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Culture —– Embarrassed or Pregnant?

by Brandi

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August 27th, 2010

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You cannot always translate phrases directly from English to Spanish and expect to get them right or make sense. By the same token, you cannot take words that sound the same in both languages and suppose they have the same meaning. That is why a course like our Visual Link Spanish™ program is so valuable – it teaches you the proper use of words, correct pronunciation, how to build sentences and actually communicate effectively in Spanish.

Are you ready for a heavy duty term in the world of language learning? It is the word “cognate.” A cognate is a word that looks similar in English and Spanish and has the same meaning in both of the languages. For example, the word “irregular” in Spanish and English is spelled the same, has the same meaning, and has a similar pronunciation. It is a cognate. There are many words in Spanish and English that are cognates and many words that are what we call “false cognates”. A false cognate is a word that looks the same in both languages, sounds similar, but has very different meanings. You have to watch out for “false cognates” in Spanish because they can really get you into some big trouble. Let me give you a fun though embarrassing example.

The English word “embarrassed” sounds and looks similar the Spanish word “embarazada.” Many people learning Spanish think that it has the same meaning. However, the Spanish word “embarazada” actually translates to “pregnant”! Let me tell you — there is a big difference between being “pregnant” and being “embarrassed.” The following story will illustrate this fact and hopefully make you aware of “false cognates” and save you from some potential embarrassment.

A large crowd had gathered together in an auditorium to listen to a lecture. There were some native Spanish speakers, who were dignitaries, sitting up on the stage. An American woman had been invited to speak to the audience as one of the guest speakers. As she began speaking, she introduced herself, and then to break the ice, she pointed to the person on the stage that had invited her to speak and said in Spanish, “I’m ‘embarazada’ and it’s his fault.” She meant to say “I’m embarrassed and it’s his fault,” but what she actually said was “I’m ‘pregnant’ and it’s his fault.” The crowd gasped and everyone was in total shock. You can imagine how she must have felt afterward when she found out what she had really said.  (FYI, the Spanish word for embarrassed is “vergüenza.”)

This is a pretty extreme example, but it is important to know that “false cognates” exist so you do not make the same type of mistakes. If you choose to learn Spanish with a Spanish course, it will generally teach you many of these false cognates as well as the correct way to say things in Spanish. As I mentioned before, a formal course like our Visual Link Spanish™ program will help keep you on-track and avoid cultural faux-pas, and potentially embarrassing situations.

To all of our international subscribers – are there any false cognates that we should be aware of in any of your languages? If so, we would love to hear about them. Please write me, at dave@spanishprograms.com.

To learn more about speaking Spanish, please visit our website www.spanishprograms.com

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