Globally, English is one of the most spoken and popular languages. Many English speakers believe that other cultures will understand the English words they use, without realizing that some of the words in English have different connotations or meanings in different languages. Many of these English words are the same in spelling, for example in German, Dutch, Polish, Spanish, Sweden and many other languages, but they have different meanings.
Other words sound like English words with a slight difference in pronunciation, such as taxi, which in Korean is taek-si (pronounced taek-shi).
The words may be similar due to them coming from the same language family or due to loan words. In some cases they are ”false friends” meaning the words stand for something else from what you know.
- In English “to use the voice,” means to say something “aloud.” In Dutch, aloud means “ancient”
- The English word “angel” means a supernatural being often represented with wings. Angel in German translates to ”fishing rod” and ”sting” in Dutch.
- You mean something not specific or whatever when you say “any.” But in Catalan, it is equivalent to “year” although others use the word “curs.”
- The arm is an upper body extremity but for the Dutch it is the term used when they mean “bad.” But the English term ”bad” is equivalent to ”bath” in Dutch.
- Bank could be an institution where people deposit their money, something or someone you trust or the sloping land close to a body of water. For the Dutch, ”bank” means cough.
- An outlying building in a farm is called ”barn,” which is the term for ”children” in Dutch. On the other hand the English word ”bat” refers to a flying mammal or a club used to hit a ball. In Polish, the word means, ”whip.”
- Beer in English means a ”bear” in Dutch, while they use the term ”big” to refer to a ”baby pig.”
- “Car in a motorized vehicle, but for the French, it means ”because.” A chariot for the English speakers is a horse-drawn vehicle or a carriage, but the French use this term to mean something smaller, like a ”trolley.”
- You use the term ”chips” when you mean ”French fries” while the French use ”Crisps” when they say chips.
- Donkey in Spanish is ”burro” whereas for the Italian, it means ”butter.”
- The English word ”gift” means ”poison” in German and Norwegian and ”married” in Swedish.
- “Home” is where you live, but it means ”mold” in Finnish and ”man” in Catalan.
- “Panna” is cream in English and in Italian, but means ”put” in Finnish. In Polish, they use the term it indicate “a single woman.”
- The Spanish term for frog is “rana,” but rana means, ”wound” in Romanian and Bulgarian.
- “Sugar” is something sweet and it’s a sweet term used by Romanians for a baby aged 0-12 months. But the speakers of Basque use the term to mean ”flame.”
- Tuna is a large fish that is a Japanese favorite when making sashimi. The term means ”cactus” in Spanish or a ”ton” in Czech.
- “Fart” is a vulgar English word that means expelling intestinal gas. But it means ”good luck” in Polish and ”speed” in Swedish. In French, though, ”pet” is the translation of ”fart” (yes, the foul-smelling variety).
- Cake in Icelandic is ”kaka” but it is an ”older sister” in Bulgarian. “Kind” means ”child” in German but ”sheep” in Icelandic.
- You’re likely to say ”prego” when you’re in Italy instead of the usual ”thank you” but it means something very mundane in Portuguese. In Portugal, it is the term they use for ”nail.”
- ”Privet” is a type of evergreen shrub or small tree that you can use as a border wall. But in Russian, privet, which means ”greetings,” is informally used to say ”hello.”
- Watercress is a salad green that is called ”berros” in Spanish. The Portuguese however has a very different meaning to berros. To them, it means scream.
- When you hear the Swedes say ”bra,” they mean ”good,” instead of a type of women’s underwear.
- “But” is a conjunction in English, whereas the Polish use the term to indicate ”shoe.”
- This one is a bit similar. The term ”cap” is the Romanian word for ”head.” We say ”door” when we mean the opening to gain access into a room or the panel that opens and closes an entrance. Door in Dutch is almost similar, as it means ”through.”
- ”Fast” in German means almost, while ”elf” means the number eleven. ”Grad” is the German term for ”degree” but means a ”city” in Bosnian.
- Make sure you remember this. When is Spain, “largo” means ”long” but it means ”wide” in Portuguese.
- The meaning of ”pasta” is very different in Polish and Italian. In Italian it is the term for ”noodles,” while in Polish, it means ”toothpaste.” When you’re in Norway, “sau” means sheep while in Germany, it means sow (female pig). “Pig” is ”gris” in Swedish while in Spanish, gris means ”gray.”
- “Glass” is something shiny, hard and brittle in English, but it turns to soft, cold, sweet and gooey ”ice cream” when you’re in Sweden.
- The Italians use the word ”vela” when they mean, ”sail.” In Spain though it means ”candle.”
- The number six in Spanish is ”seis” and for the Finnish, they say this when they mean, ”stop!”
- The big, blue ”sky” means ”gravy” in Swedish, while ”roof” means ”robbery” in Dutch.
- When a Swedish says, ”kiss,” it means ”pee” instead of caressing with the lips.
- “Carp” is a fish beloved in Japan and it is a type of freshwater fish found in Asia and Europe. But in Romanian, the carp is called ”crap.” Hmm…
- Trombone is a musical instrument. It is the instrument of choice for some of the famous artists such as Joseph Alessi, J.J. Johnson, Glenn Miller, Tommy Dorsey and Frank Rosolino. But in French, it is something very ordinary – a paper clip.
- “Awesome” in German is “hammer.”
