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Sometimes a word in English looks familiar, but it doesn't mean what you think it does! Learn about these false friends and do lots of activities in this session.

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Activity 1

6 Minute Vocabulary

False friends

A Spanish woman was on a train in Australia. She said "Can I sit down please? I'm embarrassed." What did she mean - and why did no-one give her a seat? Catherine and Finn talk about 'false friends' in 6 Minute Vocabulary.

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Finn
Hi! I'm Finn.

Catherine
And I'm Catherine. Welcome to 6 Minute Vocabulary. Today we're talking about false friends.

Finn
But false friends aren't people! False friends are words that look or sound the same in two different languages - but have different meanings in each language.

Catherine
That's right and today we'll give you plenty of examples...

Finn
...there will be a quiz of course...

Catherine
...and we'll also bring you a top tip for remembering these words.

Finn
But first, here's Jim. He works as a student advisor, and he's talking about students' problems.

Catherine
While you're listening to Jim, try to guess what the student called Camilla's problem really was.

INSERT
Jim
Lots of students come to me with their problems, but sometimes I have to guess what they mean! Claus from Germany asked me for a rat because his father was busy in the kitchen. Simone, who's French, was worried about the buttons on her face. Camilla, from Spain, didn't know what to do because she was embarrassed. And when I helped Pierre, he said "Thank you very much, that's terrible!"

Finn
So, did you guess what Camilla's problem really was?

Catherine
And the answer is Camilla was actually pregnant! But she used the wrong word when she said she was embarrassed.

Finn
She did. Because embarrassed is a false friend in Spanish and English. The Spanish word embarazada means pregnant. Apologies for my Spanish pronunciation there! Spanish speaking people need to be very careful before they tell someone they are embarrassed - or that their husband is! Listen out for more false friends in this clip.

INSERT
Jim
Claus from Germany asked me for a rat because his father was in the kitchen. Simone, who's French, was worried about the buttons on her face.

Catherine
So I'm guessing that Claus didn't really want a rat?

Finn
I don't think so, I think he wanted some advice from Jim. The German word rat means advice in English. And Claus was worried because his father was in prison. The word kitchen can mean prison in German.

Catherine
Confusing. And what about Simone, who said she had buttons on her face...

Finn
Indeed. In French, the word boutons means spots. So, Simone thought that the English word buttons had the same meaning.

Catherine
OK. Now, let's have another clip. Pierre also said something quite strange.

INSERT
Jim
And when I helped Pierre, he said "Thank you very much, that's terrible!"

Catherine
So do you think that Jim was upset when Pierre said that? After all, Jim was trying to help.

Finn
Well, Pierre didn't mean to be rude. But in French terrible - like terrible - can have two meanings. It can mean very bad, but it can also mean great. It depends on the sound of your voice when you say it. Pierre meant that Jim's advice was great, not terrible.

Catherine
Wow, big misunderstanding. So the message is: don't get upset if someone from another country says something that seems a bit strange or perhaps rude. They might just be using a word that's a false friend. 

Finn
Exactly. And be very careful yourself when you're speaking in another language. You know, there was this one time, I was in a hotel in France and I asked for a cushion - I thought that meant a cushion - for my bed. But it sounded like the French word cochon which means pig!

Catherine
So you asked for a pig for your bedroom!

IDENT        
6 Minute Vocabulary from BBC Learning English.

Catherine
And it's time for a quiz! Today, we're going to play a guessing game. So number one: If a French man is holding some £10 notes in his hand but he says that he's got no money, what does he mean?

Finn
The answer is that he means he's got no coins. Yes, monnaie in French means coins or change.

Catherine
Very good. And number two: If a German woman in an English restaurant says that she wants to become a steak, is she joking - or does she really want to turn into a meal?

Finn
Well, the answer is neither. Bekommen in German is a false friend for become in English. She means that she wants to get a steak to eat.

Catherine
Right then. Number three: If someone from the US invites you to a party, Finn, and tells you to wear pants, should you be shocked?

Finn
Well, actually, no, you shouldn't. Pants in American English means trousers. It doesn't mean underwear like in British English!

Catherine
That's a relief! And that's the end of the quiz. Well done if you got them all right. And before we go, here's a vocabulary tip. Keep a note of false friends between your language and English. You could use word cards, with the word on one side and the information with example sentences on the other.

Finn
And there's more about this at bbclearningenglish.com. Join us again soon for more 6 Minute Vocabulary.

Both
Bye!

Downloads

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Vocabulary points to take away

False friends are words that look the same in two languages but have different meanings. Some examples of false friends with English words are:

embarazada - embarrassed
Embarazada means pregnant in Spanish

rat - rat
Rat means advice in German.

boutons - buttons
Boutons means spots on your face in French.

terrible - terrible
Terrible can mean very bad or very good in French.

monnaie - money
Monnaie means coins or change in French.

bekommen - become
Bekommen means to get or have something in German.

pants - pants
Pants means trousers in American English.

When you are learning a language, it's easy to make a mistake by using a false friend. So don't be surprised if people from other countries do this.

Take time to learn false friends between your language and English so that you don't say strange or rude things by mistake.

 

Session Vocabulary

  • Vocabulary points to take away

    False friends are words that look the same in two languages but have different meanings.

    embarazada - embarrassed
    Embarazada means pregnant in Spanish

    rat - rat
    Rat means advice in German.

    boutons - buttons
    Boutons means spots on your face in French.

    terrible - terrible
    Terrible can mean very bad or very good in French.

    monnaie - money
    Monnaie means coins or change in French.

    bekommen - become
    Bekommen means to get or have something in German.

    pants - pants
    Pants means trousers in American English.