You may have come across the phrase “false friends” or “false cognates” (as they are more accurately known) during your language training. So what does it mean? It has nothing to do with disloyal friends, although linguistic false friends can also be treacherous. They are words that sound similar or are spelled identically but have different meanings in their respective language.
Here are some common German phrases with their English “false friend” below them.
Be careful what aktuell actually means:
German: aktuell – topical, current, up-to-date
English: actually – eigentlich, tatsächlich, wirklich
Denn eigentlich stammt es aus dem aktuellen Album der Rocksängerin.
Because it actually comes from the rock singer's current album.
Caption 9, Liza - Ein Lied für OpelPlay Caption
When Germans talk about the imminent future, you may think they're talking about someone's lack of hair:
German: bald – soon
English: bald – kahl
...die olympischen Winterspiele die bald in Vancouver stattfinden werden.
...the Winter Olympic Games that will soon take place in Vancouver.
Captions 2-3, Deutsche Sporthilfe - Ball des Sports - Part 2Play Caption
Watch what you give someone on their birthday!
German: das Gift – poison, venom
English: gift – das Geschenk
Sein Gift ist vergleichbar mit einem Bienenstich.
His poison is comparable to a bee sting.Play Caption
If you want to make a marriage proposal to a German, pay attention to how you ask...
German: sich engagieren – to be committed, get involved
English: to get engaged – sich verloben
Find' ich das immer gut, sich für solche Sachen zu engagieren.
I think [it's] always good to get involved in such things.
Caption 8, Luxuslärm - rockt gegen's SaufenPlay Caption
The winter is dragging on and spring seems a long way off, but we all know it will come eventually. However, confusing “eventually” with the German eventuell makes spring seem far less likely:
German: eventuell – possibly, perhaps
English: eventually – schließlich, endlich, irgendwann
Eventuell habe ich in der einen oder anderen Situation emotional überreagiert.
Possibly I overreacted emotionally in one or another situation.
Caption 28, Filmtrailer - KeinohrhasenPlay Caption
You may describe a horse as being brav, but this has nothing to do with being brave!
German: brav – well, well-behaved, dutifully
English: brave – mutig, tapfer
Die schönste Wiesnerfahrung? Dass immer die Pferdel [Pferdchen] brav gingen.
The best Oktoberfest experience? That the horses always went dutifully.
Caption 15, Oktoberfest München - Auf der Wiesn - Part 2Play Caption
As you can see, using “false friends” in the wrong context can be embarrassing, but most of the time it is just a funny mistake. However, you should try to learn these deceitful words to avoid any faux pas!
In the lesson on The Many Ways to say "Well" we covered one way to sound more like a German speaker. This time we'll talk about another: using slang or colloquial language. Tschüss (bye) is a good example of this. It's an informal way of saying goodbye and in many situations of even passing familiarity, it's how people part.
Let's look at some more slang you can sprinkle into your German speech.
In the following example, we learn that:
Die Catwalks der Welt sind voll von schicken und vor allem nicht ganz billigen Klamotten.
The catwalks of the world are full of chic and, above all, not exactly inexpensive clothing.Play Caption
Klamotten is a very common colloquialism for "clothing." As with all such words, you might use it with a hip store clerk or a friend, but not with a complete stranger or even a less familiar coworker.
Another common slang word is blau, meaning "drunk":
Ich find' diese Aktion "bunt statt blau" total wichtig.
I think this campaign "Colorful Instead of Blue [Drunk]" is totally important.
Caption 3, Luxuslärm - rockt gegen's SaufenPlay Caption
Slang can vary greatly according to region. The word Kiez, used in the following example, is fairly specific to Berlin, where it means a small, cohesive neighborhood. It is also used in Hamburg, and to a lesser extent in Hannover, where it is suggestive of prostitution. By contrast, it is entirely unfamiliar in most of southern Germany.
Gitarrist Jürgen Ehle wohnt seit fünfundzwanzig Jahren in dem Kiez und schwelgt in Erinnerungen.
Guitarist Jürgen Ehle has lived for twenty-five years in the neighborhood, and luxuriates in memories.
Captions 3-4, Pankow - Rolling Stones des OstensPlay Caption
That just about wraps things up for now. Tschüss and till next time!
Getting frustrated with the pace of your learning? Try this fun exercise. Watch a video that is a level of difficulty higher than usual and then go back to one you had to work particularly at to master. You will find that you have come a longer distance than you had thought.