Top 20 False Cognates for Spanish-Speaking ESL Students

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


Hi - I know this list is now

Submitted by Charles Cottle (not verified) on Mon, 01/07/2013 - 8:24pm.

Hi - I know this list is now over a year old, but I thought I would comment anyway. The list is useful, but I think it would be better for the English learner if it better reflected his or her point of view. For example, a Spanish speaker learning English might want to say, "I forgot my folder," but instead says, "I forgot my carpet." The correction that the ESL learner needs is not in the list. That is, the word "folder" does not appear. Another way of looking at this is to say that the false cognate is not the Spanish word "carpeta," but rather the English word, "carpet."

Another example is the use of the word "sane" in English. What the ESL learner needs to know is the word "healthy," which, here again, doesn't appear.

Just my two cents . . .
Best regards,

Charles Cottle

it did not work for me. It is

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 03/19/2012 - 1:34pm.

it did not work for me. It is unhelpfull for everyone.

Has this been fixed since? I

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 08/06/2013 - 6:32pm.

Has this been fixed since? I think it will be helpful if only we can download it.

I don't see the "download"

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 03/08/2012 - 7:52am.

I don't see the "download" button. How do I see the whole list?

This list is a very good

Submitted by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 12/25/2011 - 6:01am.

This list is a very good idea. Not only will it help Spanish LEP students but it will serve heritage language learners so that they may avoid an embarrasing situation. (embarazado)

It would be helpful to

Submitted by Suzanne (not verified) on Wed, 11/09/2011 - 8:30pm.

It would be helpful to include the English meaning of the false cognate in this list so the teacher can tell the student what that word means. I have often had to explain this to students for the word sensible. This list you are making is a great idea for those teachers (including me) who have limited Spanish. Thanks.

I agree! Eventhough I know

Submitted by Carlie (not verified) on Sat, 07/21/2012 - 8:46pm.

I agree! Eventhough I know what they mean I'd still love to have a list that I could just share more easily with students.

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