Frequent misunderstandings: some English tips for job interviews

Saludos a todos. En el artículo de esta semana me gustaría tratar sobre un aspecto que a todos nos afecta cuando manejamos un idioma extranjero en la vida cotidiana: el empleo adecuado de expresiones que, bien traducidas literalmente o bien sacadas de contexto, pueden dar lugar a malentendidos y a situaciones embarazosas. Por este motivo, procederé a analizar determinados momentos en que debemos ser especialmente cuidadosos con el vocabulario que empleamos, y también con las indicaciones que se nos hacen.

To begin with, it will be very useful to comment some idioms that may be tricky when you attend a job interview and also when you elaborate your own résumé. It is important to notice that when Anglo-Saxon people ask you about your career, they are not interested about your university studies,
as we Spaniards might assume since the word is quite similar to our ‘carrera’, which we use to talk about our university degree. In this sense, ‘career’ means your professional life and is therefore closely linked to your experience, which you may want to describe backwards, that is, beginning from your last position and going back to the previous ones only if you are asked to. Once you have talked about your professional experience, there are many chances that your interviewer(s) will ask you about your university studies, in order to know whether your knowledge, together with your experience, meets the requirements of the post to which you are applying. The same as before, do start describing your last studies and go back to other academic activities only if the interviewer(s) think it necessary, as most times he/she will only need to know about your more recent achievements.

Another common mistake might be committed when you are asked about your main virtues as a worker: in this case, you will be asked about your ‘skills’ and you have also to talk about your ‘skills’ or ‘abilities’, never mention the word ‘qualifications’. Again, the Spanish term used in this situation is cualificación’, but its English translation means ‘the marks that you have obtained during your studies’. Hence, there will be a huge difference between the topic that you will be speaking of and the one that you were asked about if you make this wrong translation. As you will surely have noticed, I am using different words to refer to your potential new job, because all of them have the same meaning: job, post or position, though the last two are related to relatively complicated tasks that are carried out normally as a member of a public institution or a private company, whereas ‘job’ means any professional activity of which you make your living.

Una vez superada esta primera fase, si tu perfil ha sido interesante y consideran que entras en la categoría de candidatos elegibles para el puesto, deberás pasar a tratar un aspecto en el que conviene ser cauteloso: las condiciones del contrato, que se refieren fundamentalmente al salario y otras gratificaciones monetarias, vacaciones, etc. En el ámbito de las remuneraciones, es conveniente diferenciar varias categorías: primeramente, el salario base que recibirás por tu trabajo, que puede definirse empleando dos términos: wages o salary. Ambos se refieren a la cantidad que percibe el trabajador, que puede expresarse en cuantía mensual o, lo que suele ser más frecuente, en total anual, sin contar los impuestos. A esta cantidad hay que sumar ciertos complementos que obedecen a conceptos diferentes: gratificaciones extraordinarias (‘paga extra’), ganancias por horas extraordinarias de trabajo, etc. En todos estos casos se pueden emplear varios términos en inglés, tales como ‘bonus’ o ‘perk, que se refieren a cualquier tipo de beneficio o incentivo obtenido aparte del sueldo ordinario. El último término suele tener carácter más genérico, refiriéndose a las bonificaciones extraordinarias en sentido amplio, mientras que ‘bonuspuede aludir a beneficios concretos ligados a un puesto específico: primas o bonificaciones, seguros médicos, participación en los dividendos de una compañía, etc.

The same as before, there is a detail of your new contract that you must never mistake: holidays. This expression is the one that we translate in Spanish as ‘vacaciones’. Once more, there is an English idiom that can be used as equivalent to that one: ‘vacation’. Only that the latter is more commonly used to refer to a period of time in which you have not been working for other reasons different from holidays, for instance a medical condition, a field research leave, etc. And never forget that, if you wish to know any specific details about your new occupation, you will never use the expression: ‘Which tasks will I realise in the company?’ Here we are confronting another false friend: ‘realise’, which is very similar to the Spanish word ‘realizar’ (meaning ‘to carry out / to do an activity’), in English means ‘to suddenly become aware of something’. Therefore, the right question will be: ‘Which tasks will I have to develop at my new post?’

Como se ha podido ver, en muchas ocasiones encontramos expresiones tremendamente parecidas en dos idiomas distintos, y nuestro instinto nos lleva a emplearlas como sinónimas. Cuando actuamos así, olvidamos que cada idioma apareció en un contexto cultural diferente y que, por tanto, palabras que se escriben de igual o de similar forma pueden tener significados no sólo distintos, sino también opuestos, en muchas ocasiones. Aunque es necesario tener presente este dato en todas las circunstancias de la vida cotidiana, es especialmente aconsejable ponerlo en práctica en momentos importantes, como las entrevistas de trabajo.

