Who’s never used a word assuming it meant something else and, in so doing, s/he has created misunderstandings or awkward situations?
Don’t worry, this is perfectly normal. In fact, it’s typical of the language learning process: learners rely on what they know to try to communicate into another language.
One of the nightmares par excellence of any language learner is represented by false friends. False friends are words which look and/or sound similar in two different languages but which carry different meanings.
Italian and English, for example, having been both influenced by Latin, have several similar words, so it’s pretty easy to fall into the trap of false friends.
For instance, if you say something like il resort era pieno di persone luride – meaning the resort was full of lurid people – you will probably get disgusting faces in reply, because in reality you’re saying that the resort was full of filthy people.
Instead, if you say ci sono molti alieni in Italia – meaning aliens (people belonging to a foreign country) – you’ll get either loud laughter or puzzled faces in reply. In fact, as far as I know very few Italians have been so lucky as to see a little green man in their whole life, let alone many! If you haven’t got it yet, in the Italian sentence above, alieni means only extraterrestrial beings. Stranieri was, instead, the right word to use – ci sono molti stranieri in Italia.
As you can see, false friends can be rather tricky, so I’ve prepared a table with the most common ones to try to help you out.1
How many of these words did you know?