English-Spanish False Cognates That Could Ruin Your Dating Life!
One of the greatest advantages of learning English from Spanish is that these two languages share hundreds of perfect or near-perfect cognates. In linguistics, lexical cognates are words from different languages that can be traced back to a common etymological source.
Since both Spanish and English have been heavily influenced by Latin, there are many words in these two languages that are almost identical in spelling and pronunciation. In practice, this means that there are hundreds of words in the target language that you already know. Which can only be good, right?
In most cases, the answer would be yes. Indeed, there are many words present both in English and Spanish which have not only similar form but also identical meanings. However, this advantage could turn into a dangerous drawback if you happen to run into false friends.
False friends are words that appear to be almost identical in two languages but express totally different (sometimes opposite!) ideas.
In today’s blog, we bring you a story that will help us illustrate why avoiding English-Spanish false friends is crucial to prevent disastrous misunderstandings.
Consider Sally’s case. A recent divorcée, she has downloaded a dating app and met a handsome Spanish lawyer, José Antonio. Although José Antonio knows a little English, Sally is feeling quite confident about her second-language skills tonight and has asked him to stick to Spanish. Amused by the proposal, José Antonio starts to use highly flirtatious language that is making Sally blush. One expression, in particular, is so sexually charged that Sally takes a whole minute before answering. She needs to think about how she will reply.
“¿Sigues allí?”, asks José Antonio, thinking maybe he went too far. (Are you still there?)
“Sí, perdón”, replies Sally. “Es que estoy embarazada.” (Yes, I’m sorry. It’s just that… I’m pregnant”).
Huge mistake. Sally, who had heard the word embarazada a few times, had wrongly assumed that it meant “embarrassed”, when it actually means that a woman is expecting a baby. Too bad she learnt about this false friend only after José Antonio had blocked her.
Clearly, José Antonio should’ve been a bit more sympathetic. After all, Spanish speakers are exposed to the same dangers. Let’s imagine that, after talking to Sally, he finds another American woman, Kate. Although impressed by José Antonio’s good looks and by the fact that he’s a successful lawyer, she wants to know what he likes doing in his free time. It’s a question that less confident people would struggle with. (Should I say I like playing videogames? Isn’t that too lame?) But not José Antonio. For five years now, he has been a volunteer firefighter and he knows exactly how attractive that sounds.
So, he goes ahead and says it.
“Well, I’m also a bomber”.
Poor José Antonio. He thought he was being brave and sexy, and instead, he admitted he likes to drop off a few bombs now and then.
Only after being blocked does Jose Antonio learn that un bombero is not the same as a bomber, and he starts to wonder whether Sally made a similar mistake. He unblocks her.
Sally, who is kind enough to take him back, finally explains what she had meant by the pregnant thing. Then, he tells her about his own mistake and explains how he got blocked (and probably reported!) after saying he was “a bomber”.
“Will you forgive my impulsiveness?”, he asks Sally.
“Of course I will”, she says, who finds the whole thing extremely amusing. “What are the odds, right? Two disastrous language mistakes on the same night!”
“I know”, says José Antonio. “I love casualties”.
There, he’s done it again. Luckily, by now, Sally knows better and sees this creepy statement for what it is: yet another hilarious language malfunction. Besides, she knows enough Spanish to know that he means coincidences: casualidades.
To make a long story short, Sally and José Antonio get together in the end. And every time they discover a new false friend together, they laugh and think back to that night in which they almost lost touch forever.
How many false friends have they encountered so far? Well, let’s just say you could fill a whole page with them.
There was, for example, that time when José Antonio said he loved gangs instead of bargains (gangas in Spanish). Or that time when he said that he was “un poquito constipado” (meaning he thought he had a cold), and Sally (and her parents!) thought he was casually talking about his intestines in the middle of a family dinner. As it turns out, constipado and constipated is yet another couple of dangerous cognates.
Jose Antonio and Sally’s story shows us that although Spanish and English are closely related and often mutually intelligible, you cannot trust familiar-looking words only because they resemble a word in your language.
What is more, their story shows that languages cannot be divorced from culture and that although many terms from English and Spanish have the same root, they have come to mean different things in different cultures over the years.
Would you like to learn more about English-Spanish cognates? Then explore our courses or send us an inquiry. Our native teachers will get back to you in no time with a learning plan based on your preferences and current language skills.