Every good teacher and mentor throughout our lives instills in us the value of making mistakes and learning from them. And they’re right. Errors are a fact of life and an important learning tool. But in certain scenarios, making a mistake can be just plain awkward. Particularly when you’re speaking a foreign language and accidentally say something you definitely didn’t mean to say.
These mistakes are often caused by false cognates — words that look or sound like English words but have a different meaning. There are numerous examples of false cognates in many different languages, but here are our some of our favorites. Editor’s note: We’re not laughing at you; we’re laughing with you. (Right?)
1. ¿Puedo tener un pie? (Spanish)
You may think you’re innocently asking for a slice of delicious pie, but you thought wrong. In reality, you’re asking, “Can I have a foot?” The phrase you’re looking for is ¿Puedo comer pastel?
2. Blessé (French)
Before you start using #blessé on your Instagram photos from Paris, you should reconsider your hashtag strategy. This word doesn’t mean “blessed.” It means “injured.” What you want to say is béni.
3. Dov’è il casino? (Italian)
Trying to get your gambling on while visiting Milan? Try again. If you want to ask where the casino is, say dov’è il casinò? Yes, the emphasis on the “o” makes all the difference. If you say dov’è il casino, you’re asking where the mess is, and the person you’re addressing will probably just point right back at you.
4. Estoy embarazado/a (Spanish)
You forgot your Spanish-speaking lover’s birthday (not cool), so you attempt to express how embarrassed you are. But your trust in this false cognate caused your relationship to take a very different turn. You just told your significant other, “I’m pregnant.” Awkward… Future reference: It’s tengo vergüenza (Lit. “I have shame.”)
5. Gute Nackt (German)
It’s always polite to wish your Airbnb host a good night. Well, as long as you pronounce it correctly. They will probably be a little taken aback by Gute Nackt, which translates to “good naked.” What you actually want to say is Gute Nacht. Let’s keep things professional.
6. Ich habe dir Gift (German)
This one’s a real killer. You were just trying to be nice by buying a gift for your German guide. But what you actually just told them? “I got you poison.” How thoughtful! Next time, try Ich habe dir ein Geschenk.
7. Y a-t-il des préservatifs? (French)
Best way to make a fool of yourself at a French restaurant? Ask the waiter this question, which means “Are there condoms in this?” That’s right: préservatifs are condoms. Conservateurs are preservatives. It’s an easy mistake to make, but a very awkward one. Bon appétit!