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Can you Avoid False Friends as you Learn Spanish? Part II

Hay / Aye. This is a really bizarre one which I am actually a bit embarrassed about writing. Not long after arriving in Bolivia I went to buy something from the local shop. Here they have little shops which are joined onto the owner’s house and you order through a set of bars or over a railing. Anyway, this means that you are on the street as you ask for things and exposed to noisy traffic – you might have noticed that I am angling for excuses before even explaining what happened. I asked if they had what I wanted and the guy in the shop simply answered “hay / aye”. For the benefit of non Scottish readers I should point out that where I am from “aye” is often used informally instead of “yes”. What I didn’t know was that in Spanish “hay” means something like “there is”. For a full four or seconds I do believe that I stood on the street looking at the shopkeeper with my mouth possibly hanging open, wondering why he was answering me in Scots dialect. It was only later as I checked my dictionary that I realised my mistake. Of course, in this instance the false friend actually had the same meaning but in most cases “hay / aye” are completely different concepts.

Sopa / Soap. Well honestly, if you are going to make two words in different languages so similar you are just asking for trouble. Before I really started to properly learn Spanish I once asked in a very cheap hotel – actually it may have been officially designated as a shed – if they could please give me a “sopa para lavarme”. The look on the owner’s face as he tried to understand why I would possibly want to wash myself with a starter told me that he had finally been given the evidence which confirmed that all gringos are daft after all.