Newsletter: 27 September 2010

When I first began teaching English in France, I heard an expression I had never encounterd before: False Friends. What in the world could that mean? Only a Frenchman studying English would know … that he meant word look-alikes or even worse, imposters or traitors!

There are quite a few words which, in French and in English, have the same or similar spellings, maybe the same roots, maybe even similar pronunciations but which are not used in the same ways in the two languages.  As with wild mushrooms … some look-alikes … are dangerous.

If you hear a Frenchman say “actually” in English … you can be suspicious. The word slips into a sentence easily and isn’t illogical in most cases. If the Frenchman knows that the word means “in fact” and he uses it that way … that’s fine. BUT if he thinks that “actually” is the faithful translation of the French word “actuellement” … we’re mistaken and into … look-alikes: A fair translation of the idea of “actuellement” would be “now, at the present time.”

Not just two words but two different concepts.

The French word, actuel, expresses a concept in TIME; the English word actual expresses the concept of fact, of ACCURACY.

The same is true of the look-alike “eventuel” and the English “eventual.” The French word means … perhaps, maybe, possibly, could be, might be … The concept behind the word: what about … non-committment ?

And the English word “eventual” ? Sooner or later we’ll get to that one … when we’re into the concept of time … we’ll get there …. gradually.

Misunderstandings are born of … assumptions. Beware of look-alikes!

Tip of the day: In order to avoid misunderstandings, ask questions!  Just to confirm what you think you understood. It’s very … economical.

Fortunately … “false” friends aren’t the only kind … There are real and sincere friendships too, with long and deep roots, including one that is called Franco-American.

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