You can't always translate phrases
directly from English to Spanish and expect to get them right or
have them make sense. By the same token, you can't take words that
sound the same in both languages and suppose that they have the same
There is a heavy-duty term used in the
language-learning world called "cognate." A cognate is a word that looks
similar in English and Spanish and has the same meaning in both languages.
For example, the word "irregular" in Spanish and English is spelled the
same, has the same meaning, and has similar pronunciation. It is a cognate.
There are many words in Spanish and English that are cognates and many words
that are "false cognates." A false cognate is a word that looks the same in
both languages, sounds similar, but has a different meaning. You have to
watch out for false cognates in Spanish because they can really get you into
trouble. Let me give you an example of this.
The English word "embarrassed" sounds and
looks a lot like the Spanish word "embarazada." Many people learning
Spanish think it has the same meaning. However, the Spanish word
"embarazada" actually means pregnant! Let me tell you - there is a big
difference between being pregnant and being embarrassed. The following story
will illustrate this fact and hopefully make you aware of false cognates so
you don't have problems with them.
A large crowd had gathered together in an
auditorium to hear a lecture. There were some native Spanish speakers, who
were dignitaries, sitting on the stage. An American woman had been invited
to address the audience as a guest speaker. As she began speaking, she
introduced herself, and then to break the ice, she pointed to the person on
the stage who had invited her to speak and said in Spanish, "I'm
embarazada and it's his fault." She meant to say "I'm embarrassed and
it's his fault," but what she actually said was "I'm pregnant'and it's his
fault." The crowd gasped and everyone was in shock. You can imagine how she
must have felt afterward when she found out what she had really said.
This is a very drastic example, but it shows
the importance of knowing that false cognates exist. Learning them will
help you avoid cultural faux pas and embarrassment.