Nearly all professional translators, whether they live in Europe or America, understand that the English and German languages are close relatives and share many terms. German Language students usually find this to be a blessing and a curse. English-speakers who are learning to become German Translation Services workers need to be aware of this. However, unfortunately, many early learners of German or English don’t understand that things are not always what they may seem. What experts call “false friends,” or “false cognates” are words that sound like a similar word in one language but mean something completely different. In the translation profession translators should be just as wary of false language friends as they would be of false human friends.
As stated before, these words look like a familiar word but actually have nothing in common with it. Incorrectly using false cognates can cause embarrassment at best and lawsuits in the worst case scenario.
When comparing German and English, you will find countless numbers of false cognates because the two languages have the same origins. German and English linguists will tell you that the two languages share many words that sound and appear alike. Brother / Bruder, auto / Auto, house / Haus, glass / Glas, etc. are just a few examples of the numerous true cognates that exist between the two languages. There are literally hundreds of words like these that are truly similar in meaning and appearance in the English and German languages, but be careful.
Whether you are an English-native speaker translating from German or a German language native translating from English, the use of true cognates makes texts more readable and makes the translation process go much faster. But false cognates are just a fact of life for a translator, whether you are providing German to English or English to German Translation. Regardless of what you call them: “falsche Freunde,” “false friends,” or false cognatesby any name can present problems if translation service providers are not careful.
The objective (Objektiv) act (Akt) of translation should be done after (After) review of the document. This sentence shows how the German words in parentheses can be misinterpreted because of their nature as false cognates. The German words, “After,” “Akt” and “Objectiv” actually mean “rectum,” “nude,” and “lens” respectively in English. Many such false cognates also exist in medical translations. These include words like “Weh” which really means pain. True professional medical translators are wary of false cognates like “kosten”, which means to taste.
Similar difficulties are found in legal translation, which false cognates popping up frequently. These often include words like “Rathaus,” which means “City Hall,” and not a home for a rodent. Poor German Medical Translation usually includes many words that are full of words like “Akt” (see above for meaning) and “absolvieren,” which means to successfully finish a course. But these are only a few of the numerous false cognates between the German and English languages. A “Drogerei” is like a drugstore, but lacks the drugs. It is actually a shop that sells personal items like deodorant, shampoo and candy. You need to go to the “Apotheke” if you need medications. In addition, you will need a “Rezept” (prescription) if you go to the pharmacy, but don’t ask the cashier for a “Rezept”, because she will think you are asking for a prescription or a recipe.In summary, this all just underlines the importance of remaining attentive to the complexities involved in professional translation, with particular attention to ensuring you understand that false cognates can ruin a translation. Mistakenly using false cognates always results in gross errors that reflect poorly on the German translator, the German translation and on the organization or person who uses the translation for official purposes.