Five False Friends

When you try to learn a new language, you quickly find ‘false friends’.

False friends are words which sound similar in both languages, but have completely different meanings. This can cause confusion, or can even make you laugh.

Everyone has stories of the mistakes they have made with false friends – it’s just a part of learning a new language.  To try to help, I’ve chosen 5 false friends which my German students find difficult.

eventual / eventuell

The English adverb eventually means that something will definitely happen, but after some time.   If I say that ‘I’ll send a card eventually’, it is certain to happen but you should not expect it to happen immediately.

On the other hand,  eventuell means maybe, perhaps or possibly.   There is no guarantee that something will happen.  As I’m sure you can see,  the eventual/eventuell false friend is important when you are making plans and commitments!


sensible / sensibel

In both German and English, sensible and sensibel are adjectives which can be used to describe people.

In English, sensible means responsible, wise or practical. For example, the sensible thing to do the night before an exam is to go to bed early.   Children also wear sensible shoes to school, which are strong, black, and flat.

On the other hand, the German sensibel can be translated as sensitive in English. To be sensitive is to feel emotions strongly. If a person is sensitive they may be easily upset.   The sensible/sensible false friend pairing is therefore important when you are describing people.


brave / brav

To be brave is to be courageous (mutig) and not easily frightened. Brav is more everyday, and means good or well behaved.  Again, this is an important distinction to make when you are describing or praising people.


 marmalade / Marmelade  & lemonade / Limonade

In both the English and German speaking worlds, we have marmalade and lemonade but however they refer to different things. In both cases, the English word describes something more specific.

If you order marmalade for breakfast in English, you’ll get an orange fruit preserve. We only make marmalade from citrus fruits, and it is usually made with oranges.   In German, there is only one word for these fruit preserves. Marmelade can be strawberry, raspberry, cherry, apricot or any other flavour.  If you want one of these other flavours for your toast in English, you need to ask for jam.

Likewise, German Limonade can often refer to different flavours of fizzy juice.   In English, lemonade is only used for a drink flavoured with lemon.


backen / bake

The English verb to bake means to cook something in an oven, usually without oil.   We bake cakes, biscuits, and lasagne, among other things. The verb backen in German can refer to the process of breading and frying something.  This false friend tripped me up a couple of times after I moved to Vienna! It’s best to double check whether you’re ordering the healthy or unhealthy option.


Bonus: fun / funny

Although not really a false friend, the distinction between fun and funny  is something which a lot of my students struggle with. Fun and funny are both adjectives, but there are important differences.

If something is fun, it is enjoyable. It makes you happy. Playing football in the garden with friends is fun.

However, if something is funny, it makes you laugh.   A joke is funny.   You make a funny face when you stick your tongue out. Funny can also mean the same as the German komisch.   It doesn’t have to be positive.  Something which smells bad or unusual, for example, can have a funny smell.


Understanding false friends is one of the tricky things about learning a new language, but I hope that this short list has made you feel a little more comfortable.  If you’d like to share one of your false friend stories, please leave me a comment below.

Remember, if you’re looking for lessons to improve your general English, I work as a private tutor in Vienna. Whether you’d like to practice your reading, writing, conversation or all three, I’d love to hear from you.

Until next time


Mairi : )



image:   Scott Robinson at

Friday Idioms – The Weather

This happens to me every year – the end of February has come too quickly!

As regular readers will know, all through 2015, I will be dedicating the last Friday of the month to the funniest, most descriptive, and sometimes downright oddest English idioms. I won’t try to tell you where they came from, but I will explain them, show you how to use them, and give you some other fixed expressions to use in your spoken and written English.

I hope that you’ve all had the chance to use the Love Idioms we looked at in January. This month, the subject is the weather.

If you live, work or study with people from the UK, you’ll know how much we love to talk (or rather complain) about the weather. You might already have heard some of the idioms we have for heavy rain: It’s raining cats and dogs, it’s great weather for ducks, the heavens have opened, and I’ve been drowned standing are all good descriptions of summer weather in the UK.

