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What do Spanish people call their frenemies? It’s simple, really—enemigos. Ha! Get it? Or am I the only one who thought that was funny.
Translation can be a tricky thing. It’s tempting to Englishize all the Spanish words we don’t know. Thus, problem becomes problemo (wrong) and perfect becomes perfecto (correct). But sometimes we get into trouble with this line of thinking.
My Top 10 Spanish Translation Mistakes
1. Estar embarazada vs. to be embarrassed
Come on, I can’t not mention it. Who hasn’t, on their first trip to Spain or Mexico or wherever, let it slip that they’re so embarazada? I know I have. Too bad embarazada means pregnant!
2. Ser bueno/malo vs. estar bueno/malo
Haven’t you ever wanted to say, “She’s very good”, meaning “She’s doing very well”? Of course you have. But I do hope you haven’t blurted out, Está buena, especially if you were talking about your grandmother. Because there’s a giant gulf between es buena and está buena. One means that she’s a good person, while the other means she’s hot! Oops!
Conversely, es malo mean’s he’s a bad person, while está malo means he’s a bit under the weather. Tricky, tricky!
3. Estar constipado vs. to be constipated
The first time I heard my intercambio (conversation-exchange partner) tell me that he was constipado, I flipped out a bit. Whaaaaat?!? Why the heck was he telling me this on the second day I’d met him? I was a bit concerned about our future if he was going to keep being so frank with me. Luckily, we soon figured out that what he meant in English was I’m stuffed up. He had a cold. I breathed a huge sigh of relief, and I learned a lesson: estar constipado/a means to be stuffed up, and the way to say I’m constipated was entirely different (estar estreñido/a). Whew!
4. Estar excitado vs. to be excited
In English, we get excited a lot. Just before I am about to go home to the US, I always tell my sister-in-law, Colleen: “I’m so excited!” And I am. But I am most definitely not excitada. Not at all. Why?
In Spanish, excitado/a means sexually excited or turned on. Not exactly the sentiment you want to convey when you express your enthusiasm for a new movie or restaurant or meeting your favorite author (unless, of course, your favorite author is a total babe).
5. Estar molesto vs. to be molested
Let’s get it out there in the open—estar molesto does not mean what it sounds like! The first time I heard this expression I was a bit confused. Molested? You are molested? How? Why? When? Where? But no. In Spanish estar molesto means to be annoyed. Thus, if you molestar someone, you are annoying them—not molesting them.
6. Bomberos vs. bombers
Oh no! That kitten is caught up in that tree. Who should we call? Certainly not los bomberos, no? Sounds a lot like bombers. Actually yes, call them. Although I don’t know whether firefighters actually rescue kittens in Spain.
7. Estar caliente vs. to be hot
You’re hot then you’re cold / you’re yes then you’re no …
In English, we are things: hot, cold, hungry, thirsty, years old. In Spanish, you have things: Tengo 11 años. Well, it’s that way for a reason, because saying Tengo calor is quite different than Estoy caliente. Tengo calor, while literally meaning “I have heat,” is our equivalent to “I’m hot.” Estoy caliente is our equivalent of “I’m horny.” Yep, you definitely don’t want to be saying that when talking to your cute new Spanish friend, now do you?
8. Discusión vs. discussion
A discussion sounds nice and civilized. It sounds like an event wherein the participants sit down at a round table to talk about an issue, calmly and without rancor. But a discussion is not equivalent to a discusión, as I soon found out upon my arrival in Spain. I’d ask for a nice discusión, and my intercambios would tell me that, no, they preferred not to discutir.
Why? Well, the answer may lie in the fact that discutir means to argue, and a discusión is an argument. Not so civilized after all.
9. Complexión vs. complexion
These two words are spelled exactly the same. (Well, except for the accent mark.) It seems, therefore, that they would mean the exact same thing. Well … not so fast. In fact, complexión has nothing to do with one’s skin tone but with one’s physiological build (muscular, thin, rangy, etc.). For example, you could consider Vin Diesel to be un hombre de complexión fuerte, meaning he’s a strong, well-built man. But if we’re talking about the English meaning of complexion, you’ll need to use tez or cutis.
10. Billón vs. billion
This one is the most mind-boggling of them all for me, because it has to do with numbers! I don’t understand why one country can consider a billion to be a different amount than another. I can imagine that it causes all sorts of confusion in the international setting. A Spanish billón is an American trillion (1,000,000,000,000), but in traditional British English it’s also a billion. Confused yet? So a billón is a false friend in American English but not in British. Hmph!