The battle of learning a new language can be quite exhausting at times, especially because of the existence of the so-called false friends – words that have similarities with those from your native or another language you may know, nevertheless, the meaning is completely different.
In the German language, one can find an abundance of such words, which can make the learning process much more perplexing. At the beginning of such a process, it’s only normal that we don’t understand every single word we come across and neither should we. What we are supposed to do is to try to understand the content in general, for instance when we are reading, rather than translating everything word by word. Our instinct is to rely on our linguistic ability to find a logical interpretation of those words we cannot wrap our heads around.
Unfortunately, sometimes, as much as we try to do that, we’ll find ourselves constantly hitting a wall because we encounter false friends. Make yourself a favor and remember the following words.
We start off the list with some deceitful verbs you should be on the lookout for. Bekommen gives most English speakers a wrong impression since they tend to associate it with the English verb become when in fact, it has nothing to do with it. The German bekommen means to get as in Ich habe einen neuen Job bekommen (I got a new job).
Wandern is another misleading verb since it is written the same as wander without the extra letter n. Despite this similarity, the German verb does not carry the meaning to wander or stroll around without any purpose. It rather has a much more specific meaning which is to hike.
Last but not least in the group of deceiving verbs is spenden. Whatever your assumption of the meaning of this word is, which probably is to spend, it’s not true. The correct translation is to donate as in Blut spenden (to donate blood). In case you are curious, ausgeben is the suitable verb that translates as to spend.
The correlation between the English fast and the German fast is equal to zero. The true meaning is almost or nearly, meaning in German fast is not even an adjective, but an adverb. When something is speedy or moving quickly, the right word to say in German is schnell.
In Germany don’t praise the chef for the delicious meal, but rather the Koch. Weird enough, Chef stands for a boss. It’s completely irrelevant to anything that has to do with cooking.
This is one of the most fallacious of false friends within the German vocabulary. I don’t blame you if you get easily confused. If you are capable of reading in German, you already know that the umlaut a is pronounced as e, thus, any newcomer to the German language would imply that it might mean to be pregnant. In reality, it means to be precise. For future reference, schwanger is the word you are looking for when describing a woman that is expecting.
Although land can refer to an area in general in the German language as well, most of the time this word denotes a state. Aus welchem Land kommst du?, would ask a German, referring to your country of origin. You can notice this word also in the collocation Bundesland (der Bund + das Land = association + state). As you may know, Germany is made up of 16 Bundesländer or sovereign states, which gives an even clearer picture of what’s the primary meaning of the word land for Germans.
Last but not least on the endless list of false friends is aktuell. Learners are inclined to translate it as actually, which is far from the correct interpretation. The actual translation is current or latest as in aktuelle Nachrichten (latest news).