Selected English-Czech False Friends and Their Use in the Works of Some Czech Students

Algunos falsos amigos inglés-checo y su uso en los trabajos de estudiantes checos

Daniel Raušer (Institute of Technology and Business in České Budějovice)

Artículo recibido: 21-12-2016 | Artículo aceptado: 01-05-2017

RESUMEN: El siguiente trabajo sirve en principio para los fines de estudio práctico y se enfoca en una selección de errores cometidos por los estudiantes checos del inglés en la enseñanza de educación superior, en la que trabaja el autor del presente texto. Estos errores están originalmente recogidos por estudiantes checos de varias fuentes de Internet y, consecuentemente, puestos de manera incorrecta en contextos diferentes. El autor, que trabaja en el Departamento de Lenguas Extranjeras, frecuentemente se encuentra, durante la evaluación oral y durante la evaluación de los trabajos semestrales, escritos con varios calcos que los estudiantes copian de inglés. Estos calcos están mal interpretados por los estudiantes y éstos los consideran palabras equivalentes en su significado a las palabras checas. En consecuencia, el uso de este vocabulario, denominado como “falsos amigos”, es el motivo de errores frecuentemente cometidos por los estudiantes, que además resultan en confusión y malentendidos. Basado en su juicio y experiencia, el autor ha seleccionado unos ejemplos de este vocabulario y muestra las discrepancias en ambas lenguas. El autor está convencido que subrayando estas discrepancias ayudará a los estudiantes a poder evitar errores de referencias recogidas de Internet.
ABSTRACT: This paper serves mainly for practical study purposes and focuses on selected vocabulary taken from various Internet sources and subsequently put into wrong contexts by some Czech students of English at an institute of tertiary education, where the paper’s author is currently employed at the Department of Foreign Languages. When assessing the students’ oral presentations and submitted term papers, he very often encounters expressions the students borrow from English, yet incorrectly interpret as their semantic equivalents in the Czech language. Using these specifically opposing vocabularies, commonly referred to as “false friends”, account for repeatedly occurring mistakes made by the above students, who find some of these words confusing, displeasing and difficult to comprehend. Based on his subjective judgement and experience, the author selected several examples of such words in order to point out their particular discrepancies on applying them to both the English and Czech languages. By doing so, the author believes the students will avoid making mistakes, when searching and/or using their online references.

PALABRAS CLAVE: Falsos amigos, cognados, interferencia de la lengua, transferencia lingüística
KEY WORDS: False friends, true friends, language interference, cross-linguistic influence


The scientific study was created during the project No. 201609 of the Internal Grant Competition at the Institute of Technology and Business in České Budějovice.


1. Introduction

The occurrence of English in the present-day Czech language is relatively common and may manifest itself in various forms. On the one hand, Czech as such has adopted particular expressions and specialized terminology, which have been positively transferred (or through-translated) with no (e.g. software, internet, email) or slight alterations in spelling and/or pronunciation (e.g. concert-koncert, problem-problém, to risk-riskovat), i.e. the so-called “true friends” – words, whose overall sense is retained in either language. However, there are also certain negative aspects (or dissimilarities) of cross-linguistic influence that include mostly its morphological and syntactical attributes and these should be mostly relevant for the learners/students of English as a foreign (second) language. Perhaps, the most notable negative transfer affecting meaning appears in the field of vocabulary, i.e. the so-called “false friends” – words denoting completely different connotations (in contrast to their seemingly same and obvious forms and meanings), usually arising because of their incorrect translation or insufficient knowledge.

In particular, while conducting their research, preparing their oral presentations or carrying out their papers, some Czech students of English often use diverse Internet sources, where they come across expressions that give the impression of being the same in these two languages, but in fact, stand for completely different meanings. Consequently, some individuals wrongly assume that such apparently identical or similar words (or word pairs) may have corresponding features in both languages and they are then translated word-for-word or treated according to the Czech grammatical rules. Since unaware or unfamiliar with these cross-linguistic look-alikes, the same people may eventually feel disconcerted by them, particularly in terms of the words’ interfering with the general concept or some areas of their works. Also, this may cause a certain language barrier and greatly affect the clarity of the texts as well as the overall language confidence of their composers, who may have used this tricky vocabulary without a further thought.

