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False friends - the vocabulary kind


While studying in Italy (as a young high school student) I visited the local grocery shop and ordered prosciutto and panini to take back to my classmates. I did so in the following manner:

Vorrei quattro pannini integrali e 3 etti di prosciutto cotto senza preservativi.

When the young man behind the counter, visibly blushed and began stammering his way through the slicing and wrapping process and then laughingly handed me my purchases, I figured something was up.

Upon arriving home, the mystery was solved. You see, preservatives are conservanti in Italian and preservativi are condoms.

So basically, I had ordered circa 3/4 pound of cooked ham without condoms. Ah yesssss! And you know what? I embraced that error and used it as an example for years and years while tutoring and teaching others. It is because of the very funny nature of the mistake that it stuck with me, thereby ensuring I would never make that mistake again. I am a firm believer of learning by association. So, don't be afraid! Get out there and communicate and if something funny or embarrassing happens along the way, use it, to further your learning.

body part or feminine support?

Some of the most engaging, amusing and challenging discussions have arisen during the study of, and misuse of, false friends in the classroom; pairs of words in two different languages that look/sound similar but are different in meaning. Because of the evident likeness, these words are naturally the "go to" terms for students while learning a foreign language.

It is of course necessary to learn to distinguish between the two false friends in order to avoid making language gaffes. However, having said that, I thoroughly encourage students to embrace and utilize their faux pas in order to learn. After all learning by association works. Let me illustrate with a real life personal example.

Here are a few more false friends from various European languages contrasted with the English language.

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