If you have ever tried to learn another language you will probably know how hard it is. One tip when learning a foreign language is to look out for words that look and mean the same as a word in your native language, for example ‘gratitude’ in English means the same as ‘gratitud’ in Spanish. These words are known as cognates and looking out for them will help you remember certain words and phrases in your new language.
However, it would be wise not to just assume the word means the same just because it is spelt the same (or similar) – for example ‘fart’ in Polish means something completely different – there’s nothing rude about wishing someone good luck in Poland! There is even a chocolate bar named a ‘Fart Bar’ which literally means ‘lucky bar’.
These words that look the same in another language but have different meanings are known as ‘false friends’. Let’s have a look at some of the funniest we’ve found, and don’t forget to add any you know in the comments.
MR2 (GB) / Merde (FR)
Car manufacturer Toyota famously had to rename their MR2 model of car in France because the French pronunciation of MR2 sounded very similar to ‘Merde’ which means shit! The car is simply known as the MR in France.
Bigot (GB) / Bigote (ES)
If you come across someone intolerant of your opinions in Spain don’t bother calling them a ‘bigot’, they may well just laugh at you. You’d actually be calling them a ‘moustache’! The actual Spanish word for bigot is ‘fanático’.
Pee (GB) / Pij (PL)
The word ‘pij’ (pronounced pee) in Polish doesn’t mean you want to have a wee, it actually means a drink.
Preservative (GB) / Préservatif (FR)
‘Préservatif’ in French (and Spanish, Polish, Russian – and many other European languages) is actually the name for a condom so be careful with this one, what you get certainly won’t keep your food fresh!
Dress (GB) / Dres (PL)
If you ever hear a Polish man referring to wearing a ‘dres’ he doesn’t mean he is going to wear women’s clothes, in Polish ‘dres’ means a tracksuit. The actual Polish word for dress is ‘sukienka’.
Nervous (GB) / Nervos (RO)
If you tell your Romanian colleagues you’re feeling nervous about attending a presentation, they may think it a bit odd that attending a meeting would make you feel angry – as this is what ‘nervos’ means in Romania.
Embarrassed (GB) / Embarazada (ES)
There you are telling your Spanish friend about how you had been so embarrassed when you left the toilet with your skirt tucked in your knickers, and your friend jumps up and starts hugging you. Don’t worry, she thought you had just told her you were pregnant! The Spanish for embarrassed is actually ‘desconcertado’.
Tot (GB) / Tot (DE)
Don’t worry if you get a very shocked reaction from your German friends if you describe your child as a ‘tot’ – they will think you’ve described your child as dead.
Fart (GB) / Fart (DK, NO, SE)
Fart appears again in Denmark, Norway and Sweden but once again it doesn’t mean to pass wind as it does here in the UK. Fart in these Scandinavian languages actually means ‘speed’.
Make sure you add any false friends you know of in the comments below.