Five “false friends” in Spanish

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“False friends” are words that sound similar in two languages but have different meanings. Here are five examples:

Actualmente (Currently)

Actualmente estamos trabajando en esto. We are currently working on this.
Juan vive en California actualmente. Juan currently lives in California.

Actualmente does not mean actually, be careful with this! If we want to express the truth or facts of a situation, we should use de hecho (in fact) or realmente (in reality/in fact) instead:

Actually, Peter is from Long Island. De hecho, Peter es de Long Island.
Are you actually listening to me? ¿Me estás escuchando realmente?

Billón (Trillion)

Numbers work differently in Spanish:

Number In English In Spanish
1,000 One thousand Mil
10,000 Ten thousand Diez mil
100,000 A hundred thousand Cien mil
1,000,000 One million Un millón
10,000,000 Ten million Diez millones
100,000,000 One hundred million Cien millones
1,000,000,000 One billion Mil millones
10,000,000,000 Ten billion Diez mil millones
100,000,000,000 One hundred billion Cien mil millones
1,000,000,000,000 One trillion Un billón

Also, remember commas and periods are reversed in many Spanish speaking countries: One thousand: 1.000 (mil). One point five: 1,5 (uno coma cinco).

Carpeta (Folder)

Carpeta does not mean carpet.

¿Me puedes pasar esa carpeta? Can you pass me that folder?
Había dos carpetas sobre la mesa. There were two folders on the desk/table.

So how do we say carpet in Spanish? We use a word that comes from Arabic: Alfombra.

I should vacuum the carpet. Debería aspirar la alfombra.
There’s a huge carpet in my living room. Hay una alfombra enorme en mi sala.

Emocionado, da (Excited; in some contexts, touched or emotionally moved)

Emocionado or emocionada does not mean emotional:

Estoy muy emocionada. I’m very excited.
Alberto estaba muy emocionado por su nuevo trabajo. Alberto was very excited about his new job.

Facultad (School or department inside a college, e.g. Law School)

This one is tricky, as both terms are used in an academic environment in both languages. However, they mean different things:

Faculty, in English, refers to the teaching staff at a college or department. The correct term for this in Spanish would be profesorado. The term facultad, in Spanish, refers to a specific department or school inside a college, and not to the professors teaching in it. In some contexts, it can also refer to the actual building that hosts said department or school.

La Facultad de Derecho de la Universidad de Yale ofrece un curso sobre propiedad intelectual. Yale Law School offers a course on intellectual property.
Me encontré a Silvia en la cafetería de la Facultad de Económicas. I ran into Silvia in the coffee shop/cafeteria at the School of Economics.

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