The cliché from that old commercial by Open English made fun of how some words sound similar between languages, but they don’t necessarily mean the same. Do you remember: Repollo, rechicken? Well, here we’re talking about false cognates. That is, words that seem to be similar in two languages but they don’t define the same thing.

Words are a set of letters that have meaning when they’re interpreted by referring to something either abstract or concrete. Terms are spotted when they’re associated with others, hence forming a set of terms, which is called terminology. So, to recap, a word becomes a term when it represents something.

English and Spanish come from different roots. The first one comes from a Germanic source and Spanish from a Romance one. However, both languages borrow words from each other and that might be the reason why some of them are alike. So, then again, terminology plays an important role. For instance, the word bizarre means almost the same in Spanish bizarro, but they do not mean the same thing. In English, it’s a synonym for weird or strange, whereas in Spanish means brave. This word, however, does mean the same in English, Italian, Portuguese and French. That’s why we can tell that words depend on what they mean rather than its composition.

In a world where everyone is in a constant cultural, academic and professional exchange it is common for some words to be taken by speakers from a different language than their own and, by repetition, these words end up by being adapted to their new everyday language. In Spanish, the Real Academia para la lengua Española is constantly adding new words to their dictionary, but in English it doesn’t happen very often. However, slang is always changing as technology moves forward and demands more terms for its structure.

But let’s cut to the chase. Some words do not mean the same as in Spanish even though they sound the same. Embarazado isn’t the same as embarrassed (to be ashamed), fábrica means factory and not the material from which your clothes is made of; realizar is a verb that indicates something that’s being done and not to realize (becoming aware of something unknown). Asistir is to attend, and not to help (assist) in English, largo is not a synonym for large rather than long and the verb enviar is equal to send, not to envy.

There are thousands of examples like these, and there are even more words that are true cognates like director, criminal, error, fatal and many others. At the Centro para el Desarrollo de Lenguas Extranjeras, we can help you walk through the path of success. With our alliances, conversational clubs, virtual exchange programs, workshops, our Limitless event, talks and cultural activities you can improve your English. Learn Italian, German and other foreign languages with some of our allies.

To learn more about our offer, pay us a visit in Vox Lounge, office located in the first floor of Cincuentenario Building  (E-C 18) or contact us @cdle_ucab (Twitter and Instagram) or send us an e-mail [email protected].

♦By Grace Lafontant, CDLE intern/Image:

*This article is available in spanish. You can read it by clicking here: Entre idiomas, es vital cuidarse de los «falsos amigos»