False friends and other issues when you are learning German.

When I learnt English at school and later studied it at university I came across a lot of words which sound similar in German, but they had a completely different meaning. Moreover, the German language has a lot of English sounding words which are effectively borrowed but mean something else – which confuses English speakers. And then there are a lot of words in German which sound similar when pronounced (albeit incorrectly) which also add to the confusion. So in today’s post I will give you a few examples for each of these words.

 False friends: German words which sound similar to English words, but mean something else.

eventuell /eventually: eventuell means possible
aktuell / actual: aktuell means current
Chef /chef: Chef means boss
sensibel/sensible: sensible means sensitive
sympathisch/sympathetic: sympathisch means likeable, congenial or agreeable
Lektüre/lecture: Lektüre means the reading (of a novel)
Notiz/notice: Notiz means note
brav /brave: brav means good as in good girl
Akademiker/academic: Akademiker means graduate
Promotion/promotion: the main meaning of the work Promotion in German is to gain one’s doctorate, while the second meaning is similar to the English promotion – to promote something

 Words borrowed from English but mean something else.

Pullunder = slipover
Handy = mobile phone
Twen = twenty-to-thirty-year-old
Beamer = data projector
Showmaster= compere
Smoking = dinner jacket/ tuxedo
Dressman = male model
Slip = briefs

 German words which sound similar and can confuse English speakers.

Kirche/ Kirsche = church/ cherry
Schwul / schwül = gay / humid
Hummer / Hummel = lobster/ bumblebee
Kummer / Kümmel = grief or sorrow/caraway

There are many more false friends, English sounding words and words that can get confused in German. If you know more examples – let me know below.
Thanks for reading. Helen 🙂

Helen White

I am a bilingual journalist, jewellery designer, German tutor, and translator – and I am passionate about cats.

Helen White – who has written posts on Helen Kaut Press.


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