Spanish Cognate Words
Spanish Cognate Words
Spanish has similar linguistic roots to English, and newcomers to the language will quickly realise that many Spanish words sound almost the same as their English equivalents. This can make learning the language easier, but it can also lull students into a false sense of security, and even lead to some embarrassing faux pas. There are certain Spanish words that look almost identical to English words, yet have very different meanings.
New students will come across the first of their false friends almost as soon as they begin learning the language. Upon learning Spanish numbers, they will discover that ‘once’ has no relation to the English word ‘once,’ but is Spanish for ‘eleven.’ They might mistakenly describe a large object as ‘largo,’ only to be told that ‘largo’ means ‘long,’ and that the word for ‘large’ is ‘grande.’ They will have to get over the fact that ‘carta’ refers to a letter, not a card, and when it comes time to learn Spanish prepositions, they will realize that the word ‘sobre’ has many meanings, but none of them relate to a person who hasn’t had very much to drink.
Unfortunately, as students work their way toward Spanish fluency, they will be waylaid by many words such as these. There are a number of obstinate verbs that refuse to mean the same thing as their English cousins. Take the Spanish verb ‘molestar,’ for example. English-speaking students might be hesitant to use a word with such ominous undertones, but in Spanish ‘molestar’ means nothing more than ‘to bother.’ Don’t be shocked if a Spanish-speaking person says they have been ‘molestado’ by a family member. The verb ‘contestar’ is another tricky customer. A student might assume it has something to do with contesting or competing, but in reality it means ‘to answer.’ If the phone rings, you will need to ‘contestar’ the call. There are numerous difficult verbs such as these, and they can only be identified with experience. ‘Grabar,’ for example, means to record, not to grab, and ‘quitar’ means to take off, or remove. You can ‘quitar’ your clothes, but you can’t ‘quitar’ your job.
The difficulties only multiply when it comes to Spanish adjectives. Don’t be offended if someone calls you ‘bizarro.’ In reality they mean that you are courageous, or gallant. On the other hand, ‘fastidioso’ doesn’t sound too bad, but if someone calls you ‘fastidioso’ they mean that you are annoying. You can’t go very far wrong with ‘sensible,’ but in Spanish it means sensitive, rather than sensible. Be very careful with the word ‘excitante.’ It has a similar meaning to the English word ‘excited,’ but is often used to connote sexual arousal. In a similar manner, people will look at you strangely if you say ‘estoy caliente’ when you feel hot. You are saying that you are turned on. Use ’emociante’ when you want to say that you are excited, and use ‘tengo calor’ when you want to say you are hot.
Certain Spanish nouns can be confusing as well. Believe it or not, a ‘carpeta’ is a folder, not a carpet, and a ‘delito’ is a crime, not a delight. When you want to leave a place, you need to look for the ‘salida,’ not the ‘éxito.’ ‘Éxito’ means success, and while you might want to look for that as well, people will be confused if you ask where it is in the airport. When visiting a restaurant, even the names of various foods can trip you up. Be careful to order ‘jamón’ instead of ‘jabón.’ ‘Jabón’ means soap. ‘Sopa’ is soup, and while many Spanish-speaking people will agree with you that ‘tunas’ are delicious, they are referring to a kind of prickly pear, and not the fish.
The Spanish language is full of little quirks like these, but take heart. While you might occasionally make a misstep, or even say something that your Spanish friends find hilarious, you will be bound to learn from the experience, and will be able to recognize and avoid these false friends in the future.