Spanish false friends to watch out for in language exchange
Spanish is a beautiful language, direct but with enough metaphors and imagery to challenge even the greatest writers in history.
One of the things that trips a lot of people up are known as false friends, this is true for both English speakers learning Spanish and Spanish speakers learning English. False friends are words that sound like other words in another language but have a completely different meaning. This is the complete opposite of cognates, which are words that both sound similar and have similar meanings in each language. We have decided to put together a long list of False friends to watch out for.
We have done this mainly from the perspective of a Spanish speaker who is learning English as that’s one of our biggest audiences. You can take what you learn here and use it when doing your language exchange, or better try not to use it, that’s kind of the point!
|SPANISH WORD||WHAT PEOPLE THINK||REAL MEANING|
|ASISTIR||TO ASSIST - HELP SOMEONE||TO ATTEND|
|ATENDER||TO ATTEND - TO BE PRESENT AT AN EVENT OR SEE TO A CLIENT||TO ASSIST|
|BIGOTE||BIGOT - SOMEONE INTOLERABLE OR UNREASONABLE||MOUSTACHE|
|CASUALIDAD||CASUALTY - INJURED AS THE RESULT OF AN ACCIDENT OR EVENT||COINCIDENCE|
|COINCIDENCE||CARPET - THE SOFT MATERIAL COVERING THE FLOOR||FOLDER|
|CONSTIPADO||CONSTIPATED - BEING UNABLE TO RELEASE ONE’S BOWELS||TO HAVE A COLD|
|CRUDO/CRUDA||CRUDE - BEING INTENTIONALLY RUDE||RAW|
|ESTOY CALIENTE||I’M HOT (FROM THE WEATHER)||I’M HORNY / I FEEL SEXUAL|
|ESTRECHAR||TO STRETCH||TO MAKE SOMETHING NARROWER|
|INTRODUCIR||INTRODUCE SOMEONE||INTRODUCE (ONLY OBJECTS)|
|MOLESTAR||MOLEST - SEXUALLY HARASS||TO ANNOY|
|PRESERVATIVO||PRESERVATIVES - ADDITIVES IN FOOD||CONDOM|
|PIE||PIE - THE SWEET OR SAVOURY TREAT||FOOT|
|PROPAGANDA||PROPAGANDA - MASS DISTRIBUTION OF BRAINWASHING POLITICAL MATERIAL||ADVERTISING|
|REALIZAR||REALISE - TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING YOU PREVIOUSLY DIDN’T||REALISE - TO UNDERSTAND SOMETHING YOU PREVIOUSLY DIDN’T|
|RECORDAR||TO RECORD||TO REMEMBER|
So, there you have a table of potential false friends to watch out for when doing your Spanish language exchange. Now, we’ll have a quick look at some more phrases which have the potential to trip you up.
As a youngster, I spent a lot of summers in Spain. It had always been my parent’s idea to retire somewhere sunny but comfortable and the Costa del Sol certainly provided that feel. It was good to get a feel for the local culture in the small towns, but still have the security of knowing that a large portion of that area could speak in English. Even if it wasn’t enough to have deep conversations regarding the philosophy of Nietzsche, it was enough to get the family through at restaurants or at the shops.
Even so, my parents decided to give learning Spanish a try and attended classes for Spanish, which is always commendable when you’re retired!
It was when I was living in Spain and my parents would visit that I realised just how deep false friends can seep into our learning, not through anybody’s fault, mainly because of what is called native interference, which is when our native language prevents us from effectively learning another language due to the fact that we already have an understanding of similar sounding words in our mother tongue. Perhaps studying literature and later how to teach English had a profound effect on my understanding and realisation.
My favourite instances of experiencing false friends include the following stories.
THE BEACH BAR
I’m partial to slowly sipping a large beer whilst at a bar overlooking a beautiful beach. Perhaps I’m a little odd in the fact that I can’t stand cold beer, it just messes with my stomach and wreaks all kinds of havoc, but I get that some people like and need cold drinks in hot climates.
I remember sitting there in a little bar on a beach in Marbella, enjoying the waves and the mix of cultures around me when I heard an undeniably English man say to the waitress “yo quiero una cerveza frio por favor, estoy caliente”. To which the young waitress walked away giggling. I hadn’t been learning Spanish much up to that point, but I understood that the Spanish use tengo (I have) to refer to physical feelings.
Tengo calor = I am hot
Estoy caliente = I am horny
That was the first time that I realised and understood the differences of language and also how language has been culturally appropriated. As a side note, since cerveza is feminine, you should also use fria, not friO.
THE ICE CREAM STAND
Before I found out that I was lactose intolerant, I had an insatiable sweet tooth that could never be satisfied. One of my weekly delights was to go to the ice cream shop in Valencia, just a quick metro ride from the town where I was living.
It’s famous in Valencia for having the most flavours of any ice cream shop in the city and is located just in front of the cathedral. I wish I remembered the name (sorry!).
One day, I was stood in line with a friend from Saudi Arabia and another from Italy, all three of us could speak Spanish to some level or other at this point.
Well, up stepped one of the largest American men I’ve ever seen in my life. I’ve been to a few places throughout my life and seen a lot of big people, but this guy took the cake (quite literally).
He spoke in a pronounced southern drawl and said: “Me gustaría que tu coño de helado”. The three of us immediately broke into simultaneous laughter and tried our best to face away from the portly fellow, so as not to draw too much attention.
The reason being that coño with the tilda over the n refers to a woman’s genitals in a derogatory manner. Cono means cone, as in ice cream cone. So, what the guy actually said was “I’d like ice cream on your lady parts”. Albeit, in a much stronger fashion. No wonder the server looked bemused.
Written by: Jordan Benyon, Staff Writer
- Language Exchange
- 18 Feb, 2020
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