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Boost your Vocabulary with False Friends

Updated on March 27, 2012
Looking for a Lighthouse via photopin cc
Looking for a Lighthouse via photopin cc | Source

How to use False Friends to Improve your German

This article is about a group of words that look similar in both languages, English and German, but have different meanings. In combination with a memory technique called linkword-method, false friends can be an abundant source of new, fastly acquired vocabulary. Here it how it works:

False friends are English words that look the same in German but have a different meaning or vice versa (umgekehrt). Although they contain a big risk of sounding weird or stupid they might be used to quickly improve your vocabulary. To achieve this you will have to make use of a memory method called linkword. Scientific studies have proven it's superior efficacy, yet I wouldn't recommend to make it the sole technique for studying words as it trains the use of words out of any realistic context. But it can help to get difficult words, like false friends, into your head.

The Linkword Method

The Linkword Method is an old memory technique that helps you to establish a connection between the German word and it's meaning (that needs no words but is already known by you). For example: You want to learn the German word bald and check your dictionary to find it's meaning soon. Now you somehow have to connect the word bald to it's meaning soon. As there is no natural connection between these two words, you could imagine the following analogy: bald stands on one side of a river and soon on the other. They would like to meet but can't swim. Now, the Linkword Method tries to build a bridge over the river with material already given, your native language. It looks at the word bald and finds that it looks exactly like the English word bald which means lacking hair. As you know the meaning of the English bald you now have some usable material for the bridge.

Establish a Link

Now you will have to connect the English word bald that is anchored to the German word bald with the meaning soon. I admit, one needs a bit of phantasy here, but with a little practice you might be surprised, how creative your mind becomes. Let me give you two examples:

  • Your German friend is loosing all his hair quite rapidly. Soon he will be bald.
  • You have a bald German friend who would like to visit you. He will come soon.

Now that you have established a link between the German word and it's meaning, let's see how to retrieve it in times of need.

How to Remember the German Word or it's Meaning

Next time, when you encounter the German word bald you will recognize that it looks like the English word bald. Bald will automatically remind you of your German friend coming to visit you soon or loosing his/her hair soon. And should you be in need of translating from English into German thinking of how to say soon in German, you would remember instantly that you had that bald German friend coming over soon or getting bald soon.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the Linkword Method

An advantage is definitely that you will be able to memorize plenty of words in relatively short time after a short training phase. Check here for sources about results of scientific experiments. The biggest disadvantage in my eyes is that it does teach you words without their natural context and therefore might slow you down in certain situations. When someone asks you "Kommst du bald?" You wouldn't want to go through the translation "Will you come soon?" but rather be able to instantly reply "Ja, gerne. Wie wär's mit nächster Woche?". But this is a different subject [flashcards] for another hub another time. It also takes a while to get accustomed to create your own links. There are initial setbacks as associations might be too weak or similar words might be confused, but with some training these problems become irrelevant in number. I myself had the problem while learning Spanish vocab with the Linkword Method that I got bored pretty soon as I had overdone it (50 words a day) for two weeks. But then also I am not the most consistent type of desk-language learner. I prefer to go out and find people that I want to talk to.

Software and Literature about the Linkword Method

You will not find too many worthwhile products and as the Linkword Method should only be used as an add-on to your normal German learning I will not recommend it. But if money isn't an issue for you and I have made you curious, you might want to try one or two books or programs available.

The nicest software for English native speakers or the like is produced by Exceltra. They have nicely illustrated a few hundred words strictly following the Linkword Method. As a non native, though very well understanding English speaker, I found a few examples quite challenging. But the gros of the examples that I've seen worked for me. Each German level (I & II) costs $67 plus $5,50 delivery. There are special offers. Check the webpage for details. It is only available for five languages (Spanish, German, Italian, Welsh and French) and only for PC. Mac users would have to use an emulator like parallels or vmware usion.

The other company that has developed a much less nicer software, but yet functioning is unforgettable languages. Before you purchase a course, costs currently ranging between $74 and $87, in one of fourteen languages you can check a demo and convince yourself if it is worth it's money. It is available for PC and Mac.

How do False Friends come into Play?

False friends are simplifying the whole linkword finding process as they already look like an English word and therefore do not need that much word jumbling. Just look at this page on and copy and paste them into your text editor to print them and start practicing the Linkword Method. It is easy getting started with these words and you will broaden your vocabulary very fast, hence improving your initial motivation.

Let me know in the commentaries, what kind of experiences you have made with the Linkword Method or the here presented literature and language learning software. Looking forward to hearing from you.

Keep going. German is a beautiful language.

Yours Mike


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    • ThePelton profile image


      7 years ago from Martinsburg, WV USA

      Several Spanish words that have almost the same definition, but work in conversation differently are Saber and Conocer. They both mean "To Know", but Saber means to "Know Completely", whereas Conocer means "To know about something, somewhat." Another pair that new speakers of Spanish can confuse is Ser and Estar. They both roughly mean "to be", but the difference is in permanence. You might use Ser in reference to a large immovable object, like a building, and Estar in reference to a person's feelings for that day. Using Ser with a description of a person means they are ALWAYS like that. Danke! Gracias!

    • PaulStaley1 profile image


      7 years ago from With the wind---(or against it)

      I love false friends (in a language anyway). Unfortunately, I am learning Spanish. In Spanish my favorite, "amigo falso" is the word, embarazado, which sounds like it should be embarrassed, but actually means pregnant. Schönen dank, nice hub!


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