Spanish, like English is derived from Latin.  As such there are many words called cognates (referred to as friendly words) that are similar in Spanish and English.  Not necessarily in spelling and exact pronunciation, but close enough that an individual can correctly ascertain its meaning.  Examples of these are:

Artist = Artista
tourism = turismo
distance = distancia
electricity = electricidad  
operate = operar
import = importar
escape = escapar
exactly = exactamente

However,  this is not always the case.  There are some words in Spanish that sound like the should mean the same in Spanish, but they do not.  As such they are referred to as "false friends", for they are not what they appear to be.   Examples of these are:

Actual  indicates that something is current, at the present time. Thus the day's hot topic might be referred to as un tema actual. If you wish to say something is actual (as opposed to imaginary), use real (which also can mean "royal") or verdadero.

Actualmente is "currently", not "actually", and "actualidad" is "news".

Asistir means to attend or to be present. Asisto a la oficina cada día, I go to the office daily. To say "to assist," use ayudar, to help.

Atender: Means to serve or to take care of, to attend to. If you're talking about attending a meeting or a class, use asistir.

Compromiso is not a "compromise", but a "commitment" or "obligation". An engaged couple are said to be "comprometidos".

Decepción, decepcionar  means disappointment or to deceive. To deceive someone is to engañar a alguién. Something deceptive is engañoso.

Disgusto is derived from the prefix dis- (meaning "not") and the root word gusto (meaning "pleasure"), this word refers simply to displeasure or misfortune. If you need to use a much stronger term akin to "disgust," use asco or repugnación

Éxito is a "success", not an "exit" (which is "salida")

Embarazada, a word which has caused more than one misunderstanding, does not mean "embarrassed". It means "pregnant".

Fábrica  is a place where the fabricate items, namely a factory. Words for "cloth" include tejido and tela.

Minorista  means retail (adjective) or retailer. A "minority" is una minoría

Pretender doesn't mean "to pretend", but to "try" or "aspire to".

Remover is not "to remove", but "to stir".

Suplir, a verb, means "to substitute", not to "supply".

Soportar is not "to support", but to "suffer" or "tolerate" something.

Recordar means to remember or to remind. The verb to use when recording something depends on what you're recording. Possibilities include anotar or tomar nota for writing something down, or grabar for making an audio or video recording.

Tópico is a "cliché", not a "topic".

Examples from the Spanish Language Page on About.Com and
the Freelance Spain website

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