We have all met false friends in our life one way or another – watch out for the linguistic ones as well!
During my last IDEAL-business trip to Germany where I was running an English workshop in Frankfurt, I collected some memorable linguistic false friends which I am happy to share with you.
On my train journey between Frankfurt airport and the city, an Asian gentleman next to me got increasingly confused, irritated and angry having been told repeatedly by the German ticket controller, ”Your ticket is not guilty”. After a fruitless question and answer session I decided to explain to my exhausted fellow passenger that the German ticket collector, a certain Mr. Schmidt, was trying to tell him that he did not have a VALID ticket. Mr. Schmidt was wondering why he could not get his point across more successfully. I explained to him (in German) and to the Asian gentleman (in English) that a “false friend” had been the sole cause of their misleading conversation. GÜLTIG in German means VALID, and therefore Mr. Schmidt had thought that GUILTY was the meaning of VALID in English!
On my second morning of the IDEAL-English workshop, one of my clients told me that that he had BECOME an email yesterday. I informed him that such an action could not have happened. He replied that he had told me the truth whereupon I pointed out to him that he was still a human being. His confusion turned into laughter when a fellow student gave an example of the usage of to BECOME, BECAME, BECOME. The penny did drop eventually. Obviously, BECAME does not have the same meaning as the German BEKAM (=RECEIVED) – not even remotely!
On my final day of the IDEAL-English workshop, I asked the IDEAL-group what each had eaten for supper the night before. One student, a vegetarian, commented on his meal, “It was delicious, something with BONES.” Well, his remarks needed some further explanation since a classic linguistic false friend had crept in. As you might rightly guess, BEANS in English means BOHNEN in German!
We, at IDEAL-English Language and Culture in Brighton/UK, would like to hear from you if you have any examples of linguistic FALSE FRIENDS you have come across.