Whatever your reasons for delving into a foreign language, there are certain mistakes you never want to make. Just a single word or direct translation can leave you a world away from saying what you want and – as you’ll see from these examples – it can get pretty embarrassing.
Whether you’re learning a new language, using a translation tool to create your own subtitles or having a crack at your own Spanish voice over, it’s scarily easy to get things wrong. Here we look at some Spanish mistakes that could land you in a sticky situation.
If you’re feeling a bit warm and you type “I’m hot” into Google Translate you may think you’re ready to ask the Spanish barmaid to turn on the air conditioner. Except the world’s top search engine (and a leader in machine translation) will tell you to say “estoy caliente,” telling the barmaid you’re feeling horny.
The masculine and feminine vocabulary structure in Spanish can cause a few blushes too. Normally, if you change the last letter of a word from “o” to “a” the meaning stays the same, but not always. When someone asks you what you had for lunch, “pollo” (chicken) won’t raise any eyebrows, but slip in “polla” by mistake and you’ll be using a casual term for male genitalia.
One of the great things about Spanish for English speakers is many cognates (words that sound similar) exist between the two languages. This makes a lot of vocabulary easier to remember, but you have to keep on your toes. Funnily enough, embarrassment is a great example and many English speaking Spanish leaners fall into the trap of declaring “estoy embarazada,” which doesn’t mean you’re embarrassed but, actually, pregnant.
Other Spanish gaffes to avoid:
- Llevar vs Tomar – “tomar” generally translates as “to take,” but use it instead of “llevar” to say you took someone to the airport and it’ll sound like you slept with them there instead.
- Preservativo – sadly doesn’t mean preservative but, rather, condom
- Zorro/zorra – zorro simply means fox, but if you stick an “a” on the end and “zorra” works out as bitch or whore.
- Estar vs Ser – both mean “to be,” but choose the wrong verb and you can go from saying someone is a good person to saying they’re hot – so be careful!
- Club – isn’t where you go to dance (discoteca), but more commonly a brothel.
Some mistakes are more costly than others
Mistakes like these can be laughed off when people understand you’re learning a new language, but there’s no room for such errors when it comes to business. So be careful about translating your own Spanish subtitles or recording voice overs; at the very least, get a native speaker or professional translator to help you out.