In English, “individualism” means self-reliance and personal independence. Its connotation can lean toward eccentricity. (American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language.)
But in Spanish, “individualismo” means acting in voluntary isolation, possibly working for oneself against the good of everyone else. Its connotation can lean toward egotism and selfishness. (Real Academia Española, Diccionario de la Lengua Española.)
Still, the words “individualismo” and “individual” are usually considered equivalent in meaning and translated as if they were identical, even though they’re not. (Oxford Spanish-English/English-Spanish Dictionary.)
This means that when an American talks about “rugged individualism,” what a Spaniard hears is something different. I know this because I’ve spent enough time in both countries to observe the misunderstanding.
Who knows what happens in other languages? With other words? I know that the word “multiculturalism” mean different things, even among English-speaking countries. It can mean everything from a multi-flavored melting pot to voluntary or enforced apartheid.
So be careful with words. False friends are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects of the same language that look or sound similar but differ significantly in meaning. False friends can make real enemies needlessly.
— Sue Burke