What a tricky language!

It’s very human to adapt things to our culture, to our way of seeing the world.

No matter our place of birth.

We all do it. 

Admit it, you have adapted foreing songs to your own language … so have I.

Like the majority of Spaniards, as a child I tended to add “-tion” to Spanish words to make them sound English.

So if I wanted to say “notebook”, I’d say “cuadernation” (the Spanish word for notebook is cuaderno). And that is! I already spoke English 🙂

This way, it’s not surprising to feel excited when finding “similar” words between two languages. 

For instance, in the English-Spanish pair: education-educación, intention-intención, similar-similar, satisfaction-satisfacción or tiger-tigre.

Watch out!

Things are not that easy, anyway.

Many of these words can be tricky! 

And they can lead to funny misunderstandings. 

Imagine asking a Spanish-speaking person if they like “tuna” and having “yes, I love their music” as an answer… 

What? Do Spanish tunas play music? 

Do they dance flamenco under the sea? 

Not at all.

In Spain, a tuna is a group of music composed by university students dressed up in a specific and traditional way.

But they can also provoke embarrassing situations…

And the word “embarrassed” is a great example itself! 

Maybe, you see a Spanish-speaking student feel embarrassed and, in a nice attempt to make her feel closer to her culture, you ask her if she is “embarazada”.

Imagine her shocked face about your interest in discovering if she is pregnant…  


Don’t lie to me!

In linguistics, these similar words having different meanings are called false friends and false cognates.

As an education specialist working with Spanish-speaking communities, you might want to make students feel more comfortable and try to use words and expressions in their language.

For this reason, I want to help you identify the ones you should avoid so your attempt does not fail 🙂

And to begin with, I’m focusing on vocabulary often used in learning contexts.

Here we go!

ColegioCollegeSchoolCollege in Spanish: facultad, universidad
EscolarScholarSchool kid or related to school (adjective)Scholar in Spanish: investigador
ProfesorProfessorTeacherProfessor in Spanish: catedrático
CarpetaCarpetFolderCarpet in Spanish: alfombra
LecturaLectureReadingLecture in Spanish: conferencia, clase
CarreraCareerUniversity degreeCareer in Spanish: trayectoria profesional, profesión
LibreríaLibraryBookstoreLibrary in Spanish: biblioteca
TópicoTopicClichéTopic in Spanish: tema
RecordarRecordRemember/RemindRecord in Spanish: grabar
ResumenRésuméSummaryRésumé in Spanish: CV
DiscutirDiscussTo have an argumentDiscuss in Spanish: debatir
VacancyHolidaysVacancy in Spanish: vacante, puesto libre, plaza libre
English-Spanish false friends

Summing up

As you can see, similarities sometimes can cause misunderstandings and our attempt to make communication easier can fail.

So I hope this information helps you to better reach and communicate with your Spanish-speaking students, colleagues or families within your education community.

And of course, if you have any doubts, don’t hesitate to ask me! I’ll be more than happy to help.

Now tell me…

Have you ever used any of these words with an incorrect meaning?

Have you experienced any embarrassing/funny situations?

What did you do?

I can’t wait to know about your experiences!


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About the author

I worked as a foreign language teacher and a translator for several years, but I still felt there was something missing.

Then, I became a mum and everything changed. I knew I had to come into play to let my child enjoy a different learning experience.

So I founded Edutopian Words to help creative education communities get in touch, collaborate and share their work for the sake of a better world.

Learn more About me.