It is a very lucky set of circumstances when a word in a particular language is strikingly similar in a language that we happen to be learning. This occurs very often with words that tend to be newer in their origins. For example, the word ‘computer’ sounds the same or is often the same word in many of the world’s languages. Even in very exotic languages. Concepts like ‘telephone’ and slightly more recent ‘download’ will often be the same in many different languages. These kinds of words are called cognates in language. Interesting enough, the word ‘cognato’ means ‘brother-in-law’ in Italian. So these words are NOT cognates!
Some good examples of English-Polish Cognates include:
English – Polish
information – informacja
telephone – telefon
emigrate – emigrować
accept – akceptować
Also very often words that have Latin origins (called Latinates) will be the same in many languages. Words like accept, reception, regulate, and use have very similar words across Europe.
This is all fantastic from a learner’s perspective and gives the false hope that learning a new language will be a piece of cake however we must always be on the lookout for the evil twin brother of the cognate – The False Friend.
A false friend (also False Cognate) is a word that has a very similar looking word in a different language but a different meaning. Below is a list of some of the most troublesome and recurring Polish – English False Friends
Eventually is NOT the same as the Polish word ‘ewentualnie’.
Eventually – After some time, in the end (w końcu)
Ewentualnie – Close to English “possibly”
Actually is NOT the same as the Polish word ‘aktualny’
Actually – in fact, really (tak naprawdę, właściwie)
Aktualny – close to English “valid”, “still on” or “current”
Preservative vs. prezerwatywa
Preservative – a substance which keeps a food in a good state for a longer period of time (środek konserwujący)
Prezerwatywa = a condom
Fabric vs. fabryka
Fabric – a material
Fabryka – a factory, a large building where stuff is made
Fart vs. fart
Fart – flatulence, passing gas from your lower extremities
Fart in Polish means luck or good fortune
Lunatic vs. lunatyk
A lunatic – a manic, disturbingly crazy person
Lunatyk in Polish means that someone walks in their sleep. A sleepwalker.
Sympathetic vs. sympatyczny
Sympathetic – someone who is sympathetic is able to understand someone’s feelings be looking from their point of view.
Sympatyczny – nice, friendly
Transparent vs. transparent
Transparent – if something is transparent you can see through it. A window is transparent.
Transparent – a kind of a banner or poster
Dress vs. dres
Whether you are a man or a woman you may be very surprised at what you get if you walk into a sports apparel shop and tell them you’d like to buy a ‘dress’ for the gym. The English shop keeper will give you what you asked for….a ‘sukienka’.
Be sure to ask for a ‘tracksuit’.
No vs no
There is a saying in English that goes; “No means No” suggesting that when someone is refusing an offer or request we shouldn’t try to force them if they have refused or said ‘No’. Unfortunately the Polish word ‘No’ means ‘Yes’. In colloquial Polish saying a nice open sounding ‘no’ means ‘yes’ perhaps closer to the English ‘yeah’ but nevertheless it signifies agreement. How is THAT for a confusing false cognate?!
What about you? Do you have any funny stories about making a false friend language mistake in a Poland or abroad? Let us know in the comments below.