Top 20 False Cognates for ESL Students

False cognates are the Achille's heel for ESL students. For languages like Spanish and English, most of the words that look and sound the same do have the same meaning, making them an instinctive way to learn a new language. This is because the two languages share many of the same Latin and Greek roots. Spanish-speaking English Learners who grow accustomed to using their first language as a basis for learning English can start assuming that all words that sound the same also share the same meaning. Of course, this is not the case, as anyone who has ever confused the proverbial "embarazada" with "embarrassed" can tell you.

We've been getting many requests to have more content related to false cognates. We hear your feedback and are working on a new false cognates database as we speak, so please stay tuned!

For now, here is a preview of the most frequently confused false cognates, for Spanish-speaking ESL students. We've also created a handy sheet for you to print out and display in the classroom.

English Word Correct Spanish Word Confused With English Translation
actually en realidad actualmente currently
assist ayudar asistir to attend
attend asistir atender to attend to
bizarre extraño bizarro gallant
carpet alfombra carpeta folder
choke estrangular chocar to collide
deception engaño decepción disappointment
embarrassed avergonzado embarazada pregnant
exit salida éxito success
idiom modismo idioma language


You've confused False cognates with false friends. They are two very different things.

Can't see all the words

super legal

I teach Adult ESOL. Frequently, my Spanish speaking students and I encounter this false cognate:
la advertencia vs. el anuncio.

Thank you!


just thought i would mentionyou missed one.

I like this list

very handy for my presentation on negative transfer

please help me ????????????????
Please and Thankyou

English word: Realize
Correct Spanish Word/phrase: Darse Cuenta
Confused with: Realizar
Traduccion en Ingles: Hacer

this will be handy for my paper on problems that native-speakers of Spanish have in English semantics

pedantic - minucioso
pedante - pretentious

Asistir = asistir - del latín assistere, pararse junto a [un lugar].) ayudar, socorrer

Frozen ---- Congelado

Frozen ---- Congelado

Very good. I am going to study and memorize .
Thanks for the help

Fabric - fábrica

Terrific - terrífico - genial

thank you very much; it' been so helpul to me

is it letter( carta) a false cognate? I just read in an other web page . To me looks like some people are confuse with letra ( letra del abecedario)


Avocado and Abogado


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