One of the most confusing things when you’re learning a new language are called false friends. Thankfully, they’re not people who only pretend (behave in a certain way, when they actually think the opposite) to be your friend! “False friends” refers to words in two languages that look similar, but have different meanings. These words can be frustrating (annoying) when you’re learning a new language, because false friends look so similar. However, we’re here to help!

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!

For example (become):

  • He is about to become a father. His wife is having a baby in two weeks, and he’s so excited!
  • How do you become a teacher? What do you have to do to start teaching?

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!

For example (learn):

  • Did you learn about Roman history when you were in school? What was the most interesting part for you?
  • She is learning how to knit. She really enjoys trying out new skills!

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 in English, 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.

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

For example (billion):

  • His goal is to own a billion dollar company. He has some good ideas, so it might work out!
  • There are more than a billion stars in the sky. It’s hard to imagine there being such a large number of stars!

Isolate/ isolieren

Isolate in English and isolieren in German are very similar. To be isolated in English 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.

For example (isolate):

  • He wanted somewhere far away from people or towns to go to on the weekends, so he built an isolated cabin in the woods.
  • When someone has a very serious disease that can be easily spread to others, it’s best to keep them isolated so that they can’t infect other people.

Brave/ brav

This is one I got confused all the time when I was learning German! 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!

For example (brave):

  • When I was small, I was always scared to get a shot at the doctor’s. But the nurse told me if I was brave and didn’t cry, that I would get a sticker afterwards.
  • His favorite superheroes were always brave in dangerous situations, so he tried to be the same way.

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, so don’t be afraid to try out new words. Can you think of any other false friends? Stay tuned for some more next week!

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Check out these other popular blogs: Taboo words in English7 Synonyms for Being Drunk7 American English Slang Words, or these Sports Idioms used in English!

Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher, blogger, yoga instructor, and finds false friends very interesting! In real life, she’s a very true friend, though.

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