something and not follow through with it.

Here’s how you say it in English:

Let me down – To tell someone you are going to do something or help them but not actually do it.

-“She said she would lend me some money to pay the rent but she let me down again.”

*Leave someone hanging and drop the ball could also be used in these situations

Call To Action

Using figurative and colloquial expressions when speaking English is not only going to make you sound more fluent, but they can also make it easier to connect to people from that country. The use of these expressions makes you sound less serious and more natural, and it’s even a fun way to diversify your learning process.

How can I learn more?

Join the Real Life English facebook community, where you’ll learn a new expression every day and listen to our weekly podcast based on the expressions of that week. If you are also interested in learning more about slang expressions, you can get the first chapter of 101 words you won’t learn at school.


  • Ethan Zinho says:

    Yo Chad, I loved the article! It's both a GREAT teaching resource, and I learned some new expressions in Portuguese. Keep up the good work!