Becoming fluent in a second language is one of the most difficult tasks you’ll ever undertake. Our first language can help us make connections and fast-track our learning, but it can also be a hindrance to mastering a second language. One of the many ways we stumble is by our misuse of cognates (or false cognates in some cases).
actualmente – “currently,” not “actually”
atender – to a matter, not an event
realizar – a dream, not that you’re lost
constipado – similar, but for your nose
intoxicado – not "drunk," food poisoning
Another way we stumble is by misapplying a translation (make sure you verify the context if you are using a dictionary).
I like the way you talk.
Me gusta la manera cómo hablas. (Yes!)
The dog was in the way.
El perro estaba en la manera. (Try again.)
We don’t know what we don’t know, so unless someone points out specific words to us, we may not be able to intuit these stumbling blocks and self-correct. What we can do, though, is be aware that these words are out there, be curious, ask questions, investigate, not make assumptions, and, of course, keep our ears open to how native speakers use these words.