One evening over dinner my friend was explaining an embarrassing story to her host family. She got to the punchline, put her head in her hands, and giggled "estoy embarazada!"
"I'm embarrassed," right? Wrong.
"Estoy embarazada" in Spanish actually means "I'm pregnant". Even though it looks and sounds like the English word, "embarrassed", it is extremely unrelated.
This is what we call a "false cognate" or "false friend": A word that looks similar to an English word, but really isn't.
It's a problem because Spanish is full of real cognates. Words like absurdo, brillante, and vehículo really do mean what you think they mean: absurd, brilliant, vehicle.
But occasionally there are sneaky traps there waiting for you, and if you're not aware of them you could well end up telling people you're pregnant.
So here are 9 false friends you should be particularly careful of:
The Spanish "molestar" is nowhere near as serious as the English version. But it also means that telemarketers can do it to you when you're trying to eat your dinner.
You'll crack up when you go to the park and see all the signs saying "No pisar el césped" ("Do not step on the grass"). Urinating on the grass is not actually forbidden, just don't step on it.
If you're looking for a public restroom, free wifi and a couch to take a little siesta, you might not find one at the librería. It will also cost you more to take the books home.
If you're lost in the subway and you're looking for the way out, don't ask for the Éxito. Everyone's looking for success, but it's pretty much never found in the subway.
If you're wanting to date a down-to-earth, macho man, don't be fooled by the guy who puts "sensible" in his online dating profile. Likewise, don't be turned off by someone who calls himself play audio "sensato". "Sensible" = "sensitive" in Spanish, and "sensato" = "sensible" in Spanish. That's a double whammy false friend!
When your Spanish teacher tells you to bring "una carpeta" to class, don't rip up your floor coverings. It's not necessary. And it's not what she meant either.
This is right up there with "embarazado" for potential hilarity. You might be excited to go on the roller coaster. You might be excited to visit your aunt. Just make sure you use the right word when you tell Spanish speakers. (The word you're looking for is Play audio emocionado.)
I still remember the face of an American exchange student in Spain when the daughter of her host family said to him with admiration: Play audio "¡Eres un as!" ("You’re awesome!" or "You're the best!").
This is confusing because you'll also hear Spanish speakers using the English word "Cool!" in exactly the same way as we use it. Just listen for that extra "o" sound. That guy shouting at you at the traffic lights might not be as pleased with your driving as you think he is.