Helena Rodriguez: Many false cognitives


By Helena Rodriguez

Guest Columnist

Most of us know what amigo and compadre mean, even non-Spanish speakers. And sometimes we can pull a Fred Sanford and act like we know Spanish by adding an “o” to words like “Bring-o el TV remote control-o.”

That doesn’t work often though, and it can get you into trouble. The truth is there are many false cognitives in English and Spanish. Cognitives are words that sound the same in different languages and have similar meanings. No problema, right? Wrong-o! Es un error!

I briefly taught English as a second language at the prison in Hobbs two years ago and we had a colorful lesson on false cognitives. I got some of these false cognitives from my former professor of Spanish, Vitelio Contreras, at Eastern New Mexico University.

I wrote the word “patron” on the board and asked my class what it means? In Spanish, patron means “boss.”

Of course, I had one wise guy who said it is the name of a tequila. Yes, it is. But in English, it has an almost opposite meaning. In English, patron is a “customer” or someone who supports you. In Spanish, “carpeta” means a folder, it does not mean carpet. Carpet in Spanish is alfombra.

“Moleste” in Spanish, means bother, as in “No me moleste!” or “Don’t bother me!” However, in English, molest has a harsher meaning, as in, “abuse” and often refers to sexual abuse.

And that is why, in my Spanish 101 class with Contreras about eight years ago, students would giggle every time we had to repeat that word.

In English the word “pie” is a pastry.” In Spanish, “pie” (pronounced something like p-y-e-h) means “foot.”

Sopa is “soup” in Spanish, not soap. “Arena” means “sand” in Spanish, not a stadium or competition area, like it does in English, and “asistir” in Spanish does not mean to “assist.” It means “to attend.” In Spanish, “chocar,” does not mean “to choke.” It means “to crash.”

One day I was giving a different lesson to my ESL class and I wrote the word “memo” on the board to see if they knew what it meant. The lesson was about writing memos. They had blank faces and shook their heads. One elderly man jumped up and said in his heavy Spanish accent, “It’s a fish!”  I almost died laughing as I realized he was referring to a movie. “No, that is Nemo,” I said.

Finally, another student jumped up and pointed at the words on the board, “Memo is my friend!” He bursted out. “Memo” is a nickname for Guillermo, which means “William” in English. I called that lesson “Finding Memo.”

Helena Rodriguez is a Portales native. Contact her at: Helena-Rodriguez@hotmail.com

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