You have heard of them: Cognates. These are the words that sound similar in two different languages, often making learners jump for joy. How nice is it to not have to memorize a new word because you already know it?
In Spanish there are literally thousands of words that look like their English counterparts. When I first started learning I was thrilled at how many words sounded the same: tourist-turista, university-universidad, artist-artista, medicine-medicina etc.
For a while you will think that you can get away with just tweaking words; adding an ‘o’ or an ‘a’ or a ‘dad’ here and there. You might even fancy yourself pretty fluent in Spanish. My advice? Don’t get too cocky.
The first time I realized that my technique of falling back on or inventing cognates was flawed, was at my new Spanish boyfriends parents’ house in Seville. I had only been in Spain for a few months. I was overconfident in my language abilities, but anxious about meeting my new beau’s family for the first time. In my nervousness, I spilled red wine all over his mother and was horrified. I tried to communicate how embarrassed I was and told her I was ’embarazada.’ I found out the hard way about false cognates and how to say the word ‘pregnant’ in Spanish.
I have made many maaaaany other goof ups while trying to master ‘El Español’. Most of them have been embarrassing and many of them have been because of those damn false cognates, or false friends, as they are also known.
So as a gift to all Spanish learners so that they may reduce the amount of times they make an arse out of themselves, I present a list of words to watch out for. You’re welcome.
False English/Spanish Cognates
1. ‘Preservativos’ are not preservatives but rather condoms!
2. If someone asks you if you are ‘constipado/a’, they are asking if you have a cold or a stuffy nose.
3. If you want to say you are excited about something, say ’emocionado/a’ and not ‘excitado/a,’ which means aroused. If I had a peso for every time this one caused major misunderstandings.
4. ‘Molestar’ is to bother or annoy, not molest. I learned this after a very confusing conversation where someone was telling me about his dislike of clowns.
5. ‘Ropa’ is not rope. ‘Ropa’ means clothing. I found this out when I attempted to ask a storekeeper to cut off a piece of string from a package I had just purchased. Not knowing the word for string I figured that ‘ropa’ would be close enough. It wasn’t. I ended up asking him to cut off his clothes.
6. ‘Exito’ is ‘success’, not a way out. If you tell someone you are looking for the ‘exito’, you might get some great advice, but you will not be pointed to the exit door.
7. ‘Fabrica’ is a factory not a piece of cloth.
8. A ‘rapista’ is a somewhat uncommon name for a barber. Don’t be alarmed if someone tells you they are going to see one. They are just going for a haircut.
9. I once thought someone was telling me I was too sensible, which made no sense to me at all. They said I was ‘sensible‘ which I later learned meant ‘sensitive’. Over-sensitive I can admit to. Too sensible? Not so much.
10. ‘Sopa’. You’d think it would mean soap but it doesn’t. This is the word for soup. Soap is ‘jabon’.
11. Order ‘tuna’ and you will get an edible cactus or a university group of musicians who wear tights and capes. If you want fish in a can, ask for ‘atun’.
12. ‘Enviar’ is to send, not to envy.
13. ‘Pie’ is not an all American dessert. It’s your foot.
14. ‘Arena’ is sand, not where you are going to watch the sports/theatre/music event. Ask for the arena and you will be directed to the beach.
15. If someone is ‘culto’, they are cultured, not part of a cult.
16. ‘Gracioso’ is funny, not gracious.
17. ‘Groceria’ is rudeness, not where you go to buy your food.
18. ‘Libreria’ is a bookstore. A library is a ‘biblioteca’.
19. If you are looking for a luxury hotel, don’t ask for a hotel de ‘lujuria’. Lujuria is lust. Luxury is ‘lujo’.
20. Sometimes it’s how you say it too. If you are talking about someone’s ‘mama’, you are talking about their breast or you are telling them to suckle something. A ‘mamá’ is a mother. Stress the part of the word that the accent is on…maMA.
21. Same with father. A ‘papa’ is a potato. A ‘papá’ is a dad.
22. Again, those accents matter. ‘Inglés’ is English. ‘Ingles’ is groin.
23. ‘Raro’ means strange or odd. It cannot be used to mean ‘rare in a good way’, or to tell a waiter how you want your steak cooked…unless you want it cooked in a weird fashion I suppose.
24. If someone is talking about ‘la trampa’ they are talking about a trap, not calling you names.
Does anyone know of any other false cognates? Add them to the list!
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