False Friends of a Translator

It is just like in real life …

False friends…you think you know and understand them but then they mean something completely different.

False friends (or false cognates) are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects (or letters in two alphabets) that look or sound similar, but differ significantly in meaning. An example is the English embarrassed and the Spanish embarazado, which does not in fact mean ’embarrassed’ but rather ‘pregnant’.

False friends always lead to mistakes; they can really ruin your translation and even make you feel embarrassed, just like in this true story about false friends in the German province:

By Eric Hansson: “This topic about the false friend reminds me of a fellow who once visited my English course at an evening school some years ago. He was an owner of a fitness studio in the small city where the course was held – and the name of the fitness studio was something I had never heard before: Big Ass.

This is by no means something below the belt, and has to be understood as a mix between English and German, with the first word in English and the second one in German, as German “Ass” is for English “ace”. The intention with this name was to make some kind of a positive association with something really good and persuade any prospective visitors to come visit his studio.

He had put up these big signs for his studio along the major roads to this city so every week when I went to school I saw this funny word construction which really made me freak out In my role as an English teacher, I did explain the whole story to this student and all of a sudden all signs had been taken down.”

Did you have any funny (or not so funny) situations with these ‘friends”? Let us know!

Learn more about False friends:

in Spanish: http://spanish.about.com/cs/vocabulary/a/obviouswrong.htm

in German: http://www.englisch-hilfen.de/en/words/false_friends.htm

in French: http://www.orbilat.com/Languages/French/Vocabulary/French-English-False_friends.html

in Russian: http://www.macmillandictionaries.com/MED-Magazine/July2004/21-FalseFriends-Russian.htm#5