false cognates

Watch Out! 16 Spanish Words That Easily Fool New Learners

false Spanish cognatesBeginners, take note! There are several words in Spanish that deceive English-speaking learners. Here, Fairfax, CA tutor Jason N. explains what this means for your learning, and some of the words to watch out for…


No wonder you want to learn Spanish! It’s the undisputed second language of California, and the United States for that matter. In 10 years, it could even be the most commonly spoken language in this country. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that Los Angeles, for example, is 53% Latin American and growing. That means that if you’re Caucasian or born in this country, you could be an English-speaking minority.

Luckily, English and Spanish have similar roots; both highly influenced by their origin language, Latin, although Spanish more so. If you are a native English-speaker, this clearly facilitates learning Spanish as a second language. For instance, many words in English, such as ‘active’ or ‘car’, are surprisingly similar in Spanish (activo and carro). It’s easy to assume here, “Wow! Spanish is easy! You just add an ‘o’ to the English word!” If only it were that simple.

Unfortunately, this pattern can be deceptive, as many words in Spanish that seem familiar actually aren’t at all. These are called ‘false cognates’ or ‘false friends,’ words that appear the same across languages due to their similarity in form, but actually have different roots and entirely different meanings.

Related: 75 Helpful Spanish Cognates to Know 

Here are several examples:

  • Familiar in Spanish actually means ‘familial’ or ‘family-related,’ not ‘familiar.’
  • Largo in Spanish actually means ‘long,’ not ‘large.’
  • Realizar in Spanish actually means ‘to do’ in English, not ‘to realize.’
  • Recordar in Spanish actually means ‘to remember’ or ‘to remind’ (depending on the context), instead of ‘to record.’
  • Grabar in Spanish actually means ‘to record,’ not ‘to grab.’
  • Soportar in Spanish actually means ‘to tolerate,’ not ‘to support,’ in English.

Working with a Spanish tutor can help you watch out for these little traps.

Now, test yourself:


Why Work With a Tutor?

False cognates are not easy to learn or to memorize, yet they are ubiquitous in Spanish. Unfortunately, many native English-speakers learning Spanish commonly use them incorrectly without realizing it, and therefore are frequently misunderstood by Spanish-speakers. Even I, an experienced Spanish tutor, still continue to discover new false cognates despite speaking, reading, writing, and listening to Spanish almost daily for over 10 years. A Spanish tutor can help you or your son or daughter become aware of these essential subtleties and bolster your language acumen in a way that studying alone cannot — so you understand more and can speak and write in ways that native speakers can better understand.

JasonNJason N. tutors in English and Spanish in Fairfax, CA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis, lived in Mexico for 3 years where he completed a Master’s degree in Counseling, and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here! 



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Photo by Kevin O’Mara

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