French and English have a complicated relationship. If you are translating from French to English or vice versa, beware of faux amis or French false friends, those words that sound similar but have different meanings that may sneak up on you.
What Are French False Friends or Faux Amis?
False friends in French look comfortingly similar to English words, but chances are you would be taken by surprise by their meaning. Unless you have been doing audio-visual translation professionally for a long time, they can cause a lot of confusion.
Faux amis or False Friends in translation are words that may seem like cognates, but they’re not. Cognates refer to words in two languages that sound very similar, are derived from the same root word, and mean the same thing.
When learning a new language, cognates can help you remember the vocabulary. French false friends, on the other hand, seem deceptively like cognates but have different meanings.
5 Famous False Friends in French
There are dozens of French false friends, but you will encounter some more frequently than others. Memorize this list of common false friends in French so you can get a keen grasp on your French vocabulary.
Ancient in French means former and not necessarily ancient. There are many nuances around this word. Un ancient combattant, for example, refers to a former soldier and not an old soldier.
Similarly, ancienne voiture refers to the car you previously owned. Ancien maire means a former mayor. If the word ancien is used before a noun, it usually refers to former and not ancient.
The French word attendre means to wait for. It does not really mean to attend to. For example, Je t’attends is a phrase that is often used when you want to say, “I’m waiting for you.”
This is one of those French false friends that you need to learn and one you’ll often come across in French romance novels and movies.
Blesser in French means to physically or emotionally wound someone. Un enfant blessé refers to a child who is hurt and needs to be patched up rather than a blessed child that you are expected to worship.
This is often a confusing French false friend for English speakers.
This is another confusing false friend in French that you must be very careful about. In French, “envier” is a verb that is used to convey “to envy.” But the noun “envie” refers to desire or wish.
To give you an example, “J’ai envie d’une glace,” means “I want ice cream.” You’ll often come across this particular phrase in songs or scripts if you are doing French voiceovers, especially ones that involve passion and love.
This is one of the most embarrassing, yet funny, faux ami. If you want to talk about preservatives used in food, asking for un préservatif will be a treacherous mistake.
Un préservatif means a condom in French. While both of these look and sound incredibly similar, they couldn’t be further in meaning.
Mastering French False Friends: Tips and Tricks
Now that you know what French false friends are, the next step is to learn how to spot them. This will allow you to avoid any inaccuracies in your French professional translations.
Here are a few tips to help you.
Learn the New Meaning
Once you have understood that different words have different meanings in French, the next step is to get used to the meaning of the word in French.
There are many ways to do that. Use these words in conversations and practice writing them in sentences.
Using it frequently will ensure that you get used to the words. Over time, the right words will come naturally to you.
Create a Story Around the Word
Another great way to memorize French false friends is by creating a story around the word.
For example, the word ancien in French refers to “former”. Ancient in English refers to something very old.
Create a story about a former soldier that you are likely to remember. Make it alive in your imagination, and you will be more likely to remember it.
Check the Etymology
Look up the etymology of a word to understand how the word was derived and why it means a certain thing.
While this can be tedious, it will allow you to understand the differences better. Eventually, the words and their meanings will feel more familiar to you.
Hiring Professional French Translators
Professional French translators understand false friends all too well. Having your materials professionally translated is a good way to avoid embarrassing mistakes in your project.
With the help of a professional translator, you can ensure that the quality of your translation is top-notch and precise.
GoLocalise offers professional French audio-visual translations for a wide variety of projects. With professional services, you don’t need to worry about faux amis in your final texts that might hurt your reputation.
French False friends can create many problems for you, so working with a professional translator for your projects is crucial.
GoLocalise offers audio-visual translation services for over 300 languages through reliable and experienced translators. Each translation project is accurate and precise without any false friends.
From feature films and promo videos to medical translations, GoLocalise offers integrated services for all your needs. Once translated, you can even opt for subtitling or voiceover services for crisp, professional-looking videos.
Get in touch with us today to discuss your needs.
Now you learned some common French False Friends, check these examples of false friends in Spanish translation.