- “Barf” means ”snow” in Urdu, Hindi and Farsi.
Be careful with your words
Words can hurt other people if you are not careful. English speakers who love to travel should take time to learn the culture and read about the quirks and characteristics of the main language spoken in their destination. They should know that some words in a foreign language might sound like English but stand for something different in another language.
If you are in Wales, do not feel slighted when you hear a Welsh-speaking native say ”moron” while you’re in the market. The person might be trying to sell you some ”carrots.”
In English, you can say you ”won” something and feel proud or happy. In South Korea, it is their national currency. When a house is said to be ”won” in Polish, it means that it is ”nice smelling.” Russia has a different interpretation, however. In Russian, using the word ”won” means describing something that ”stinks.”
The Spanish term ”oficina” translates into ”office” in English. But for the Portuguese, an ”oficina” is only a ”workshop,” such as a mechanic’s shop.
The term ”schlimm” sounds like ”slim” in English. In the Netherlands, this stands for being smart or successful. But in Germany, which is 467.3 kilometers away from the Netherlands by car via A44, (roughly a five-hour drive), schlimm means ”unsuccessful and dim-witted!
English speakers understand that ”slut” is a derogatory word. But for the Swedish, this means ”finished” or the ”end,” something that you’d say when you want your relationship with your Swedish boyfriend or girlfriend is over. So when you’re in Sweden, you’ll see signs such as ”slutspurt” that means a final sale or ”slutstation” when you’ve reached a train line’s end.
If you’re an urbanite, it is difficult to enjoy fresh air unless you go to the countryside. “Air” in Malay (sounds like a-yah), which is an official language in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and Brunei, it means ”water.” When you mean the ”air” you breathe, you use the word ”udara.”
In English and in German, the word ”dick” is derogatory. It means ”fat” or ”thick” in German.
You might think that the Spanish appetizer ”tapas” is universally understood when you’re in South America because you are so used to seeing tapas bars in the U.S., UK, Canada, Mexico and Ireland (or their own version of it). However, in Brazil, where Portuguese is an official language, ”tapas” means ”slap” rather than a delicious snack. If you want to have tapas-like snacks to go with your beer, the right term to use is ”petiscos” or ”tira-gostos.” Now you know the right term to use when you’re in Brazil. If you go to Mexico, you can order ”botanas” and ask for some ”picada” in Argentina or ”cicchetti” if you happen to be in Venice. In South Korea, tapas-like appetizers are called ”anju.”
In Portuguese, the word ”peidei” that sounds like ”payday” means, ”I farted.”
Salsa is a wonderful, graceful and thrilling dance style, but in South Korea, when you hear the word ”seolsa,” which sounds like ”salsa” it refers to ”diarrhea.”
Speaking of diarrhea, in Japanese, the term they use is ”geri,” which sounds like the name ”Gary.”
”Dai,” an Italian word, is pronounced like the English word ”die.” The literal translation of this is ”from” but it is colloquially used by the Italians to mean, ”Come on!”
The English term ”retard” could either mean delay or move slowly. It could also mean moron or imbecile. In French, ”retardé” translates to delay as well.
There is an English term called a ”smoking jacket” which is a mid-length jacket for men that is often made of quilted satin or velvet. The French however call a ”tuxedo,” which is a semi-formal evening suit, ”smoking.”
“Horny” is an English term that is mostly associated to feelings of being aroused or turned on. Literally, it means something with horn-like projections, many horns or made of horns, such as ”horny coral” or ”horny toad.” But ”horní” in Czech simply means ”upper.”
In Spanish, ”gato” means ”cat” but ”gateux” is ”cake” in French.
Eagle is a soaring bird. In Germany, the word ”igel” that has a similar pronunciation to ”eagle” actually means ”hedgehog.”
The term ”thongs” is usually associated with sexy swimwear or underwear. When you’re in Australia though, thongs refer to rubber flip-flops.
In Polish, the month of April is ”Kwiecień” while in Czech, the similarly sounding term, ”Květen” is for the month of May.
For English speakers a ”preservative” is a chemical compound that prevents decomposition of something. But be careful when you say the word while in France, as this means ”condom” for the French. It means the same thing in many different languages in Europe as well, such as:
- Prezervativ (Albanian)
- Preservative (Italian)
- Prezervatīvs (Latvian)
- Prezervatyvas (Lithuanian)
- Prezerwatywa (Polish)
- Preservative (Portuguese)
- Prezervativ (Romanian)
- Prezervativ (Russian)
- Prezervatyv (Ukranian)
‘In Spanish, ”si” means yes, but ”no” in Swahili. “No” is ”yes” in Czech (a shortened version of “ano.” “La” is ”no” in Arabic.
”Entrée” is a French term that translates to ”appetizer.” In American English though, term is used to indicate the ”main course.”
“Mama” in Russian and in several other different languages means ”mother.” However, in Georgian, ”mama” is the term for ”father.”
Languages are definitely fascinating and interesting, but there is enough reason to learn a few things about it to avoid a faux pas when you are in another country, because English words could mean differently. Ensure that your English documents are translated accurately in different languages by getting in touch with a translator from Day Translations, Inc. Our translators are not only native speakers; they are also subject matter experts. Give us a call at 1-800-969-6853 or send us an email at email@example.com for a quick quote. Our translators are located world-wide and we are open every single day of the year. We can serve you any time, wherever you are located.
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