10 False Cognates in Spanish

Two years ago, my school was putting on its annual Thanksgiving dinner for students. It is a huge meal with all the works: turkey, stuffing, cornbread, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie. The best part is that the professors are the ones who are serving the students. I was sitting at a long table with a group of my friends and there was one piece of cornbread left in the basket. With all the conversation buzzing around, it was hard to hear who was speaking, including a first-year student that expressed that she wanted the last piece of cornbread. Not having heard her, I reached in the basket one second later and said aloud, “Nobody wants this? I’ll take it!”

It wasn’t until I heard my boyfriend apologize on my behalf that I realized there was a miscommunication. “Sorry, she isn’t like that. I promise she didn’t do it on purpose. She just didn’t hear you.”

There are many ways to miscommunicate. When learning a language, it is inevitable that you will make mistakes. It is an important part of the learning process because it is from those mistakes that we learn how to communicate better. One part that makes language-learning easier is the use of cognates or words that resemble words in another language. However, there are words that could exist in a language that we are learning that resemble words we may know but actually mean something completely different. If you are studying Spanish, pay attention to these words:

Pretender looks like the English verb “to pretend.” Pretender is pretending to be the verb “to pretend.” In reality, it means has a few meanings. If you want to talk about pretending, use the verb fingir.

Actualmente looks like the word “actually” in English. At first, I used to use this word the same way that I would use the word actually, to express a change of mind. For example, I would say something along the lines of, “Actually, I don’t think I can make it.” This word means currently.

Eventualmente does not mean “eventually.” It means something that can happen in the future. If you would like to say eventually in Spanish, use the term finalmente.

Embarazada is a funny one. Beginning Spanish-learners use this word, thinking that it means “embarrassed.” However, if you use this word, it will result in you being embarrassed. The word is used to say that you or someone else is pregnant.

Éxito looks like “exit” but does not mean exit. The word means “success!” If you are looking for an exit, look for a sign that says the word salida.

Exitado like embarazada, can result in funny stories if you use this word incorrectly. While it looks like the word “excited” in English, it has a little twist to it. Yes, you can say the word when you are excited but not when you are excited to go to a movie on Friday. This word is specifically used to say that you are sexually excited or turned on. If you tell someone you are exitado or exitada, that might be awkward.

Carpeta was one of the first vocabulary words I learned in my beginner Spanish class. It means folder not carpet. If you want to talk about carpets, use the word alfombra.

Librería was another word that I learned early on when studying Spanish. It is a place that has books but it is not a “library.” It is a bookstore. If you are looking for a library, ask someone about the biblioteca.

Salado not a “salad.” It is an adjective used to describe something that is salty. If you would like to order a salad, make sure to order una ensalada.

It is not a sin to use the word sin. Sin means without. If you want to talk about sins, talk about pecados.

Not all of these words will give you an embarrassing story to talk about later. Some of the words will just make the sentence harder to understand. Even so, those situations can be avoided if you use those words properly. Have you ever had a funny situation where you used a word incorrectly in a foreign language without knowing?

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My New Appreciation for the English Language

Anyone who knows me knows that I love learning foreign languages. I am a Spanish and French major and I have taken a couple of Brazilian Portuguese classes. In high school, I tried teaching myself some Japanese. I aspire to be a polyglot like Benny Lewis or Tim Doner.

When I started learning languages, fluency (whatever that even is) felt very far away and almost unattainable. I looked at people from other countries who start learning English at a very young age. I thought to myself, “What does it matter if I know English as a first language? I could have grown up in Norway and been fluent in English by now and spoke another language natively.” I really resented speaking English as a native language but I was resenting the wrong thing. I should have been resenting how our school system forces teachers to teach foreign languages.

After having studied three romance languages to the point of being at least conversational, English brought something different to the table. It was unique; it had a different sound and just wasn’t a romance language. But that isn’t the only reason why I started to appreciate it.

My newfound appreciation of English mostly came from my travels. This school year, I am studying abroad. I spent my last semester in Spain and right now I am currently studying in France. I have traveled to other countries like Portugal, Italy, Morocco, and Belgium. One of my purposes for being abroad is to be able to speak better Spanish and French. However, it doesn’t take long for people to find out I am a native English speaker and start speaking to me in English instead of Spanish or French. As frustrating as that can be, I also realize it is a blessing.

Why are people even speaking to me in English in the first place?

It very well could be that people think they are helping me out by speaking to me in English, but when I see the glow they have as they try to speak English, I think they have an alternative reason for using English. English is a very important language in the world whether it is for business and work or even something fun like traveling to a country where you don’t speak the language. Sometimes the only common language between you and somebody else is English. I have started to count myself as fortunate for being able to speak English natively. I already know one of the most important languages in the world and I didn’t have to put a lot of effort into learning it.

Don’t get me wrong, I am an advocate for language-learning and I think languages are very important for all aspects of life. I just no longer resent being from a country where English is the dominant language. I think the United States needs to get more on top of language-learning, but that won’t stop me from my newfound love for my first language.