Beware the False Friends!

Babbel explains how specific words can differ between similar languages.
March 28, 2013
Beware the False Friends!

Babbel is taking on those false friends. But don’t worry – this isn’t a life coaching course we’re pushing, but our newest project! Who you choose to make real friends with is still up to you. The idea of our brand new course format is to help you confidently navigate through choppy linguistic waters on your own…

It is rather “false friends” of the lexical variety are the subject of this course. These are specific words that quickly lead to misunderstandings between native and foreign languages. At first glance seductively simple and logical, they look and sound confusingly alike between languages. For example, say someone wants to comment on the latest demonstration against a corrupt politician in French, Italian or Spanish. Logically, it seems the word to use would be démonstration, dimostrazione or demostración. They seem so close to the English – but yet, in reality, so far! In the Romance languages it refers not to a “demonstration” but a “presentation.”

And while in English, French and Spanish you might go to the gymnasium, gymnase or gimnasio to work out, at a German Gymnasium you’re much more likely to find young teens diligently studying toward university.

But it gets really confusing when very similar words have completely different meanings between languages. For example, a gift in English brings a smile, while Gift in German (“poison!”) would naturally turn that smile upside down. What expression would it inspire among the Scandinavians, though, when gift means “married” in Swedish, Norwegian and Danish? ¡Díos mío! Definitely starting to feel lost in translation…

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Babbel
We are a team of more than 750 people from over 50 nations with a shared passion for languages. From our offices in Berlin and New York, we help people discover the joys of self-directed language learning. We currently offer 14 different languages — from Spanish to Indonesian — that millions of active subscribers choose to learn.
We are a team of more than 750 people from over 50 nations with a shared passion for languages. From our offices in Berlin and New York, we help people discover the joys of self-directed language learning. We currently offer 14 different languages — from Spanish to Indonesian — that millions of active subscribers choose to learn.

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