There are many cases in which two different English words can be translated as the exact same word in Spanish and vice versa. The most famous examples are probably the ones that have been responsible for more than one long night of studying, like the well known ser and estar, both of which can be translated as “to be.” There are other examples too: how about saber and conocer, both of which translate to the verb “to know”?
It is interesting that Spanish speakers, even Spanish teachers, do not often consider how confusing the Spanish language can be to new learners. I personally realized this a few years ago. Now, every time this issue comes up, I write the words down and tell my students, “OK… hold on a minute. Let’s backtrack and review some things from the beginning.”
So, let’s start this lesson with a story. I am currently living in the U.K., and a while ago I met with a friend here who can speak basic Spanish. We usually have simple conversations in Spanish. One day we were in the process of arranging to meet the next day, and I said to her:
- “Vale Katie, nos vemos mañana sobre las 6.30 en el banco que está en la esquina de la calle principal, ¿te parece?”
- “sí, sí, ¡hasta mañana!” respondió ella.
The next day, I was waiting for her for ages. It was strange, as Katie is always punctual, and she did not text me in the morning in order to tell me that she was not going to make it. I tried to call her, but her phone was switched off. After a long time waiting for her at the corner where the bench we agreed to meet at was, I left.
Later that evening I got a phone called from Katie. I was so angry at her that I picked up the phone ready to tell her off but… surprise! She was telling me off! After a lot of confusion and yelling, we realized that we were both waiting for the other one to show up, just not at the same banco.
I was at the bench on the corner, and Katie had been waiting further up in the bank on another corner… it had been an unfortunate misunderstanding! When we realized what had happened, we just laughed at each other and she said “It’s funny how in Spanish two different things can have the same name.”
I told her that banco can even have three meanings:
- banco (bank)
- Tengo que ir al banco mañana sin falta (I need to go to the bank tomorrow, no excuses).
- banco (bench)
- Como hacía un día tan bueno nos sentamos en un banco del parquet a tomar el sol (Being that it was such a nice day out, we sat on a bench in the park to sunbathe).
- banco (group/shoal of fishes)
- En la excursión en barco el otro día vimos varios bancos de peces (On the boat trip the other day we saw several shoals of fish).
There are in fact a number of Spanish words that, like banco, have various different meanings.
So, grab a pencil (or your favourite app) and let’s get to work!
Caña has three different meanings:
- la caña (glass of beer)
- ¿Quedamos el viernes y nos tomamos unas cañas? (Shall we meet on Friday and have some beers?).
- la caña (fishing rod)
- If you have Spanish friends and they like fishing, they will take la caña (a fishing rod) with them when they go fishing.
- la caña (sugarcane)
- la caña de azúcar tiene muchas beneficios (sugar cane has a lot of benefits).
Cola also has three separate meanings:
- cola (queue)
- El otro día fui de compras, y se nota que han empezado las rebajas, en todas las tiendas había una cola enorme (the other day I went shopping and you could feel that the sales had started, being that the queues in all the shops were very long).
- cola (tail)
- si ellos mueven la cola están contentos (if dogs move their the tail, they are happy) .
- cola (glue)
- La pegatina no se fija, necesito cola para fijarla (the sticker is not sticking, I need some glue to fix it).
Derecho is another word that can get confusing. You will hear it used to convey several different meanings, depending on whether speakers are referring to directions, rights or law. For example:
- derecho (straight)
- sigue derecho y a la izquierda encontrarás el bar que estás buscando (go straight ahead and on your left you will find the pub you are looking for).
- derecho (rights)
- si quiere poner una reclamación, está en su derecho (If you want to make a complaint, you have the right to do so).
- derecho (law)
- mi primo está estudiando derecho, siempre ha querido ser abogado (my cousin is studying law, he has always wanted to be a lawyer),
The most common meaning of tronco is “log,” but it can also mean anything that is round and long. In other words, anything that is shaped like a log. The most common examples are:
- tronco (log)
- Tenemos que poner troncos en la chimenea (we need to put some logs in the fireplace).
- tronco (tree trunk)
- El tronco de ese árbol es enorme, debe ser un árbol muy antiguo (That tree trunk is huge, it must be an old tree).
- tronco (torso)
- Para golpear la pelota necesitas girar el tronco un poco a la izquierda (To hit the ball, you need to turn your torso a bit to the left).
The final word for you to learn today is by far the winner, with up to four different possible meanings depending on the way it is used. Rico generally means rich but, depending on the context, the the meaning can vary greatly. Here are some examples:
- rico (a rich person)
- Es un hombre muy rico, tiene muchas propiedades (He is a rich man, he has a lot of properties).
- rico (a nice meal)
- la comida estaba muy rica (the food was very good).
- rico (a cute person)
- ¡Pero qué niño más rico! (he is such a cute baby).
- rico (rich in something)
- la naranja es rica en vitaminas (the orange is rich in vitamins).
That’s enough for today. However, despite the fact that this might seem like too many words, the number of words in Spanish with multiple translations in English is endless!
Now, it is your turn. You have the info, so simply read through this article and make sure you practice as much as you can.
!Feliz estudio amigos!
Hero Image by Tambako The Jaguar (CC BY-ND 2.0)