Don’t Believe Everything You See

One of the problems that Catalan and Spanish speaking students of English have is that there are some words that look the same in their language as in English, but have different meanings.  These are often called False Friends.  For example, the English word “actual” would be translated into Catalan and Spanish as “real.”  There is also an English word “real,” and it means the same as “actual”, so students can avoid the problem by using it instead.  The meaning that “actual” has in Catalan and Spanish would be translated into English as “current,” which is similar to the “corrent” or “corriente” and has the same meaning.

Another False friend is the English verb “assist.”  It is a synonym of “help” and has the same meaning as “ajudar” or “ayudar,” but it is more formal than “help.”  An example would be the British English expression “shop assistant,” which in American English would be “clerk” or “shop clerk.”  The correct English translation of “assistir” is “to attend.”  However, the Catalan verb, “atendre” and the Spanish verb “atender” can be translated in a commercial sense as “help” but more in the sense of “to serve” as in a shop or restaurant.  This is also the case in English with the word, “bartender.”

One of the more famous of these False Friends is the Catalan and Spanish word, “carpeta.”  Its English equivalent is “folder.”  The English infinitive,“to fold,” would be translated as “plegar” or “doblar.”  Another example of this is “billfold.”  Carpet, the English word that is often confused is used to refer to “catifa” or “alfombra.”  “Wall-to-wall carpet” would be translated as “moqueta.”

Another famous False Friend is the English word, “exit,” which means “sortida” or “salida.”  The Catalan and Spanish words, èxit or éxito, are translated into English as “success.”  So, “No Exit” means “cul de sac” or “callejón sin salida” and not “unsuccessful” or “failure.”  BUT BE CAREFUL!  The Catalan word, “succés” and the Spanish word, “suceso” are translated into English as “event.”  Again, in this case, the student could avoid the confusion by translating from “event” in Catalan or “evento” in Spanish.

Americano” would be translated as “American” if it referred to a person and his or her nationality, but if it referring to an article of clothing («americana»), it would be translated as a “sports coat” or a “jacket.”

And just to make things more complicated, the English word “fabric” would be translated into Catalan as “teixit” and into Spanish as “tela.”  “Fàbrica” in Catalan or “fábrica” in Spanish are translated into English as “factory.” However, the factories that originally produced in fabric in the States and the U.K. were referred to as “mills.”  This word has another translation which is closer to Catalan, “molí” and Spanish, “molino.”

In conclusion, languages are treacherous!  Even though there are lots of words in English that look similar to Catalan and Spanish words and have the same meaning, this is not a universal tendency.  There are lots of False Friends, so be careful and when in doubt, use a dictionary.

 

Written by Mike Dean Alger for Aston School

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