Serveis Lingüístics Barcelona Teacher Neil McMillan talks about false friends and weird friends – and how to deal with them!

We’re not talking about real “false friends” – the kind that talk about you behind your back – we’re talking about words and phrases which look the same in two languages, but mean very different things! They can often cause problems when we are trying to make ourselves understood in a second language. We think we know what they mean, but in reality …

Here are some examples from Spanish, Catalan and English:

There’s another type of “false friend” which is really just a translation which is too literal. The phrase does not have a different meaning in English, but it sounds unnatural. Let’s call them “weird friends”. These phrases should be avoided if you want to make your language more accurate.

Some examples of these are:

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Here are some ways of dealing with false and weird friends:

  • Try to notice the correct words and phrases when you read or listen to English
  • Try to notice when other English learners use false and weird friends
  • Try to catch yourself using them. Write down the ones you use. Make sure you know what the correct word or phrase is; if not, use a good dictionary or ask someone who knows.
  • Test yourself using an app like Quizlet. Keep testing yourself, but leave a longer time between each test.
  • If you use one when you are speaking, stop. Go back and use the correct phrase instead.

Can you think of any other examples of false or weird friends? Leave a comment and let us know!

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