False cognates, also known as “False Friends” in everyday language teaching, are those words that look the same in both languages but don’t share the same meaning. A classic one in Spanish is embarazado, which means pregnant, not embarrassed. I’m sure no Spanish teacher is ever surprised when their 7th graders announce they’re pregnant several times a semester.
I’ve been studying Spanish for over 10 years, so I can usually spot and remember the false friends, and adeptly avoid them. However, every once in a while I still translate directly, and things go awry. Like last night, for example, when my roommate was eating a version of Top Ramen and we were joking about how her diet has really gone downhill lately.
I attempted to say that the soup was pure salt and preservatives: “Esa sopa está llena de preservativos.” Unfortunately, the word I was looking for was conservantes, as I later learned, not preservativos, because what I actually said was, “That soup is full of condoms.”
Needless to say, she lost her appetite.