Though it is not my intention to talk about false friends, since Abigail Franckquepohl has already analysed them in a previous article previously published in the blog , I have included a table with the expressions that I have mentioned in these lines. People at ‘121 Conversation’ would also be very thankful if any of you wish to comment a situation similar to the ones that have already been described in a job interview or in any other context.

Career / University degree
Experiencia profesional / Carrera universitaria
Job / Post; position; profession
Trabajo / Puesto de trabajo (requiere mayor cualificación)
Wages / Salary
Perk / Bonus
Beneficio o incentivo / Gratificaciones (pagas extraordinarias, seguros médicos, participación en los beneficios de la empresa...)
Qualifications / Skills
Calificaciones (resultados académicos) / Habilidades o cualificación personal
Holiday / Vacation
Vacaciones / Vacaciones o excedencia
Carry out; do; make / Realize
Hacer o realizar / Darse cuenta de algo

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".

Society and work: spaces for intercultural links

Hi everyone; in this article I wish to share with you some thoughts about the implications of today’s multicultural society in work environments, as well as in the classroom. Maybe fifteen or twenty years ago, either in Spain or in any other Western country, it was rather common to share the classroom and the working space with people that had the same culture as us. There were only a few countries with well-known imperial past that hosted some people from their former colonies, but they were an exception and they used to regard immigrants as second-class citizens. A radical shift in the situation occurred by the late 1990s and early 2000s, when economic prosperity and mass media spread the Western way of life and turned the ‘civilised West’ into de destination of hundreds of thousands of migrants that longed for a better living.
As a result of the situation, we share our everyday spaces with people from different cultural contexts and it is necessary to stress the importance of tolerance and respect to make possible a comfortable work atmosphere, specially in a moment of economic recession like the one we are living, in which xenophobic proclaims that blame ‘the other’ for our own faults gain more and more popular support. Either at the school, at the university, or at the worksite, we must regard other cultures as experiences different from our own that we have to know in order to enrich our knowledge of the world around us. In our minds, ‘the other’ must always be an endless source of information about how different peoples experience life in a broad sense: how they live religiousness, what their values are, which their main celebrations and their special rituals are, what their consideration towards the other is, etc. Getting to know these aspects will not only help us understand everyone better, even people from our same culture: it can even make us reconsider some aspects of our lives and change certain elements of our cultural discourse to adapt them to our daily life. In addition, it will enable us to use the proper expressions when talking to other colleagues and to understand better what they imply when they make suggestions or remarks, too: this is the main goal and the best result of studying and using foreign languages in our job (or any other daily routines) from a grammatical as well as from a cultural perspective. And that is why nowadays a well-respected trend in teaching and learning foreign languages is to frame them within the cultural background in which they were produced.
In the different scenarios that I have mentioned before there are always very good chances to become interested about different cultural elements: religion, celebrations and rituals, costumes... that become especially visible in certain moments. For instance, if we are dealing with a Brazilian company we will need of course to speak Portuguese, but we will also have to bear in mind that there are significant differences between our concept of time and theirs, so if you want something finished for ‘tomorrow’ you may want to clarify that you mean ‘the day after today’, not ‘a certain moment within the next few days’. Another common situation occurs when we are sent to work in a foreign country, and we receive lessons of its language but not of its work culture, that is: what their daily timetable is, whether they respect punctuality or not, to what degree they trust each person’s individual initiatives... And of course, it is crucial to know about how people tend to salute each other in other cultures: in Spain men usually shake hands, women kiss each other in both cheeks, and men and women do the same between them, since shaking hands is regarded as extra formal and rather cold. But... look out! French people always kiss each other every time they meet again, whereas the British and the Germans tend to shake hands, as do the Italians. As you can see, all the aforementioned aspects may escape our thoughts, but they can easily lead to uncomfortable misunderstandings if they are not taken into account, since they will condition our interaction with the others.

The ideal attitude towards different cultural manifestations is curiosity and eagerness to learn, as well as to empathise with them and turn them into a part of us when we need to use them in our job. Thus we will create an atmosphere of tolerance and respect, and also of reciprocal influence that makes us mentally wealthier and socially wiser. And that is the main reason why we must transmit these values to our children, so they become rooted in everyone’s minds from an early stage of their lives. One may argue that sometimes we confront intolerance when trying to know ‘the other’, but if we persevere and at the same time we show a good disposition to share our own cultural discourse, resistance will undoubtedly give way to a more welcoming attitude to dialogue and to making a multicultural society possible. 

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".

Giving Thanks (or the other way round)

Hi everyone!!! Two weeks ago we explored the origin and the meaning of Halloween, making it clear that it was born among pagan communities in Ancient Times as a tradition to celebrate the end of harvest, as well as to frighten bad spirits and warn them to leave the community alone during the harsh winter. So now it is time to learn about another Anglo-Saxon celebration that will take place within the next few days: Thanksgiving. The funny thing is that Thanksgiving was born with the same spirit.

