False Friends

I’ve been studying Spanish for eight years now, and every time I think I’m finally making progress, I realize in short order how little I really know. I can talk for 20 minutes on the differences between regions of the US, and then be reduced to pantomime because I forgot the word for “deer;” I still have trouble with por and para; and when I introduced myself to the Spanish Club this year, I said I was “embarazada” for embarrassed. Me sentía avergonzada, to be sure, but I definitely was not pregnant.

Spanish has a lot of these false cognates, which look like a familiar word and then betray you. When I need a word I don’t know, I often give a Latin-seeming word a Spanish accent or add an “acion” to the end, and call it a day. This has not served me well: bigotes are mustaches, not intolerant, enviar is to send letters, not to be jealous, and un perrito largo is a long puppy, not a large one. There are even more if you count the borrowings in American Spanish that would scandalize Academia Real. It’s commonly accepted in some parts of the US that “carpeta” is really a carpet, rather than a binder, and “actualmente,” which normally means “currently,” is taken at face value.

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