“False Friends”

My Czech mother-in-law spent some time with us last week and I am so proud to say that I was able to communicate with her in Czech without any difficulty during those times.  Gone were the days when we had to resort to body language just to be able to express what we wanted to say.  My Czech grammar isn’t perfect, but my language proficiency is at a level where I can communicate and be understood.

New Czech Step by Step: A Basic Course in the Czech Language for English-speaking Foreigners

However, in my continuing quest to learn the Czech language, I would have to say that one of the most challenging aspects is the existence of “false friends”  These are words that may sound similar in English and Czech but entirely have different meanings.  Thanks to this book, I can now refer to some of these words when confronted with a situation where I am not really sure about the meaning.

Here is an illustration of my point.  Although English words such as doctor and medicine are also doktor and medicina in Czech, other medically important words have “false friends.”  For example, if you want to say “ambulance, ” you cannot say ambulance (pronounced ambu-lan-tse)  because it means outpatient department.  The proper term is sanitka  which might be confused with sanitary in English.  In Czech, kontrola means check-up which can be confused with control in English.

You might hear somebody say he/she finished highschool in a gymnazium because a gymnazium is a secondary school, not a gym.   List is a leaf or a piece of paper in Czech.  Seznam is the proper word to use if you want to say list, as in list of things to buy or list of things to do.   While a host is the one who is hosting a party, a host is a guest in Czech.  A šéf  (pronounced “chef”) is not a chef but a boss.   The one who makes the food is a kuchař.

And never ever say kurva if you want to say curve because it means whore in Czech.  The proper term is křivka.  But perhaps the funniest “false friend” is preservativ  which you may confuse as preservative in food but actually means condom in Czech.  Preservative in food is konzervační in Czech.

About 2 years ago, I had my own funny experience with these “false friends” at a conversation with an older woman who was my former neighbor in the other house we used to live in.  In one of our small talks, I told her I was cooking pasta (toothpaste in Czech)  for dinner.

20 thoughts on ““False Friends”

  1. thankfully my mother in law who is mexican knows a lot of english..for the rest we to do body language or point at things. otherwise we would be doing a lot of pointing and body language 🙂


  2. Czech and Polish languages – there are true False Friends. Both languages are slavic and very similar. Czech and Polish people can be understood very well without an interpreter, but sometimes it can be very funny when talking Czech and Pole.
    For example:
    1. KVETEN (cz) – mean MAY (month) and KWIECIEŃ (pl) – mean APRIL;
    2. PACHNE (cz) – mean STINKS and PACHNIE (pl) – mean SMELLS NICE;
    3. LASKA (cz) – mean LOVE and LASKA (pl) – mean STAFF or STICK
    4. NAPAD (cz) – mean IDEA and NAPAD (pl) – mean ATTACK;
    5. ROZPUSTNA (cz) – mean DISSOLVE and ROZPUSTNA (pl) – mean DEBAUCHEE or HARLOT;
    6. DIVKA (cz) – mean YOUNG GIRL and DZIWKA (pl) – mean WHORE;
    7. DEVKA (cz) – mean WHORE and DZIEWKA (pl) mean YOUNG GIRL;
    8. CUDNY (cz) – mean SHY or INNOCENT and CUDNY (pl) – mean WONDERFUL or BEAUTIFUL;
    9. URODA (cz) – mean YIELDS and URODA (pl) – mean BEAUTY;
    10. POPRAVA (cz) – mean EXECUTION and POPRAWA – mean IMPROVEMENT.

    I am Pole, and I know that I can`t ever tell a woman SZUKAM (I’m looking for something) in Czech Republic.


    1. LOL! Very funny indeed. My good friend married a Polish guy and she is also learning the language. Your comment is very much appreciated. At least, we can now avoid these Czech and Polish “false friends.” Thanks for stopping by and for the very helpful comment. 🙂


  3. I enjoyed reading this post. It was quite entertaining and educational. I’ve read some of your other posts too. You are a good writer!
    Thank you for visiting my photo blog and following it! I’m glad that you liked the photo that I posted for the Weekly Photo Challenge: Carefree. Please visit again soon.
    Now I’m on my way to squeeze some pasta on my toothbrush. 😉


  4. I can definitely relate to the false friends problem – especially the ‘preservatives’….check out my post from June on How not to speak French. And by the way, thanks for the follow!


  5. Hahaha grace– preservative is the same in Turkish! And so too with your şef story… It’s basically chief (perhaps from the French?). And pasta in Turkish means cake. Like it means in Greek. Just following your stories occasionally and thinking of how difficult it must be for you to learn the language with all the superfluous letters you don’t use. As with Melba’s case. Lucky you have each other to swap stories!


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