We all have had to face some “false friends” when it comes to learning a new language, words that are often confused with a word in another language with a different meaning because the two words look or sound similar (and, sometimes, even exactly the same).
False friends exist for a number of reasons. For example, in some cases, the two words have similar origins but their meanings have deviated over time. In other cases, the words have completely different origins but, because pronunciations and spellings shift gradually, they have both ended up looking or sounding similar.
As you will see from looking at the table below, it is very easy to make some (even very embarrassing!) mistakes. It is, therefore, essential to take care when learning new vocabulary.
|FALSE FRIEND||WHAT IT LOOKS LIKE||WHAT IT IS|
|Das Gymnasium/Gym||gym||grammar school|
|spenden||to spend||to donate|
|winken||to wink||to wave|
|bekommen||to become||to receive/get|
|Die Kaution||caution||security deposit (for an apartment) or juridicial bail|
|Die Aktion||action||retail store with a sale / political demonstration|
|chocar||choke||to strike / collide|
|abusare||abuse||to take advantage of|
|slip||slip||underpants / men’s briefs|
Written by Marta Guillén Martínez – Communication Trainee at the Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament (Luxembourg). She holds a Degree in Advertising and Public Relations from the University of Alicante, Spain and she did her European Voluntary Service on communication and european youth mobility in Milan, Italy. She speaks Spanish, Catalan, English and Italian.