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14. False friends in German

The increased usage of English loan words in German may not be as much of a boon to the English speaker as it may appear. For it often makes the problem of 'false friends' (or more accurately 'false cognates') - treacherous words which appear to be the same in both languages but in fact mean something entirely different. Who would have thought for example that Germans would use the pseudo-anglicism 'der Dressman' to mean 'male model'? Or that 'das Mobbing' means 'workplace bullying'? Or that if you tried to eat 'ein Cracker' you would be getting your teeth into a computer hacker?

Of course this is a problem which is by no means new. It has always been the case that you should be wary of a German trying you offer you a 'Gift' - he is trying to poison you! And a German child who is being 'brav' is not being 'brave' but 'well-behaved'. And businessmen should also care - a German 'Billion' is actually the same amount as an English 'trillion'!

To test your knowledge of these false friends (and to show that a working knowledge of English isn't enough to communicate in German!), here are 25 German words that appear to mean one thing to an English speaker, but in fact have a very different meaning. Try to work out what the meaning of each word is, and then place your mouse over the word 'Antwort' (= 'answer') to find out what it really means.

1. das Gift  Antwort
2. das Handy  Antwort
3. der Flipper  Antwort
4. der Mist  Antwort
5. der Spanner  Antwort
6. genial  Antwort
7. das Gymnasium  Antwort
8. der Kipper  Antwort
9. der Knacker  Antwort
10. die Musikbox  Antwort
11. die Taste  Antwort
12. der Rat  Antwort
13. das Armband  Antwort
14. der Buckel  Antwort
15. brav  Antwort
16. die Allee  Antwort
17. die Wand  Antwort
18. der Tag  Antwort
19. der Strand  Antwort
20. der Pate  Antwort
21. das Bad  Antwort
22. der Rock  Antwort
23. der Stock  Antwort
24. der Brand  Antwort
25. das Boot  Antwort

 Web Links 
False friends between German and English A highly informative article on the perils of German false cognates written by Diane Nicholls for MED Magazine.
False friends quiz Test yourself on these commonly occurring German false cognates.
False cognates An alphabetical list of false cognates in German.
False friends This list of false friends for German students learning English is also valid for English native speakers studying German.
English-German false friends An extensive collection of false friends in English and German compiled by Bruce Macfarlane.

Now that it has become clear that a good knowledge of English is not sufficient to speak German, you should be ready to start this course. Move! The first of the two links below will take you to the online guide to German pronunciation. The second link takes you directly to Chapter 1 of the course.

Weiter!Go to the online guide to German pronunciation

Weiter!Go to Chapter 1 of this German course

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