False friends are words that look or sound the same as words in the learner's first language but in fact are not so, causing the learner to make a mistake.

drawn image of three brains processing

They can be compared with cognates, which are words that are the same in different languages.

The Spanish word 'sensible' means sensitive in English and the German word 'gift' means poison.

In the classroom
Learners usually enjoy doing simple translations of sentences containing false cognates, and this can result in amusing mis-translations, which help learners focus on the correct version. Dealing with false cognates can help remove a major source of common mistakes for a group of learners. It is useful for a teacher to be aware of the common false cognates of various L1s and to anticipate problems when looking at materials for lessons.

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