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False friends in… Polish and Spanish

This is the most classic example of false friends between Spanish and Polish. I still remember Poles giggling by looking at those signs in Spanish and having false expectations. You can find this comic and more at Rolf's Silly Linguistics comics.

This is the most classic example of false friends between Spanish and Polish. I still remember Poles giggling by looking at those signs in Spanish and having false expectations.
You can find this comic and more at Rolf’s Silly Linguistics comics.

These past days, I have thinking about how useful has been being a native Spanish while learning Polish. Despite Spanish being a Romance one and Polish being a Slavic one, the cultural influences of Latin and Greek in those two languages are helpful to figure out certain words such as gwarancja (similar to garantíawarranty-), galeria (galería in Spanish –gallery-), but others, if misused, mispelled, mispronounced or misheard, can bring more than a chuckle, headdesk or angry faces to either native Spanish or Polish speakers. Those are the famous false friends. Sure, they are quite helpful to remember words of common use in those languages, but they can also be a nuisance because many people do not know how to use them properly or keeping it to a certain context.

Here is a list of the most common ones, with certain examples on how to use them (and when to not). First word mentioned will be in Polish and the second one in Spanish:

  • Rolf’s comic already showed us the most classic one: kurwa/curva. Despite they are spelled different, they are pronounced identically. Kurwa in Polish means “whore” and it is also used as a rude exclamation. It is one of the most common swear words and probably, the first word every Spanish speaking Polish learner is acquainted with because curva means… “curve”. You can usually see that word in road signs warning you that there’ll be strong curves on the road ahead.
  • Pan/pan: They are pronounced and written exactly the same, but they mean quite different things. In Polish, it is a honourific for males (equivalent to Mister) and is also the singular formal version of “you” for a man. In Spanish, “pan” means “bread”. So imagine if Pan Kowalski is a Polish baker who moves to a Spanish-speaking country and decides to start a bakery business. Probably “Pan Kowalski” will be a smart brand name 🙂 .
  • Ola/ola/hola: Those three words sound exactly the same, but it can get complicated for Spanish speakers or learners. Ola in Polish is a nickname for Aleksandra. But in Spanish, ola is a “wave” and it is pronounced just like the friendly greeting, ¡hola! So imagine, this situation: “but look at that big wave…  Hi Ola!” and how it’d sound in Spanish, “pero mira a esa ola gigante… ¡Hola Ola!”. Awkward and weird, isn’t it?
  • Ser/ser: In Polish, ser means “cheese”, but in Spanish, it is the equivalent of the verb “to be” or it can also mean a “being”.
  • No/no: This aspect can be quite confusing and if you are able to master it in Polish, you’ll probably feel confident. “No” in Polish is a common expression to say “well” or “yeah” and you tend to use it as an answer when something is quite evident. In Spanish, just like in English, no means “no”.  The temptation to use it for Spanish speakers is strong, but you must use it in moderation in Polish 😉 .
  • Pycha/pija: Both of those words have similar pronounciation for learners, but they mean two completely different things. While pycha in Polish is an expression used when something is delicious (just like Yummy!), its meaning in Spanish will depend on the variety of Spanish you know… but most of the times, the connotation will be negative. While in Spain, pija means that something/someone is posh (and in a negative way)… in South America, pija means… cock.
  • Pensja/pensión: Remember that Latin/Greek tip I gave you, now here is a strong exception to it. In Polish, pensja means “salary” while pensión in Spanish may mean either your “pension” or a small bed&breakfast that offers rooms for rent or a home with rooms rented for out-of-town Uni students or workers.
  • Cena/cena: They are spelled the same, but pronounced differently. In Polish, c is /ts/ and cena will mean “price”. In Spanish, it will mean “dinner”.
  • Mizeria/miseria: A Polish mizeria would be fresh and delicious… it is a cucumber salad, while a Spanish miseria would be tough, awful and sad… it means “misery”.
  • Droga/droga: Both are highly addictive in a different way. A Polish droga is a road or journey while a Spanish droga is a drug.
  • Pies/pies: Another easy, but complicated word. While a Polish pies would bark, you can walk on your Spanish pies. In Polish, it means “dog” and in Spanish, it will be your “feet”.

Do you know more Polish-Spanish false friends? Do you have more fun false friends in the languages you know? Feel free to share the best ones you’ve got 😀

krzysiekcl

  • ­­­­­­­­­

    Tak się składa, że “mizeria”, oprócz sałatki, oznacza właśnie biedę. Ba, stąd w ogóle wzięła się nazwa – mizerię jedli ludzie mizerni.

  • cfreeman03

    German: Fahrt – ride/trip/journey
    English: Fart – butt gas (German – Furz)

  • Me

    Cura – priest
    Kura – Hen

  • I never thought there would be so many Polish/Spanish false friends! The first example you give is definitely the most dangerous one. Coincidentally, I wrote a whole article about the no/no false friend, which is true for most languages and Polish:

    http://www.5minutelanguage.com/ever-wondered-why-polish-people-say-no-when-they-mean-yes/

    • I still remember the first time I heard “pyyyyycha :D”. I giggled.

      And you probably wouldn’t like to know the reaction I once got when I mentioned I tried traveling to Argentina through… JUJUY (yes, it rhymes like *that* Polish word).

      • At least it’s not a person’s name. Imagine trying to live in Poland with a name like that…