Have you ever asked yourself why English is so simple? Of course not! Because to be honest, English is full of little tricks and traps that certainly do not make it easy to learn the language. Just one example? False friends, or faux amis as you say in French. Those words in English that look similar to certain French words, but which have a completely different meaning.
There are many, many false friends, so don’t bother trying to learn them all at once. However, throughout my 10 years of teaching, I’ve found that French speakers tend to make certain mistakes over and over.
Using false friends can confuse the person you’re speaking to, especially if the word does indeed mean something in English (just not what you think it means). I’ll give you a personal example from my own experience of learning French: When I first came to France, I noticed that baguettes became hard the day after buying them. I asked my French friends “Est-ce que c’est parce qu’il n’y a pas de préservatifs dans le pain français?” Of course, I just imagined that the English word “preservatives” translated to “préservatifs”! They’re so similar. Rest assured, after 10 years of living in France, I have learned that the correct word is “conservateurs”!
To help you to avoid making similar mistakes with false friends when you speak English, here’s my Top 15 False Friends, based on what I hear working with French professionals every day.
What you might say
The correct thing to say
|I have to do a safety formation before I start work on the production line.||I have to do safety training before I start work on the production line.|
|It’s not easy to make benefits in this bad economy.||It’s not easy to make profits in this bad economy.|
|On the weekend, I like to profit from the mountains and go outside.||On the weekend, I like to take advantage of the mountains and go outside.|
|Big companies have lots of advantages, like discounted activities and a free cafeteria.||Big companies have lots of perks like discounted activities and a free cafeteria.|
|I have to realize these tests before next week.||I have to do these tests before next week.|
|We have factories implanted in 5 countries.||We have factories located in 5 countries.|
|It’s not evident to understand my Chinese colleagues.||It’s not easy to understand my Chinese colleagues.|
|A lot of concurrence leads to lower prices.||A lot of competition leads to lower prices.|
|I work in a society that was created in 1899.||I work in a company that was created in 1899.|
|Google’s company politic is to encourage creativity, initiative and fun at work.||Google’s company policy is to encourage creativity, initiative and fun at work.|
|My son is doing his stage in London next year.||My son is doing his internship in London next year.|
|I’ll give you more details eventually.||I’ll give you more details if you need them.|
|The actual director is really a nice woman.||The current director is really a nice woman.|
|Check to make sure you have the good data.||Check to make sure you have the right data.|
|Are you always looking for a technician?||Are you still looking for a technician?|
Are there false friends in other languages? If you can think of any we’d love it if you post them in the comment section below.
Written by Christina Rebuffet
Christina Rebuffet has been coaching clients to better communicate with their colleagues from her home country, the United States, since 2004. To help clients have easier, more effective conf calls in English, she recently created The Conf Call Confidence Pack. You can find more tips and resources for communicating better in English at christinarebuffet.com.