False Friends – Not Just People

One of the most confusing things when you’re learning a new language is a false friend. No, they’re not people who only pretend to be your friend. “False friends” refers to words in two languages that look similar, but have different meanings.


Here you’ll find some of the most pesky English/German false friends and their meanings. Read on and improve your skills (in both languages)!


Become/ bekommen

Become and bekommen are two of the most easily confused words between German and English. Become (or werden in German) means to start to be something, while bekommen means to receive or get something.


Let’s all become a little better in our grammar so we can receive all the benefits!


Learn/ lernen

Do you lernen to help you learn? If you learn in English, you’re gaining knowledge or mastering a skill. Whereas lernen in German means “to study” in English.


So hit the books and study hard so that you can learn the grammar you need!


Billion/ Billion

When it comes to numbers in German, the structure is pretty straightforward… except for when it comes to the number Billion as compared to billion in English.


In English, a billion is a number with nine zeroes after it (1,000,000,000). In German, however, Billion is a trillion, or a number with twelve zeroes after it (1,000,000,000,000). If you’re looking to talk about the English billion in German, use the word Milliarde.


Also, let’s hope your business is doing well enough to talk in numbers this large!


Isolate/ isolieren

Isolate in English and isolieren in German are very similar. To be isolated means to be completely separated from others.


In German, the word has two meanings: isolated and insulated. For example, a house is well insulated so that it stays warm in the winter and cool in the summer, but may not be isolated at all! So keep an eye out for this one, English learners.



Brave/ brav


This is one I got confused all the time! Brave in English means that you don’t show any fear in frightening situations. In stark contrast, however, in German, brav means to be compliant and obedient in a submissive way.


If you’re looking to say brave in German, use mutig, and be brave with your use of your new language skills!



The next time you get a bit confused with your word choice, take a moment, think, and then go for it! There are words that confuse both English and German learners due to their similar spellings.


Can you think of any other false friends? Stay tuned for some more next week! 


Erin Duffin lives in Berlin, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and has definitely studied enough English to become a brave blogger!




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