False Friends are words that sound very similar in your mother tongue but unfortunately mean something totally different

Anyone who has studied even the smallest amount of Spanish will have come across the issue of False Friends! We need to be careful if we don’t want to embarrass ourselves by telling people we are pregnant. (pregnant in Spanish is embarazada which is commonly misused or misunderstood by English speakers who think it means embarrassed! Ha ha!)

The worst offenders

Simpático vs Sympathetic
This is usually one of the first Spanish–English false friends taught to language learners. Although they seem similar, ‘simpático really means ‘likeable’ and ‘agreeable’, whereas ‘sympathetic’ translates to ‘compasivo’.

María es muy simpática.(Maria is very nice.)
Juan es muy compasivo.(Juan is very sympathetic.)

Actual vs Actual
These are subtler false friends: ‘actual’ in English is an adjective used for emphasis or to mean ‘real’, but the Spanish ‘actual’ means ‘current’ or ‘contemporary’.

Mi situación actual es complicada.(My current situation is very complicated.)
Este tema es muy actual.(This subject is very topical at the moment.)

Compromiso vs Compromise
When negotiating in Spanish and English, remember that ‘compromiso’ means ‘commitment’ or ‘obligation’, while ‘compromise’ is translated as ‘componenda’ or ‘mutuo acuerdo’.

Tenemos que llegar a un compromiso.(We have to come to an agreement.)
Tenemos que ceder en algo.(We have to compromise somewhere.)

Recordar vs Record
‘Recordar’ means ‘to remember’ or ‘to remind’, so if you’re asking a Spanish-speaking music producer to record your song, be sure to use the verb ‘grabar’.

¿Recuerdas cuando íbamos a la playa juntos? .(Do you remember when we used to go to the beach together?)
Voy a grabar una canción.(I’m going to record a song.)

Preocupado vs Preoccupied
Here we have another subtle false friend: when using ‘preoccupied’ to mean ‘distracted’ or ‘lost in thought’, the correct Spanish translation would be ‘distraído’ or ‘absorto’. ‘Preocupado’ means ‘worried’ or ‘concerned’.

Samuel está muy preocupado.(Samuel is very worried.)
Samuel está muy distraído por otras cosas ahora mismo.(Samuel is very preoccupied with other things right now.)

Suceso vs Success
This false friend packs double the punch. Firstly, ‘suceso’ means ‘event’, not ‘success’, but what really adds to the confusion is the fact that the word for ‘success’ in Spanish is ‘éxito’, another false friend! (Just to clarify: ‘salida’ is the Spanish word for ‘exit’.)

Voy a escuchar las noticias para los sucesos del día.(I’m going to listen to the news to find out what’s going on.)
Tuvimos mucho éxito con el último show.(We had great success with the last show.)

Librería vs Library
Meet librería and library. You could go to either one of these places to pick up books for your Spanish reading practice. However, don’t be fooled, as if you take a book away from the libreria without paying, you are breaking the law!

Voy a comprar un libro en la librería.(I’m going to buy a book in the book shop.)
Voy a coger un libro de la biblioteca.(I’m going to get a book from the library.)

Constipado vs Constipated
England is full of confused Spaniards who go to Boots to pick up a simple cold remedy only to be given uncomfortable suppositories for constipation! Ha ha!

Estoy muy constipado – no paro de toser y estornudar.(I’ve got a bad cold. I can’t stop coughing and sneezing.)
Estoy muy estreñido.(I’m very constipated.)

I hope this has helped clear up a few misunderstands and hopefully avoid some embarrassing moments for you! Ask you teacher in Hablamos for some more false friends to watch out for!

Learning all the time with Hablamos