False Friends and Borrowed Words: One Big Linguistic Family!

False FriendsThe English language seems to crop up everywhere. Whether you are reading a German newspaper, a Spanish book or watching French TV, English words tend to stick out a mile to our eyes and ears. Weekend, networking, podcast, hot dog, CD, parking, PC, picnic, sandwich, camping – all these words and many more are peppered throughout non-English languages. But is it a good thing that English words are used so widely in other languages?


Borrowed words

Not everyone likes borrowed words. Some people would say that the English langauges dominates enough in the world of communication and that English should keep its beak out!

For example, the head of the Accadmia della Crusca in Italy has been concerned about the number of English words used in Italian within the media.

But what about foreign words present in the English language? There are many of these borrowed words, including: kindergarten, portmanteau, ad hoc, bona fide, faux pas, entrepreneur, status quo, pyjama, macho, villa, blitz – the list goes on.


False friends

Languages share many common words, which can be great for EFL students and other language learners as there will be a certain number of words that you can guess the meaning of.

However, take care because this is where the ‘false friends’ can get you into trouble! False friends are those words that look the same but mean something entirely different. These words could lead you into a linguistically dangerous situation!


Even the same languages can have words that change their meaning depending on where you are in the world or even the country.

For example, the word ‘pants’ means trousers in America but underwear in England. The word ‘wee’ means small in Scotland but urine in England. It’s a linguistic minefield! But who said language learning couldn’t be fun?

False Friends - English and AmericanAll words derive from somewhere – some 28% of English words have a Latin origin. The more we learn about language the more similarities we can find. We are all part of one big linguistic family!

For non-native English speakers it can be comforting to see foreign words from their own language dotted around the English language when reading a newspaper or listening to the radio.

Similarly, English speakers are happy to hear their own language occasionally when on holiday abroad. A familiar language can certainly make you feel at home. The mingling of languages in this way can also work to bring cultures together.


What are the most interesting English words you have seen used in other languages?

Which useful words has English borrowed from elsewhere?

Have you seen an obscure word from your own native language used in an English text?


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2 thoughts on “False Friends and Borrowed Words: One Big Linguistic Family!

  1. In German we use the English word handy for mobil phone. Maybe because it definitely is handy. Beginners then use the word handy for mobile because they think it’s already an English word so it must be the same word English people use.

  2. That’s really interesting, Johannes – thanks for sharing. English people may think they are talking about a handkerchief or their hands 🙂 Such an easy mistake to make with false friends, but these situations do make language leaning more fun!

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