Beware of false friends! Which words sound similar but mean something completely different?

The Polish language course will eventually make you able to communicate with native speakers. However, there are some „traps” you may accidentally spring. In the following article, we will provide some examples of false friends – words that share the sound, but not the meaning.

Ukrainian false friends

According to Interior Affairs Ministry, 1.2 million Ukrainians live in Poland. They are the largest ethnic minority in this country. Both Poles and Ukrainians are Slavic, which means there are a lot of similarities between their languages. Moreover, sometimes Ukrainian and Polish pronunciation of various words might be similar. But if you are Ukrainian, remember that some of your native words mean something completely different to Poles.

Wife… or not?

Let’s begin with the word „Дружина” (pronunciation: druzhyna). In Ukrainian language its meaning is „wife”. This very same word exists in Polish. As a Ukrainian you may be confused when you hear the Poles talking about „ulubiona drużyna”. The favorite wife?! Something is out of order, isn’t it? But it turns out that for Poles it means „the team”. In your language the proper word is „Команда” (pronunciation: komanda).

Profession… or disappointment?

The other day you are making friends with a Pole. He mentions „zawód”.  As you try to comprehend everything, you come to the most obvious conclusion. He is a production worker! He works in the „завод” (pronunciation: zavod), which is Ukrainian for „factory”. But, once again, you have been tricked by false friends! He was actually saying that he is someone by profession. In Ukrainian, you would have said: „З професією” (pronunciation: z profesiyeyu). By the way, the Polish word „profesja” is a semi-false friend. It has the very same meaning as „Професія” (pronunciation: profesiya). However, while the Ukrainian word is casual, the Polish one is very formal and less and less used.

The horror trip… or just shopping?

At the end of our short story your friend visits… a crypt! That is what he said – he has been to “Склеп” (pronunciation: sklep). As you ask him about his excursion’s details, he interrupts you. He politely (but not without good-natured amusement) explains that he has been shopping. In Ukrainian the proper word is “Магазин” (pronunciation: mahazyn). Which is similar to the Polish “magazyn”, which is “warehouse”. And the Ukrainian for this is “Склад” (pronunciation: sklad). Which sounds like “skład” – Polish for “composition”. Oh, those false friends!


English false friends

As an English speaker, you are truly lucky! You speak the most commonly used language in the world! But for some reason, you decide to take a Polish language course in Wroclaw. Once again – you are at risk of being misunderstood.

Excuse me… who?

You are talking to a woman who keeps complaining about her chef. Oh, she is so rich! You wonder whether she has also her personal driver, shopper, etc. You even ask her about that… And you learn that Polish for “boss” (“szef”) sounds exactly like English for the cooking professional.

Ultimately or possibly?

Eventually, you will find out that false friends are everywhere. While talking to your colleague you hear them constantly repeating “ewentualnie”. Why do so many things in this company have to be such strict? What is going on here?! But then you recall your online Polish language lessons. This person was enumerating alternatives to something.

Should we trust him?

What is a virtue for the English, may be a serious character defect for the Polish. If your native language is English, you want to be confident. It will help you to get your dream job, get promoted, or just make friends. However, if you are confident in Poland, those things are definitely not going to happen. Are Polish people shy? No, they just do not like informers. And it so happens that the Polish for such individuals is “konfident”.

Recently or indeed?

The last tricky word we would like to show you is “actually”. For you, it means that something is true, truly happens, etc. But when talking to the Poles remember, that for them it has a completely different meaning. If your Polish friend says “aktualnie”, he does not refer to the facts. All he meant was that something is recent.

As we said in the other article, the Polish language can be very challenging. The challenge becomes even harder given our shortlist, which is not comprehensive, but just a collection of examples. However, it makes finishing Polish language course even more satisfying!