This week’s education article in The Telegraph titled: ‘How to avoid embarrassing foreign language faux pas’ is an insightful one. The prospect of accidently using a word in English that has a completely different meaning in another language (known as a ‘false friend’) could leave you a bit red-faced or indeed knee-deep in ‘hot water’ depending on the context. It certainly makes you wonder just how often this sort of thing happens across the water and what difficult scenarios innocent holidaymakers may have found themselves in as a result of these ‘false friends’.
Although for the most part, we Brits are happy to visit destinations where we don’t speak a word of the local lingo, some of us like to ‘dabble’ in the art of learning a new language, or at least like to learn a few key phrases or words to help aid us in our quest to overcome the language barrier. But if this recent article is anything to go by, there is a danger that we’ll unintentionally end up saying something we’ll regret; and since there is no strategic way of identifying ‘false friends’ because they are usually coincidental, there is no way of knowing when such a scenario may strike. In fact, the only people that will spot the faux pas straight off are those who speak the language first-hand (a local citizen or an experienced interpreter/linguist).
Indeed, the consequences of a misunderstood conversation will also differ greatly from country to country and from person to person. But one thing is for sure, you might get more than you bargained for if you find yourself in
ordering a coffee in a mugg as this means mouldy or mildew, or
you ask for a full cup, because that
means drunk. And as The Telegraph quite
rightly points out, if your attempt at overseas communication goes horribly
wrong and you find yourself in hot water needing legal help, you could always
ask for an aktor (it means prosecutor
rather than the performing variety). Of
course, you could use a qualified interpreter to communicate in other languages
instead; with hindsight it will probably save time, a red face and avoid any
awkward or unpleasant repercussions… Norway