I think the first time I heard this expression I imagined, as most people would, my good friend betraying my trust.
Did my friend tell my deep dark secret to the world?
Did my friend go behind my back and steal my boyfriend?
What else would you think?
Well, for those of you studying English, you’ll know by now that a “false friend” is actually (a false friend in and of itself), a term used in the world of EFL to identify those words that look the same in your mother tongue, and so you assume that it must mean the same in English.
My teaching experience, while extensive, has only taken place here in Spain with Spanish speakers – so the false friends I know are those confusing words that have one meaning in Spanish, but an entirely different meaning in English, even though they look like they should be the same.
This is a fun topic to study (fun being a very relative term) as the confusions can be quite amusing. And when I’m teaching this topic, I always try to make my students feel better by telling them a true story….
When I met my boyfriend’s group of friend for the first time I was understandably nervous. One of them asked me what I thought of the food… and as the food is great I answered
“¡Me encanta! No tiene aditivos ni preservativos” :-O … This sentence caused them all to burst out in laughter and caused me to burst into tears! What was so funny? What did I say?
Well, I meant to say “I love it! It hasn’t got any additives nor preservatives” – what I actually said to the whole group was that the food didn’t have additives nor condoms – which is such a strange thing for the foreigner to say that of course they all laughed! What was the problem? The problem is that a “preservativo” in Spanish in NOT a chemical addition to food to preserve its freshness – it is, in reality, a condom.
Imagine, however if you will, the same situation but in reverse! One Spanish student admitted to me that she went to Scotland to buy a box of preservatives from the chemist’s. She had practiced her sentence, and very confidently asked to buy a box of preservatives. Of course, that didn’t work and she had to explain in great detail what was needed! That situation caused great embarrassment to both my student and the chemist!
So, if you’re looking for a self-study topic, why not take some time to look up the most common “false friends” between English and Spanish? I can promise there are plenty to keep you busy! LINK