False friends for advanced English or Spanish learners
‘False friends’ are words that appear to be the same as a word in another language, but actually have a different meaning. For Hispanophone English learners and Anglophone Spanish learners, it is necessary to learn some ‘false friends’ from early on.
If you are reading this, then I will assume that you already know many common false friends between English and Spanish. You shouldn’t have any embarrassing moments when you are talking to a pregnant woman, and you shouldn’t find success when looking for the exit.
These are some advanced false friends that you might not have come across before.
(En) Camp / (Es) Campo
Both of these words come from the Latin ‘Campus’ but over the centuries have come to mean different things. In English a camp is a place of temporary accommodation, usually involving tents. In Spanish this might be called a campamento. Likewise, camping, is the verb for using tents.
The translation of the Spanish campo is ‘countryside’ in general, or if talking about ‘un campo’, specifically, then ‘a field’.
What are you doing in the Summer, Amy?
I’m going camping in central Italy with my family!
I don’t like big cities, I prefer the countryside.
That field is used to grow corn.
(En) Attend / (Es) Atender and (En) Assist / (Es) Asistir
The English ‘attend’ almost always means ‘to be present at‘, equivalent of the Spanish asistir:
Many of the students didn’t attend class because of the snow.
The Spanish ‘atender’ can generally be translated to English as ‘pay attention‘, ‘pick up‘ the phone or ‘assist‘.
Many of the students didn’t pay attention because it was snowing.
Can you pick up the phone please? It may be the call I’m expecting!
To ‘assist’ exists in English as well, and is almost synonymous to ‘help’, often suggesting that the helper lightens the weight of the task.
Mary could see that John had a lot of work, so she offered to assist him.
(En) Compromise / (Es) Compromiso
These words are completely different. In Spanish compromiso is a commitment that someone is obliged to carry out, or attend to. In English a compromise is a mutual agreement between two or more opposing parties, and generally has a connotation of a less-than-desired outcome.
After arguing over who got to use Mum’s car on Friday night, the boys reached a compromise: Tommy would take the car, but had to pick up Robby from the town centre when Robby wanted.
Hoping to find a brand of tea that he liked, the Englishman had to compromise for the only tea that the foreign supermarket sold.
(En) Contest / (Es) Contestar
The English equivalent of the Spanish contestar is ‘to answer’.
Make sure you answer all the questions!
In English, ‘contest’ (accent on the ‘o’) is a noun that is a synonym of competition. However, ‘contest’ (accent on the ‘e’) is a verb, which means to challenge, and is often used in situations of power and politics.
There are eight major parties contesting this year’s election in Italy.
(En) Billion / (Es) Billón
Be careful with these numbers! In English, a thousand million is known as a billion. 1’000’000’000.
In Spanish this number is simply mil millones.
The Spanish billón – 1’000’000’000’000 – in English is called a trillion.
(En) Biscuit / (Es) Bizcocho
Both of these words come from the Latin bis-coctum meaning ‘twice-cooked’. These are not only false friends between English and Spanish, but even within the languages as well! In fact, what a biscuit or a bizcocho is, really depends on what country you are in.
Generally, in Spanish, bizcocho refers to something more cake-like than the English ‘biscuit’. In the UK, Ireland and Australia, a biscuit is a sweet unrisen dough, cooked in the oven. In North America this is called a cookie, and a biscuit refers to a salty baked dough, that in the UK is called a cracker.
Do you have any questions about any of the meanings shown above? Can you think of any other false friends? Let us know in the comments section below.