Expressions: Poco a poco
It’s been a while since we’ve added to our Spanish expressions series and so we’ve decided to bring back this topic with an expression that feels especially relevant right now—poco a poco. If you’ve spent any time learning Spanish or just spending time with Spanish-speaking people, chances are you’ve heard this phrase in passing. But do you really understand what it means? Read on for further explanation and some examples to help you use this expression successfully in conversation.
Rough English Translation: Little by little
Thankfully, this is one of those expressions that you can translate word-for-word and it actually makes sense. We have also heard Spanish friends and students translate poco a poco to “step by step.” Additionally, you can equate it to “one step at a time” or “baby steps.”
As you may already be thinking, these expressions are all relatively the same. However, we like to provide many options so that you have a better understanding of the different situations in which you can use poco a poco. For example, you may feel there are not many occasions in English in which you’d use the expression “step by step” but perhaps you use “baby steps” quite frequently. Regardless, poco a poco would come in handy for you!
Examples in Context
In recent weeks, we find ourselves using poco a poco all of the time in Spanish conversation. Whether thinking about the general uncertainty of the current pandemic, the results of quarantines and/or de-escalation efforts, or what will become of travel, we are generally thinking in terms of poco a poco. The idea of having to take things one day at a time—or one step at a time, however you’d like to look at it—is exactly what poco a poco is all about!
For this reason, you may want to use the expression when discussing current circumstances. A potential dialogue is mapped out in this example:
A: Qué tal todo es España? Escuché que ya podéis salir a la calle para dar un paseo, no?
B: Bueno, todos tenemos un horario fijo para salir. Entonces, solo puedo salir a pasear entre las 8 -10h y las 20-23h. Pero, sí es algo.
A: Ah, vale. Pues, poco a poco vamos volviendo a la normalidad!
A: How’s everything going in Spain? I heard that you can now go out for walks, right?
B: Well, we all have a fixed schedule for going out. Thus, I can only go out for a walk between 8-10am and 8-11pm. But, yah, it’s something.
A: Ah, okay. Well, little by little we’re returning to normality.
Of course, this expression is also useful for many other topics in your life! Language-learning itself is a prime candidate. In this dialogue, you’ll see an example of that:
A: Qué tal con el inglés? Has estado estudiando durante unos meses ya, verdad?
B: Sí, llevo un rato con los estudios. Pero no sé, todavía no puedo entender mucho y estoy hecho polvo después de cada lección.
A: Tranquilo, esto de los idiomas es poco a poco. No se puede aprender todo en solo unos meses. Seguro que lo llevas muy bien!
A: How’s it going with the English? You’ve been studying for a few months now, right?
B: Yah, I’ve been at it for awhile. But I don’t know, I still can’t understand much and I feel totally drained after every lesson.
A: Calm down, this language thing is one step at a time. You can’t learn everything in only a few months. Surely you’re doing well with it!
We hope this explanation and these examples help you to understand and use poco a poco in context. We’re personally using this expression to remind ourselves (and each other) to be kind and compassion with ourselves and everything going on around us. When we remember to take things poco a poco instead of looking only at the big picture, we avoid getting overwhelmed and feel much more capable of accomplishing what lies ahead of us. We hope that this article helps you not only to learn a new Spanish expression but that you also take that nugget of wisdom into your day. In what ways can you apply the poco a poco mentality to make your day a little more manageable? In what kinds of conversations can you use this expression? Let us know your experiences or concerns in the comments below!