False Friends

Posted on: 28. Juli 2011

“Those who know nothing of foreign languages know nothing of their own” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Learning a foreign language makes us see our own language in a completely different light, we start to think about sentence structures, verb tenses and idioms. We look for similarities and differences between our own mother tongue and the new language that we are trying to master. This being a small, small world, there are often lots of similarities that can give us a helping hand when we’re trying to learn and understand new vocabulary, for example: 






Die Informationen Les informations


Simple, huh? If only…

Along with all these helpful similarities, there are also lots of pesky ‘false friends’ who seek to trip up language learners wherever they can. They may look like a word in your own language, they may even sound like a word in your own language, but they mean something completely different! Here’s five interesting examples that caught my eye today:






Der Sang – song Le sang – blood


Bald – soon

A rat

Der Rat – council or advice

Le rat – rat (or, in colloquial usage, a cheapskate)

A tier

Das Tier – animal

Le tiers – a third

Die Haut – skin Le haut – the top (of something)


Of course the best way to discover these false friends is to embarass yourself by using them incorrectly, much to the amusement of others around you; or failing that, just don’t be too trusting of seemingly identical words and look them up in a dictionary to make sure. If it seems too easy to be true, it often is!

Do you have any ‘false friends’ to warn us about?

Bis bald



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