False friends between Russian and English

by InterPress ELT consultant Marina Vyskrebentseva

 

Oxford Advanced Learners Dictionary defines the word false friend as a word in a foreign language that looks similar to a word in your own language, but has a different meaning. For instance, in Russian, familiya means last name, not family, and magazin means store, not magazine. Sometimes, the differences are more subtle. For example, student means university student, not high school or elementary school student.

The problem with many of these words is that Russian borrowed them from the same source as English borrowed them from, but in many cases Russian kept closer to the original meaning.

Thus, the word chef was borrowed from French into English with more specific meaning of chief cook, while it was, and still is, the original meaning in French. Thus, chef is a false friend between both English and French and English and Russian, but a true friend between French and Russian. The same is true about many other words.

A vivid example of a serious mistake which led to misunderstanding by one English journalist occurred in 1996, just before the Russian presidential elections. On being told that Boris Yeltsin was unavailable because he was suffering from ѧߧԧڧߧ ( angina), the unfortunate journalist reported that the presidential candidate had a heart condition, when all he had was tonsillitis. Words can be very slippery sometimes but they help to keep us alert. 

False friends can cause difficulty for students learning a foreign language, particularly those that are related to their native language, because the students are likely to misidentify the words due to language interference. Since false friends are a common problem for language learners, teachers sometimes compile lists of false friends in order to help their students to avoid the usage mistakes.

The following list of false friends between Russian and English might be very useful for Russian learners of English

Russian word

English false friend

Recommended translatioz

ѧܧܧѧߧ

accurate

tidy

ѧߧԧڧߧ

angina

tonsillitis

ѧҧڧܧ

fabric

factory

stool

chair

ԧ֧ߧڧѧݧߧ

genial

brilliant, great, of genius

ާܧڧߧ

smoking

dinner jacket

ܧѧ٧ڧ

occasion

opportunity

ܧߧܧ

concourse

competition

֧

chef

boss

ݧߧѧڧ

lunatic

sleep-walker

ڧާѧڧߧ

sympathetic

likeable, nice, attractive

ܧѧӧѧԧѧߧߧ

extravagant

eccentric, bizarre, preposterous

ڧߧ֧ݧݧڧԧ֧ߧߧ

intelligent

cultured, educated

ާѧԧѧ٧ڧ

magazine

shop

ԧڧާߧѧ٧ڧ

gymnasium

grammar school or gymnasia

ܧѧҧڧߧ֧

cabinet

study, office

է֧ܧѧڧ

decoration

scenery, dcor

֧֧

receipt

recipe, prescription

ҧѧݧ

ball

point

ܧݧ֧

clay

glue

ڧߧާ֧ߧ

instruments

tools

ݧڧ

list

leaf

ާѧܧ

mark

stamp

֧ܧѧܧݧ

spectacle

performance, play, show

ӧ֧ݧӧ֧

velvet

corduroy


There is no doubt that this list is incomplete, we invite you to contribute to make further listings. The bad news is that there are thousands of false friends lurking out there waiting to trip us up. But the good news is that they can all be learnt.

If you feel like writing to us on the topic of false friends, dont hesitate to do it, please: marina@interpress.kz

For Further Reading: For a first attempt to include lists of false friends in a dictionary for learners of English, see: The Cambridge International Dictionary of English, Ed. Procter (CUP, 1995).

To look for lists of false friends between English and other languages we recommend to look at the ff websites: www.wikipedia.org; www.oup.com www.macmillandictionary.com/MED-magazine