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False Friends: Are these words sabotaging your Spanish?

When I started to learn Spanish as a native English-speaker, I quickly came across many words that looked and sounded like English words, and I assumed that they had the same meaning. I was wrong; I had actually fallen into the trap of ´false friends´ in Spanish. These are words in a foreign language that look and sound similar to words in your native language, but have totally different meanings. False friends in Spanish are a sure-fire way of confusing yourself and native speakers, but if you learn them and their proper meanings early, you can make sure you don´t find yourself in confusing, or even embarrassing, situations in the future. Here I´ve made a list of the most frequent false friends in Spanish that trick English speakers, as well as the alternatives to use to avoid confusion.

Spanish false friends: REALIZAR

This is probably the easiest false friend to fall for in Spanish as it sounds and looks so similar to our verb ´to realise´. Many native speakers of English mistakenly use this verb when they actually mean to use ´darse cuenta´, but what realizar actually means in English is ´to carry out´. Even after years of studying Spanish, this false friend can trip up the most skilled speakers!

Spanish false friends: ASISTIR

This verb is also a tricky one as it looks like the English ´to assist´. This verb actually translates to ´to attend´ in the context of an event or class etc, which can be confusing to some native speakers of English. When you want to say ´to assist´ in Spanish, remember to use the verb ayudar.

Spanish false friends: INTENTAR

Many English-speaking students, including myself, mistake this verb to mean ´to intend´, when it actually translates to ´to try´. The correct way to express that you intend to do something would translate to ´tener la intención de´ (with the infinitive of the verb that you have the intention of doing).

Spanish false friends: RECORDAR

Recordar translates to English as ´to remember´ or ´to remind´, however some English speakers use this verb when they want to say ´to record´, due to the very similar spelling between the two words. To avoid ´remembering´ a film, video, or song, use the verb grabar, the correct translation of ´to record´.

Spanish false friends: PRETENDER

In a similar conundrum to intentar, the verb pretender often gets used by English students when they want to translate the English verb ´to pretend´. However, like intentar, the actual translation of this verb is ´to attempt´. When you want to express the verb ´to pretend´ in Spanish, the appropriate translation would be fingir.

Spanish false friends: EMBARAZADA

This word looks just like the English adjective ‘embarrassed’, but it could cause more embarrassment when used in the wrong context. Embarazada is the Spanish word for pregnant, so you can imagine the strange looks you may get if you mistakenly use this word instead of avergonzado, the proper translation of ‘embarrassed’.

Spanish false friends: SENSIBLE

Sensible causes many issues with English natives, as it is spelled the exact same way as the English word ‘sensible’. However, once again, this is not a direct translation and actually means ´sensitive’. If you want to describe someone as being sensible, use the word sensato.

Spanish false friends: LA CONSTIPACIÓN

Although this noun is still related to health, despite appearances, it does not translate to constipation. Constipación actually translates to a cold/sickness. The Spanish word for the English ‘constipation’ is in fact el estreñimiento.

Spanish false friends: EL SUCESO

Suceso causes a few problems with English students as it looks like the English word ´success’, but it really means ‘event’. The word for success in Spanish is actually el éxito.

Spanish false friends: LA SOPA

If you use this word in the wrong context, you may find yourself saying that you wash your hands with soup. Because it looks like an anagram of the English word ´soap´, many use this word when they mean to use el jabón, but it actually translates to soup.

Once you´ve conquered these words, hopefully you won´t fall victim to some confusing, and sometimes, embarrassing, situations. Of course, to really make sure you have these words, and others, and their proper meanings memorised, you could take advantage of travelling to Spain and practicing your conversation, as well as taking a Spanish course out there to further expand your vocabulary and command of the language. For now, study this article hard and you won´t go wrong! Of course, these aren’t the only false friends in Spanish, but if you can think of any more, write it in the comments below!

Sophie Lauro

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