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Writing your English CV

I’ve written a lot of job application forms since I arrived in Austria.   In fact, rewriting my CV was one of the first things I did when everything was unpacked.

Your CV is the account of your education and work experience which you submit when applying for a job.  It stands for curriculum vitae, which is the standard term in British English. You may also have heard of a resume, which is the American term.

Normally, your CV will form half of your job application. The other half is a covering letter, where you write at more about why you are qualified for the job.

As I was writing my CV for Austria, I noticed that there were a lot of differences to the way I had written it for the UK. The changes I had to make to my CV inspired this post.

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English Idioms

Hello everybody!

January is almost over! This month has been unseasonably warm in Vienna, but the clouds, the lack of Christmas markets, and a healthy dose of culture shock after the holidays means that I am glad that it’s almost over.

On in 2015, the end of the month means one thing. No, it’s not that I’m another few weeks closer to being able to take a holiday. The last Friday of each month is English Idioms Day.

I really like learning idioms in German, and I love to hear my students using them too. What is an idiom? It’s a fixed expression – a short phrase always using the same words.   This sounds easy enough, but with idioms the phrase means something different to what the words suggest. Idioms are always descriptive, often humorous, and should not be taken literally.

Each month I’ll present a set of idioms about a theme. The weather, cats, food, business, school – if you can think of it, there will be an English figure of speech to explore!  I’ll be explaining their meaning of each idiom, showing you how to use them in context, and giving lots of examples of other fixed expressions which are related to the same topic.

Without further ado, let’s look at our first set!

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Writing Formal Letters

Today I’ll talk about how to write a formal letter. If you’re doing any sort of business in English, this is a really important skill. We use letters when following up with a company, sending out catalogues, confirmations, or price lists, submitting formal complaints, and especially when applying for jobs. Outside of the business world, writing a formal letter is also a part of English exams at intermediate level and higher.

We write far fewer letters these days, but if anything this means that letter writing is a more important skill! If more and more people are losing the ability to properly structure a formal letter, imagine the advantage it could give you when you send in a job application.

Writing a formal letter can be a daunting task, and I confess that it’s not something that I enjoy doing at all. Thankfully, though, there are plenty of rules you can follow to make your letters stand out.

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New Year in Scotland

Hello everybody!  

I hope your Christmases were wonderful.  I spent the week with the English half of my family, eating too much and relaxing after a busy four months in Vienna. However, the celebrations are far from over.  I’m back in Scotland until the beginning of January, and New Year here is an even bigger party than Christmas.

Since my blog post on UK Christmas traditions was so much fun, I’ve decided to write about some of the things which make New Year in Scotland so exciting.

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Christmas in the UK

It’s almost Christmas! 

In the last two weeks I have eaten more Weihnachtskekse than I can count and visited what feels like every Christmas market in Vienna.   Now my classes are over until 2015 and in a couple of days I’m flying back to the UK. 

I love Christmas, but this year I’m especially excited because 1. It’s been a VERY long time since I had a holiday, and 2.  I haven’t been out of Vienna since August.

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At, On, and In

Today’s post is a bit shorter than usual, but I hope you’ll find it useful. I’d like to show you a simple diagram I use to teach the prepositions of time.

The prepositions of time are at, on, and in.  We use these prepositions when talking about events in the past, discussing future plans, and making arrangements.

When I take German lessons, I find prepositions very confusing, so I understand how hard this can be.  Thankfully, in English, we have an easy way to remember which is correct. Look at the diagram below:

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English for the Hospitality Industry – Part 1

English for Hotel Staff

Before I became an English teacher, I spent five years working in the hospitality industry. I’ve done every job from housekeeping to washing dishes, waitressing to reception work, and I’ve also worked in marketing for hotels and restaurants.

Many of my students want to learn English to work in hospitality. Today I’m here to help with my first post on English for the Hospitality Industry.

Imagine you’ve just been given a job as a hotel receptionist. Today is your first day. We’ll take a tour of the hotel and meet the staff.

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