Be sensible to false friends!

Hopefully you can spot the mistake in the title!* If not, this article is definitely for you. A false friend (also known as a false cognate) is a word from a foreign language that looks like it might mean the same thing as a word in our language but actually means something else. Even the best of us can get caught occasionally using one and they can cause a lot of confusion! I plan to have an ongoing blog post on the mistakes made by students learning English from different nationalities. I shall start with Spanish mistakes as this is a language I know quite well and will move onto other nationalities in later posts. All the mistakes are those I’ve encountered with the students I teach in the Business class but are also ones which other learners encounter daily. So, onto a few simple mistakes which are made by Spanish speakers using English.  Zador has highlighted a few very insightful mistakes and false friends.

  • actualmente – Sounds like actually (which means really)! It’s commonly mistaken by Spanish speakers to mean currently or at present in English.
  • constipado – Sounds like constipated in English (which actually means you have problems going to the toilet!). The equivalent real phrase to use is blocked up.
  • ganar – Sounds like gain and is often also narrowly translated to mean win. An alternative equivalent might be to earn, as in to earn money.
  • aprobar – A false friend in I approved the test. We should say I passed the test. The real meaning of approve is if you think something is a good or positive, for example I don’t approve of my sister’s new boyfriend.

What can we notice about false friends? They are confusing because there is no real logic behind them. There are plenty of ‘real friends’ (cognates) which help us learn a new language but at the same time we have to be careful because sometimes very familiar looking words can have such different meanings. Why not keep a list of the common ones you meet as you learn English? And leave new ones in the comments box below to help other learners! *The false friend     English meaning      Spanish meaning

sensible ( Eng) – sensible ( Span) to have good sense sensitive

So the title of this post should read – Be sensitive to false friends! There are false friends for Spanish speakers in each of these sentences…..can you guess what they are and what should be the correct version of the sentence

  1. English is an easy idiom to learn.
  2. She couldn’t go to the party as she already had a compromise.
  3. It was a good notice – Sheila had twins.
  4. They went to the bar for a vase of wine.

Let us know your answers!

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