False friends are pairs of words or phrases in different languages that look or sound similar, but mean different things.
The popular example is the English embarrassed (feeling self-conscious and awkward) and the Spanish embarazada (pregnant). It’s easy to see why a Spanish learner might think they understand due to the similarity and go on to make mistakes in their vocabulary.
False friends are an important type of learner errors to understand, as they can easily remain undetected by monitoring in teaching practice. Without the proper use of concept checking questions, a learner can go for weeks or months thinking they understand some vocabulary, developing bad habits, and finally embarrassing themselves when they discover the true meaning in a real-life social situation.
Every language has false friends with English words. There’s simply no way CELTA trainees can learn them all and cross-reference each learner’s native language. Instead, we must use concept checking questions (CCQs) and eliciting to get into the heads of our learners, and really understand what they think they know.
Here are just a few false friends with examples of concept checking questions.
Gift = Poison (German)
CCQ: “What was the last gift you received?”
Sensible = Sensitive (Spanish)
CCQ: “How can you be sensible with money?”
Beyond concept checking questions, there’s not many ways to incorporate knowledge of false friends into your lesson plans or teaching as you’ll very likely be teaching a class of mixed nationalities. However, you can benefit by making a relevant reference to false friends in your Focus on the Learner written assignment.