Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Business English False Friends

First of all, what is a false friend? This, as I’m sure everyone knows already, is a word in one language that looks or sounds similar to a word in another language, but – and here’s the important bit – it has a COMPLETELY DIFFERENT MEANING! There are thousands of English words that are similar to Italian ones (and vice-versa), e.g. the word “actually” in English means "really" / "in fact", but not “now” or “currently” (attualmente) (and, just to make things more difficult, “currently” doesn’t mean “correntemente”, which is “fluently”).

There are, indeed, hundreds of such false friends that crop up (appear unexpectedly) in Business English – usually at the most inconvenient or awkward time! So, to answer your question, here’s a list of some of the more common English / Italian business false friends:

Agenda / diary 
This is a classic false friend that usually occurs at least once in every Business English class or meeting between English and Italian speakers. The word “agenda” in English means “l’ordine del giorno” in Italian – a list of points to discuss at a meeting. The little book you write down all your appointments in is a diary – not an agenda. (And, of course, the word “diary” not only sounds like Italian “diario”, but has the same meaning – a book in which you record your impressions and experiences on a daily basis. However, while you may have a desk diary or appointment diary on your desk (“agenda”), you are unlikely to have a “diario”, unless you are a writer or an artist.)

(Incidentally, if you want to read one of the most entertaining diaries ever written, I recommend Salvador DalĂ­’s “Diary of a Genius” – the perfect antidote to a stressful day at work.)

Mail / email / post
Here’s another common mistake where the same words are used with a slightly different intention. The word “mail” in English is an uncountable noun (like “water” or “coffee”) and it means something sent or received though the postal system (usually letters). “Mail” is more commonly used in the US, while in Britain we prefer to use the expression “(the) post”. Now, in modern Italian it is perfectly acceptable to say “un mail” when you are referring to the messages you send and receive in Outlook, Gmail or whatever electronic service you use. But you can’t say “a mail” in English! This is not only because the word “mail” is uncountable, but also because “mail” only refers to paper. Instead, you should say “I received an email” (sometimes written with a hyphen: e-mail). While you can “post” messages on a blog or web page, and you can read the “posts” that have been written, don’t talk about “electronic post”. Just use “email”.

Want to discover more Business English false friends? Join the Milan Business English Network on Facebook, where you can find not only answers to your most puzzling questions, but also meet new people who have the same interests as you.