In the 16th century King Henry 8th of England, who had just made himself head of his own Church, departing from the large embrace of Catholicism, decided to create a celebration that would serve three purposes: first, it would be a more familiar way than Halloween to give thanks for the prosperous harvest, gathering all the families together by the warmth of fuming chimneys in order to share a delicious and loving dinner; second, Thanksgiving would equalise the amount of holidays in the Anglican and the Catholic calendar; finally, the new holiday would evidence the power of the English King at the head of the Anglican church against the Roman Pope, its main antagonist in the European continent shaken by the spirit of the Council of Trent.

As it often happens with the institutionalisation of every celebration, doubtlessly Thanksgiving soon overcame the British Crown’s expectations and it became so popular that the Pilgrims that fled Great Britain in the 1620s and the 1630s brought the tradition with them to North America. There are different opinions on when the first Thanksgiving was celebrated in the British colonies that later became the United States of America, though everyone may have seen the typical image of a Pilgrim family sharing their food with the American Indians in Plymouth by 1621. But leaving such irrelevant details apart, the most important thing about Thanksgiving is that it has become a familiar event in every house in the Anglo-Saxon world, regardless of each one’s beliefs, since it is now considered as an excuse to share time with relatives and friends and enjoy some intimate moments before going back to the stress of everyday.


With your permission I will tell my personal story concerning Thanksgiving. I must confess that in my youth I had always approached it with some prejudice, as I was not really aware of its meaning and I was afraid that it is another pretext to make us spend our money. However, when I was in London four years ago I had the chance to celebrate it at the house of the family with which I was living. It was a rather humble and discreet celebration, but it was enough to make me conceive good feelings towards it. One year later I was living in New York and my landlady, a loving Colombian woman, took me to her brother’s place to share thanksgiving with a representation of the Colombian community in the state of New Jersey. As you can guess, the new experience was radically different from the previous one, but even so it made me learn to appreciate more and more the affective element of that day. Finally, when one year later I celebrated it in Pittsburgh with many Spaniards that had gone there to work, the same as me, I had already fallen in love with Thanksgiving: it has always given me the chance to feel like home every time that I have been abroad. I hope everyone will find the same meaning in it, and I wish you a happy Thanksgiving.

Autor: Antonio Jesús Pinto
Profesor en 121 Conversation. Es Doctor en Historia Contemporánea. Ha vivido en Londres, Nueva York y Pittsburg. Tiene una amplia experiencia como profesor de inglés. Por su  experiencia y su formación profesional, dice estar "convencido que mis clases ayudarán al alumno a coger soltura y a tener más confianza en si mismo a la hora de hablar el inglés".

False Friends

False Friends | 121 ConversationIsn’t that the worst feeling when one of your friends disappoints you?  Or even worse, when they betray you? It’s like you’re stabbed right through the heart.  Well, words are the same, although hopefully it doesn’t hurt quite so much.  False cognates, more colloquially known as “false friends,” are words in two languages that look the same but don’t have the same meaning.  They can really deceive you, those little tricksters. 

Some words in English and Spanish are spelled exactly the same way and have the same meaning, take chocolate--the only difference is the pronunciation. Animal, legal, taxi, video and sofa are some more examples.  Other words look very similar and have the same meaning like apartment-apartamento, contact-contacto, elegant-elegante, dialogue-diálogo, band-banda and many more.  However, those aren’t the crux
of our problem.  What we’re going to focus on today are words that look the same but have totally different meanings—the false cognates or infamous “false friends.” Here are 15 of the most common false friend mistakes for Spanish speakers.
False Friends | 121 Conversation

Spanish term
English definition
English false friend
Spanish translation
Real, existente
A cold, stuffed up
Tela, tejido
Modismo, frase hecha
Quitar, sacar
To put up with

 Here are some examples of these false friends in use-hopefully they help you remember the difference.

Image courtesy of Ambro at |121 Conversation
1. I eat carrot soup everyday but I wash myself with soap.
2. I stuffed my papers in my folder and put it down on the carpet.
3. Actually, I’m really interested in current events.
4. I was so embarrassed that I asked that a woman if she were pregnant-it turns out she was just fat!
5. What a beautiful fabric! Yes, it was made in a factory.


Now it’s your turn.  Watch out because these are difficult. Each sentence contains a false friend error. Try to spot the false friend and replace it with the correct word in English.

1. When you make a sauce, remove it slowly.
2. English is an easy idiom to learn.
3. It was a good notice - Sheila had twins.
4. The film was a great exit - it won 8 Oscars.
5. He put the papers inside the carpet.
6. They have a reunion every morning at 10am.

Abigail Franckquepohl | 121 Conversation
Autora: Abigail Franckquepohl
Profesora en 121 Conversation. Nacida en Nueva York, se ha trasladado a España para conocer otra cultura y otro idioma. Es profesora acreditada con el TEFL y lleva cinco años dando clases de inglés para extranjeros.