26 April 2011
By Carolin Schoeller
So you have decided to learn a new language and Spanish it is! Excellent, it’s a wonderfully rich and flexible language, but it can also be a slippery snake to catch. Embrace the inevitable hiccups you will encounter and let me prepare you for the linguistic journey you’re about to embark on with a list of typical funny mistakes!
They’re evil! Not only in real life, but also in a linguistic sense. False friends are words which sound alike in two languages but have a completely different meaning. Using these words in the wrong context is a very common mistake along language learners. One of the classic Spanish-English false friends is the word embarazado. Because it sounds similar to the English 'to be embarrassed', many Spanish learners think that it’s a simple translation! But if a girl refers to herself as being embarazada, she is in fact saying that she is pregnant. The Spanish equivalent of being embarrassed is estar avergonzado/a.
Another example of a false friend is the use of the word ‘preservatives’ when talking about keeping our food fresh. These are called conservantes in Spanish. Though if you inadvertently mentioned that a certain product contains preservativos you would be speaking of condoms. Not that appetising at all!
These are words which start with the same letters or sounds and therefore sound very similar. Alliterations can be tricky when you only remember the first syllable of a certain word and then accidentally use the wrong expression. For instance, the words miedo (fear) and mierda (sh*t) are particularly prone to being mixed up. Although confusing these two almost makes sense in a literal sense, as in “Oh dear, I’m so scared I’m crapping my pants” – “tengo mierda...” – it is advisable not to do so.
My personal embarrassing story took place when I was in Costa Rica and wanted to book myself some tickets for the ballet “The Nutcracker” (El Cascanueces) at the Teatro Nacional. The problem was, however, that I asked for “dos entradas para cacahuetes”, i.e. “two tickets for peanuts”. I got some rather perplexed looks from the ticket vendor.
Spanish grammar is often quite different from English as there are other fixed expressions and phrases. If you don’t remember these, you may manoeuvre yourself into comical situations as some mistakes might result in sexual connotations. Especially the use of the words ser and estar (which are both versions of the English “to be”) can be the cause of much confusion and involuntary amusement.
This can be case when trying to have a very innocent conversation about people’s financial wellbeing. When you want to mention that somebody has a lot of money, you would say “él es rico” or “tiene mucho dinero”. However, if you said “está muy rico” you would refer to that somebody as being rather sexy...
Another example is when you want to express that you’re hot (and just to make it clear, I’m referring to the temperature – this is a tricky one in English, too!). In Spanish, you can say “tengo calor”. But if you were to say “estoy caliente”, you would simply and just reveal that you are horny, which could easily get you into trouble depending on who you’re talking to!
Well, I hope that gave you a giggle or two and that it’s going to save you from some potentially embarrassing (or rather “pregnant”) moments...
Until next time,
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