20 funny 'lost in translation' language pitfalls

'False friends' are words that look or sound familiar but have a totally different meaning from the one you think they have. Here are 20 you really need to watch out for...

8 mins

See the Dutch advertisement above? It's advertising biscuits and the child is actually saying "Mama, that one, that one, that one” – but it's a bit misleading for the uninformed reader! The word die is actually pronounced differently in both English and Dutch, but if you’re just starting out, it easy to see how the mistake can be made.

Here’s our list of some of the most common linguistic false friends, and an explanation of what they really mean. Hopefully, you won't get caught out...

1. Actor/aktor

In Norway, an aktor is a 'prosecutor'. Hopefully, he can handle the truth.

2. Apart/apart

In Korea, living apart means 'living in an apartment' – alone or with others.

3. Assist/assistir

In Portugal it means ‘to watch’ rather than ‘to help’.

4. Bra/bra

In English, it is a female undergarment. In Swedish it means 'good'.

5. Constipation/constipação

Don’t be alarmed: your Portuguese friend simply has a cold.

6. Deceive/déçevoir

In France, it means someone is simply 'feeling disappointed'.

7. Dress/dress

In Norway, more men wear a dress than women. That’s because in Norway it means 'suit'.

8. Embarrassed/embarazado

In Spanish, embarazado means 'pregnant'. Embarrassing, huh?

9. Eventually/eventuellt

In Sweden, they mean 'possibly', rather than 'at some point in the future'.

10. Full/ful

Take care saying you’re full after eating in Sweden. There, ful means ugly.

11. Gift/gift

In Germany, gift means 'poison'. Even more reason to never look a gift horse in the mouth.

12. Grammar/guramaa

You might think you’re complimenting your Japanese friend on her carefully constructed sentences. She’ll think you're telling her she’s got large breasts.

13. Hiya/hiya

A casual hello in Turkey sounds like their word for testicle. You have been warned.

14. Humorous/humoroso

In English, it means 'funny'. The Portuguese word means 'capricious'.

15. Jublilation/jubilación

In English, the word means 'happiness'. The Spanish word means 'retirement' or 'pension money'.

16. Lunatic/lunatik

In English, it’s someone who is mad. In Russian, they are simply sleepwalking.

17. Nervous/nervos

In Russia, if someone is nervos it means they are irritating.

18. Push/puxe

Pronounced ‘poosh’, puxe actually means 'to pull' in Portuguese.

19.  Rat/rat

In English, it is a furry rodent. In German, it’s the local council. No difference there then.

20. Soy/soy

Vegetarians should be careful asking for soy in a restaurant. In Spain it means ‘you’, and could be considered a little forward.

Fun fact: Vauxhall had to change the name of their Nova when they started selling it in Spain. In Spain, no va means 'doesn't go'.

Have you ever been tripped up by a linguistic false friend in your travels? Tell us about it in the comments below...

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