False Friends and Other Delights of Attempted Bilinguality

In one week, The Mate and I are off to Costa Rica, unselfishly pitching in to help Son One kick off his new ecotour company, Liana Travels. 🙂 I’m excited for SO many aspects of this trip, but one of them is the chance to practice my Spanish, which I’ve been honing with a tutor for a couple of years now.

the budding tour guide, a few years ago

My tutor, Claudio, introduced me to a wonderful language term: “falsos amigos,” or “false friends.” It’s a delightful way to describe those words that SOUND like they mean the same in English, while in fact meaning something different. Sometimes embarrassingly different. Like, for example, the word “embarazada,” which does NOT mean “embarrassed.” It means “pregnant.”

There are so many such words! (Question for others wiser than I: do “falsos amigos” exist in other languages, or is it just Spanish that’s so tricksy?

Por ejemplo/For example:

  1. Discutir does NOT mean to discuss. It means to argue.
  2. Asistir does NOT mean to assist. It means to attend, as in a class or a meeting.
  3. Compromiso DOES mean compromise. But it also means commitment. Confusing much?
  4. Ropa does NOT mean rope. It means clothing.
  5. Equivocarse does NOT mean to equivocate. It means to be wrong.

Those are just a few that popped into my head. For other fun ones, I consulted Spanishobsessed.com, which gave me:

  1. Sopa is soup, not soap
  2. Jabón is soap, Jamón is ham
  3. Excitante DOES mean “excited”…but in a sexual way, like “aroused.” Whoopsie.
  4. Emocionante–that’s the “excited” you want to use. It doesn’t mean emotional.
  5. Educado means polite, not educated. (Though I’m sure there’s some connection there.)

You get the idea. Which one of these will Gretchen walk into? ….(pausa embarazada)…Vamos a ver/We’ll see!

“I want Gretchen to get here soon and make me laugh.”

Please hit me up with some of your own “false friends,” in any language! Love this stuff.

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