Learning French as an English speaker is great, because many words have similar meanings. However, the languages do provide some traps for students. False cognates, or faux amis, are words that look similar in form but carry different meanings between the two languages.
For example, in French, the word pale is an oar, propeller, or paddle; not a light color or soft complexion. In French, that word is pâle while colors like pale green would translate to vert clair.
Take another common false friend, actuellement which doesn’t mean “actually” but rather “currently”. Americans French students in college still mess this up!
So, how can I prevent falling for these false friends?
The only way to avoid misunderstanding is to KNOW the false cognates or play off context clues. There are hundreds of them! As you evolve through the language, you’ll come to know a few off hand. Like the fact that you don’t “attend” a party in French, but you “assist” it.
J’ai assisté aux fêtes de l’indépendance.
If you want a large list of French cognates which are ordered alphabetically, you can go to one of my recommended online resources, French about.com.
Anything else to add about these evil pitfalls? Please comment below!