What are “faux amis” when talking about the French and English languages? If you’ve not heard of this expression before, it means (literally “false friends”!) words that sound or are spelt the same, but that have very different meanings. They tend to trip up language learners, so we’re preparing you for some of the trickiest false friends you’re likely to meet in France!
False French Friends
Two appropriate faux-amis to start with: Langage in French means jargon/specialized speech, for example when talking about the “language” of HTML, or the “language” of formal speech, whereas language is used in the sense “I speak the English language”/ “what language do you speak?”.
This one’s easy, once you remember it! In French, sensible means “sensitive”. If you want to say that someone is sensible, use raisonnable or prudent.
Almost as if someone was deliberately trying to trick us, librairie actually means “bookstore”. Bibliothèque (pronounce the th like a regular t) is where you can read and borrow books.
It’s all about location in Paris, in both senses! In French, location refers to rent (as in to rent an apartment) and comes from the verb louer (to rent). In English, we mean “locale” which, in French they call adresse or emplacement.
This one took me a while to master. Actuellement means “currently”, and the French say en fait to mean “actually”: En fait, je ne suis pas venu, j’avais trop de travail (“Actually, I didn’t go, I had too much work to do”) You’ll hear en fait everywhere in France!
They aren’t spelt exactly the same, but they can still catch you out… Avertissement means “warning”. “Advertisement” in French is publicité.
Try not to get confused, but caractère means “personality”, not a character in a play. To describe an actor’s role, the French say personnage.
The French déception isn’t nearly as dramatic as ours. It simply means disappointment. Oh.
An entrée in French is actually an appetizer! The main course is called the plat or plat principal.