False Friends, embarrassing situations for English people speaking Spanish

20-false-spanish-cognates-trouble5Learning languages is hard enough for us English people. We struggle with pronunciation, tenses, sounds and moods – don’t even get me started on mood. The simple mater is because most people in the world speak a degree of English we think, why bother learning anything other than our own?

However for a few of us learning languages is logical and helps us unlock a countries culture. You can’t expect to get to know someone from another country without impressing them in their mother tongue. However, even if you excel at languages, or are just trying to muster a few words, everyone gets tricked by false friends.

It’s easy to see many similarities between Spanish and English, for example the word for restaurant in Spanish is restaurante, or for instance many verbs are similar. Limit – Limitar or practice – practicar. These similarities are very attractive to someone learning a language; it makes learning and speaking the language a lot easier.

On the other hand, while there are many linguistic similarities between Spanish and English there are also a handful of words that look or sound the same but have completely different meanings. The false friend is a word that does exactly this, it looks similar but it tricks or betrays you. They’re a lot of fun to learn but can be a constant source of embarrassment as well.

So beware when learning a language, you don’t want to be telling some new Spaniard that you’re embarrassed and use the false friend estoy embarazada. You’d be telling him you’re actually pregnant. Or worse if a Spanish person went to tell you that they are constipado – they would think they are telling you they have a cold, but in English constipated is so much worse!

So below is a very small list of some very common yet often very funny False friends that you should certainly try and avoid.


Spanish WordEnglish MeaningEnglish FFSpanish Translation
BizarroHandsome, BraveBizarreRaro
ConstipaciónCommon ColdConstipationEstreñimiento

There are many more, and they can be found online or in vocab books usually under deceptive words. So always brush up on meanings of words when learning a new language. Yes – its true there are many similarities but you don’t want to be caught out as it really could be embarazada (pregnant).


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