People learning a second language might have heard of the expression “false friend.” This term is used to describe words in different languages that look alike, but have different meanings.
Last month, we looked at examples of false friends in two languages, English and Spanish. Today we will tell you about another language — French — that has a lot of false friends, the French words faux amis, in English.
A history of faux amis
You may be surprised to learn that English gets 30 to 45 percent of its words from French. The reason goes back to the year 1066, when Norman forces invaded what is now Britain. The Normans were from northern France and spoke French. During the Norman occupation, French became the language of England’s rulers and wealthy class. This lasted for more than 300 years. Other people in England continued to speak English during this period.
Over time, the two languages combined and shared words. Some researchers believe that about 10,000 French words eventually entered the English language.
However, although English took many French words, their meanings have not always stayed the same. Sometimes the differences in meanings can be very important, and lead to funny or strange situations if the words are used the wrong way.
Take, for example, the French word collège. In English, college can often be used in place of the word university, or sometimes as a school within a university. However, in French, collège actually means “middle school,” or the level of schooling for students in grades five or six through eight.
Read more: Voice of America