False Friends Examples in Translation

False Friends Examples in Translation

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False friends examples in Translation. Picture of a keyboard with the word “translation” on the enter key, by CoxinhaFotos at Pixabay. Pixabay License.

What are false friends? People who previously learned a new language or two have probably heard this phrase. 

But for starters, false friends in translation are pairs of words or phrases that sound identical but hold different meanings.

A false friend can trick people into thinking it is the correct translation of a word from your first language. Thus, it’s crucial to identify these confusing words to prevent awkward situations and shocked reactions from people who are native speakers of the language you are translating into.

In this article, we will look at some false friends examples to help you better grasp what they are. 

We came up with a list of false friends that are present between English and German, English and Spanish, English and Portuguese, English and Italian, and English and French. Each case consists of an English word, its translation to another language, the false friend term, plus its meaning.

What are False Friends in Language?

False friends, also known as faux amis in French, refer to words in two languages that have similar sounds but don’t mean the same thing. 

They have the concept to deceive you into thinking that they don’t differ from each other, but they greatly do.

How False Friends Can Be Misleading

Considering its concept, false friends may confuse people mastering a new language, as these individuals are likely to think false friends have the same meaning as similar terms in their mother tongue. And as a result, they would use those words in the wrong way.

They could also keep a novice translator from producing accurate translations. Without proper knowledge about these tricky words, translators (or computer generated translations) might end up translating a false friend to a term in their native language even if each one has its own meaning, hence, losing the original sense of a phrase or a sentence.

Also called bilingual homophones, false friends are part of the linguistic context, which is one of the factors that make up the general context of a phrase or a sentence. 

The other elements include the writer’s or author’s goal and the cultural and historical context. That is why it is vital to localize content and not translate it literally (learn more about what localization in video production is.)

Context plays a crucial role in translation, as it impacts the meaning of a text. Just one wrong-word translation can lead to confusion for the target audience. Hence, it’s vital to take note of false friends when translating.

Aside from influencing translation, false friends can also lead to cultural misunderstandings, specifically language-based. Language-based cultural misunderstanding occurs when you understand a word or expression from other people’s perceptions differently.

Let’s take this situation as an example. Visualize that you speak primarily English and your boyfriend, Spanish. One night, you are having dinner with your boyfriend’s family.

During dinner, you spilled juice on your shirt and exclaimed, “estoy embarazada!” thinking that “embarazada” has the same meaning as the English term “embarrassed.” But then, you noticed everyone in the dining room was shocked, and your boyfriend silently explained that you told them you were pregnant.

In a setting like this, improper use of a word or a phrase could bring about waves of laughter or, worse yet, an awkward atmosphere. Imagine if that occurs when working in professional translation projects.

Example of False Friends

This section focuses on a few examples of false friends in Spanish, French, Portuguese, Italian, and German. 

Below are tables containing words and their translations, as well as the false friends words and their translations.

English and Spanish

These are some popular Spanish false friends examples:

Spanish wordEnglish translationFalse FriendFalse Friends Examples translation
asilosenior citizens’ homeasylummanicomio
agendaa notebook for someone’s scheduleagendasegunda intención, orden del día 
desgraciamisfortune, mistakedisgracevergüenza

English and French

Check these common French false friends examples or faux amis:

English wordFrench translationFalse friendFalse Friends Examples translation
actuallyen faitactuellementat present, currently
injure (verb)blesserinjure (noun)an insult, an offense

English and Portuguese

Following five false friends examples when translating English to Portuguese and vice versa:

Portuguese wordEnglish translationFalse friendFalse Friends Examples translation
aliásmoreover; by the wayaliaspseudónimo
apontamentoa written noteappointmentagendamento; marcação
assistirwatch a live eventassistajudar

English and Italian

Now check out some famous Italian false friends examples:

Italian wordEnglish translationFalse friendFalse Friends Examples translation translation
accidenteMisfortune, coincidence, sicknessaccidentincidente, infortunio
bimbochild, little boybimbooca giuliva
cameraroomcameramacchina fotografica
delusionedisappointmentdelusionallucinazione, illusione

English and German

Lastly, look into these five false friends examples that you should avoid when translating English to German.

English termGerman translationFalse friendFalse Friends Examples translation
alleygang, gasseAlleeavenue
cautionvorsichtkautionbail, deposit

Tips for Avoiding False Friends in Translation

Now, you know some false friends examples from around the world. So, let’s move on to how you can spot false friends in language and prevent inaccurate translations. 

The following are a few tips that can help you out.

1. Hiring Professional Translators

Engaging with professional translators – individuals who understand these false friends examples and many more – is one of the most effective ways to deal with false friends in translation. With their help, you’re sure to get a precise translation of the text you wish to be translated.

There are many companies out there that house professional translators, including Golocalise. This agency offers video translation services in more than 300 languages. They specialize in medical translation, video game translation, E-Learning Translation and more.

Visit Golocalise’s website to learn more about our English Voice-Over Agency and avail yourself of their services.

2. Do Some Research

Doing some research can expand your knowledge about languages across the globe. This is especially helpful if you’re new to translation. 

You will find a lot of sources online where you can learn something new about the languages you are working on. Getting more information about the languages can help you spot false friends effortlessly and create better translations.

Even if you’re already knowledgeable in translating one language to another, doing continuous research is extremely rewarding. After all, there’s always room to learn and grow (check the most useful languages to learn for translators!).

3. Check the Etymology

There are some false friends examples that appear or sound the same but derive from different roots. Given this, looking up the etymology of a term would be a good idea. 

This way, you will understand why and when the meaning of a word in a language developed differently from your mother tongue.

Some may consider this task tedious, but checking the words’ etymology to determine how they differ can benefit you. 

Once you understand where the difference emerged, recalling the two different meanings will be as easy as eating peanuts. That queerness feeling will eventually fade away. 

Translation Services in Over 300 Languages

False friends in translation can give rise to any kind of problem for inexperienced translators working on different language pairs, be it English and German, English and Spanish, English and Italian, and more. 

They may also become an issue for individuals who have just begun learning a foreign language or two.

These sneaky words can be problematic, so having an expert and reliable translator to assist you is one of the best ways to handle them. You will find some on Golocalise.

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