Posts tagged ‘false friends’

June 27, 2015

False Friends

I mentioned false friends before, words in the language you study that sound very much like words in your own language and hence one is tempted to assume they mean the same.

Two examples from the German and English languages come to mind: eventually and actually in English and eventuell and aktuell in German.  Let’s talk about and clarify both of them:

Eventually and eventuell – are very close sounding and used in similar contexts.  However, “eventually” indicates that something will happen at some non-specified time in the future.  The point is, the thing will happen, just when isn’t determined yet.  “Eventuell”, on the other hand, means that something may happen in the future, so the basic fact whether the event will happen is uncertain.

Getting married eventually is very different from getting married "eventuell/maybe."  (c) Tina Baumgartner

Getting married eventually is very different from getting married “eventuell/maybe.”
(c) Tina Baumgartner

The difference can be rather disconcerting: “eventually we’ll get married” is quite different from “maybe we’ll get married.” Hearing a college student say: “I will eventually finish my degree” is cause for concern for parents, but hearing them say “Maybe, some day, I’ll finish my degree” is way worse.   From the German’s perspective misusing the word the consequences can be dire as well: saying to your business partner “I will eventually come up with the $2M needed to keep the doors open” is telling him/her that you will get the money when what you meant to say that you “eventuell” will get the money which means potentially/maybe you somehow manage to come up with it.

Actually and aktuell are also similar sounding but have the advantage of being used in different contexts and hence it should be easier to keep them apart.  “Actually” is a frequently used word in English which is mostly used in the same contexts as the German “eigentlich”.  It is a bit of a fudge word that is hard to translate and very context dependent.  A few examples might illustrate the use best:

“Are you going to the grocery store with me?” – “Actually, I had planned on going to the gym now.” – here it is used in the sense of “well” or – since it is often used when saying no to something, it is used in the sense of “uhm, well, no”

“This is actually a good question” – here it is used in the sense of “indeed”

“How did your trip to Italy compare to the last time you were there?” – “Actually, I had never visited Italy before” – here it is used in the sense of “in fact”.

Aktuell, however, means current/up to date:  “aktuelle Nachrichten” are current news, “ist das noch aktuell?” means “is that still up to date?”

So a false friend but not as deviously false as the eventually/eventuell pair.

 

June 12, 2015

Picking up where I left off

my year by the lake

my year by the lake

I have been inactive for a long time but recently decided to do a little bit more of what I like (writing) and a little bit less of what I have to do (working on a job that by no means can be described as 9-5).  So, here are the good intentions, which – as we are all know – pave the road to hell.

I have spent the last 10 months in Germany, which is my home country.  It was an interesting experience in many ways, also from a language stand point.  Many Germans, especially the younger generation speak English, some very well, some, well, not so much.

English is in many ways pretty prevalent in Germany, of course the Germans send emails, just like the rest of the world, not ePost or eBriefe and have computers, just spelled Computers.  There is a good deal of English in music, science and as mentioned anything having to do with computers/IT and in advertising – although the trend for that latter one seems to be slowing.

Some of the things I will write about in the next few blogs are funny, weird, silly and confusing mistakes made by German natives trying their hand at English – especially if they are trying to sound cool, young and hip.  Generally it is a recipe for disaster and some general conclusions can be drawn for any non-native speaker learning English (or any other language, I suppose).  The main ones:

  • never, ever, ever translate a saying, proverb, slogan literally.  It might work, in some rare cases, but in the overwhelming majority of cases nobody will understand what you mean and you’ll end out looking weird – at best
  • be aware of “false friends”- I suppose most languages have them and there are a few specifically tough ones in German-English that just keep coming up over and over again.  The most obvious example is the English “become” and the German “bekommen” – look like twins, don’t they.  Well, they aren’t.  Bekommen means “get” not “become” – endless confusion ensues.  I actually do know a Spanish false friend or rather a really devious couple of false friends: “asistir” in Spanish means attend, whereas “atender” means pay attention to, look after.  I can’t count how many times I had native Spanish speakers tell me that they will “assist” an event.
  • Adverbs matter and so does punctuation.  More on that in a later post but I’ll end with that example that has been going around on Facebook and alike:

Let’s eat Grandpa!

Let’s eat grandpa! – opps – Let’s eat, Grandpa! – better