False friends are words that look or sound the same as words in the learner’s first language but in fact are not so, causing the learner to make a mistake. They can be compared with cognates, which are words that are the same in different languages.

Example
The Spanish word ‘sensible’ means sensitive in English and the German word ‘gift’ means poison.

In the classroom
Learners usually enjoy doing simple translations of sentences containing false cognates, and this can result in amusing mis-translations, which help learners focus on the correct version. Dealing with false cognates can help remove a major source of common mistakes for a group of learners. It is useful for a teacher to be aware of the common false cognates of various L1s and to anticipate problems when looking at materials for lessons.

Because Spanish and English share a lot of words with Latin roots, it’s easy to understand Spanish sentences like, “Seattle aprobó un salario mínimo de $15 la hora. – Seattle approved a minimum salary of $ 15 per hour.” But sometimes words with the same origin take a separate path in each language, or words with different origins resemble each other by coincidence. That can mean trouble. You might want to tell someone you don’t want to embarrass her and wind up saying, “I don’t want to get you pregnant.” For your protection, here’s a list of Spanish-English “false friends.”

The Spanish words in the first column resemble the English ones in the third column, but have different meanings.

Spanish wordEnglish translationEnglish wordSpanish translation
ACTUALcurrent, present-dayACTUALreal, efectivo
AMERICANOperson from North or South AmericaAMERICANestadounidense
ASISTIRto attend, be present at OR to assistASSISTayudar
BILLóN(US) trillion, (UK) billionBILLION (US)mil millones
BIZARROdashing, brave, gallantBIZARREextraño
BOMBEROfirefighterBOMBERbombardero
CARPETAfolderCARPETalfombra
CASUALIDADcoincidence, chanceCASUALTYvíctima
CHOCARstrike, collideCHOKEahogar
CODOelbowCODEcódigo
COLEGIOhigh schoolCOLLEGEuniversidad
COMPROMISOobligation, commitmentCOMPROMISEcomponenda
CONDESCENDERto comply, agreeCONDESCENDdignarse
CONSTIPADO (n.)a coldCONSTIPATEDconstipado (adj.)
CONTESTARto answerCONTEST (v.)contender
CORRIENTEMENTEfluently, plainly, flatlyCURRENTLYactualmente
DELITOcrimeDELIGHTdelicia, deleite
DESGRACIAmistake, misfortuneDISGRACEvergüenza
DISGUSTOannoyance, worryDISGUSTasco, repugnancia
DESTITUIDOfired, deprivedDESTITUTEindigente
DORMITORIObedroomDORMITORYresidencia universitaria
EMBARAZADApregnantEMBARRASSEDavergonzada
EMPRESAbusiness enterprise, companyEMPRESSemperatríz
ENVIARsendENVY (v.)envidiar
ESTRECHARto narrow, bring closer togetherSTRETCHestirar, alargar
ESTIMADOesteemedESTIMATEestimacíon, presupuesto
ÉXITOsuccess, hitEXITsalida
FÁBRICAfactoryFABRICtela
GROSERÍAgrossness, crudenessGROCERYabarrotería, tienda de comestibles
INTRODUCIRinsertINTRODUCE (someone)presentar
LARGOlongLARGEgrande
LECTURAreadingLECTUREconferencia
LIBRERÍAbookstoreLIBRARYbiblioteca
MANTELtableclothMANTELmanto, mesilla
MOLESTARbotherMOLESTabusar (sexualmente)
NUDOknotNUDEdesnudo
PARADAstop, e.g. bus stopPARADEdesfile
PARIENTErelativePARENTpadre
PRETENDERto attempt, to wooPRETENDfingir
PREOCUPADOworriedPREOCCUPIEDdistraído
REALIZARto come trueREALIZEdarse cuenta
RECORDARto remember, remindRECORDgrabar
ROPAclothesROPEcuerda
SANOhealthySANEcuerdo
SOPAsoupSOAPjabón
SOPORTARtolerate, put up withSUPPORTapoyar
SUCESOeventSUCCESSéxito
TUNAprickly pearTUNAatún
 ÚLTIMAMENTErecentlyULTIMATELYal final
VASOdrinking glassVASE jarrón, florero
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