2. Definition, Categorization and Characteristics of False Friends

Looked at generally, the topic of false friends has always been present in the language, although one might not fully realize that. One of the very first mentions of this specific language element comes from 1928, when the term “faux amis” was used by Jules Derocquigny and Maxime Koessler in their work “Les Faux Amis ou les pièges du vocabulaire anglais”, i.e. False Friends and the Difficulties of English Vocabulary (Chamizo-Domínguez, 2008), stemming from the fact that a certain word in a learner’s or a translator’s second language seems “friendly” (i.e. equivalent) in the view of its meaning in the learner’s or translator’s first language. However, this anticipated formal similarity becomes apparently different, thus being deceptively “friendly”. Then, a continuing research interest in this lexical area was limited by the Second World War and slightly increased in the post-war decades, yet fully emerging in the 1970s and particularly the 1980s. According to G. Leech (1981), one of the false friendship’s causes is related to its connotative meaning, which is “the communicative value an expression has by virtue of what it refers to, over and above its purely conceptual or denotative content” (Leech 1981: 12). Furthermore, quoted by many as a valuable reference regarding the topic of false friends, A Dictionary of False Friends (1982) encompasses this specific vocabulary between English and a variety of other languages. From the viewpoint of a language teacher rather than a scientist, its compiler, Robert J. Hill, states in the dictionary’s introduction that many words developed as false friends in the classroom, with the students being their main contributors. Moreover, identification and categorization of false friends was further pursued by S. Granger and H. Swallow (1988), who claim that the look-alikes’ variances are mostly connected with stylistic features, largely consisting of particular incongruences in the degree of formality, the field of discourse and “the temporal and geographical setting of the language event” between a number of “quasi-synonymous doublets” (Granger & Swallow, 1988: 115).

Within the Czech linguistic environment engaged in this theme, it is necessary to mention a book called “English or Czenglish? Jak se vyhnout čechismům v angličtině?” (1989), i.e. English or Czenglish? How to avoid the Czenglish words in English?, by Don Sparling. The book serves rather as a guide containing mistakes called čechismy or Czenglish (i.e. a word generated as a blend of the words Czech and English) specifically made by Czech learners of English. Correspondingly, Sparling mostly sees false friends as mistakes resulting from changes connected with a natural development of language as well as a different life and institutions students could barely be familiar with without a direct hands-on experience with foreign language setting. Another very significant work dealing with the English-Czech word pairs is “Zrádná slova v angličtině” (1990), i.e. False Friends in English, compiled by Josef Hladký, who defined false friends as words having the same or nearly the same form in no less than two languages, while simultaneously varying in meaning. He also noted that these are words having mainly come into existence from classical languages (where particular distinctions between meanings of words gradually occurred). Another publication worth mentioning is “Nejčastější chyby v angličtině a jak se jich zbavit” (2009), i.e. The most frequent mistakes in English and how to divest of them, by Lucie Poslušná, a Czech lecturer at Charles University in Prague. She mainly focuses on particular mistakes made by Czech students, also referring to false friends as such. One of the most recent books discussing the topic of false friends is C. Land’s “Nemluvte Czenglicky – Zbavte se nejčastějších chyb v angličtině” (2011), i.e. Do not speak Czenglish – Divest yourselves of the most frequent mistakes in English.

Elsewhere, J. Holmes and R. Guerra Ramos (1993) view false friends as words (in dissimilar languages) orthographically recognizable, but absolutely different in meaning. Specifically speaking, some linguists focus on implementing more practical identifications of false friends, where these are perceived as “false friends proper, occasional (accidental) false friends and pseudo false friends”, yet all of them representing “nuance differentiated word pairs”, which “basically have the same denotative meaning and possibly concealing a range of slight semantic differences (Veisbergs, 1996: 628-629). On the contrary, other scholars point to a certain inconsistency and discrepancies in terminology, since false friends may not appear to be the sole term used in literature on this subject. In fact, a variety of expressions may be perhaps applied to state the same or analogous phenomena in this context, with some of them being possibly misleading or less elucidating as they refer to a different concept. Here, the most common example is the use of the term “false/deceptive cognates” interchangeably with or instead of “false friends”. To provide an example, there is a notion that “when we speak about false friends, we are normally referring to interlingual deceptive (or false) cognates” (Casanovas Catalá & O’Neill, 1997: 103). However, when considering the aforementioned expressions, it seems more relevant to use the term “false friends” for words sharing form but not meaning and the term “cognates” as the first- and second-language pairs that share both the form and meaning. As well as that, the former appears more appropriate in view of the fact that the formal similarity accompanied by the semantic dissimilarity should be regarded as a sole phenomenon rather than a group of diverse phenomena, since its nuance is determined by the complex concept of equivalence, which incurs its volatility in degrees rather than categories. Additionally, Chamizo-Domínguez (2008) regards “false cognates” as hyponyms of “false friends”, the former comprising a part of the latter, and de Groot (2011) presents both of these as technically referring to dissimilar phenomena. Apart from that, there may also be a certain lack of clarity or a degree of difference in meaning (or a mutual sense overlap) between false friends themselves, which “may vary from complete to slight”, with another group of the so-called “true friends” existing as well. These are formally similar items in two different languages, which “have precisely or approximately the same meanings”. (Newmark 1998: 125). Also, it is essential for learners to be aware of the likely occurrence of false friendship between formally similar word pairs, for “when a learner is reading and interprets a false friend as a true one, it is almost impossible for him/her to come up with the mistake on his/her own if negative evidence is not provided” (Chacón Beltrán, 2005: 67). On top of that, Stevens (2010) even uses the term “confusing friends”, yet merely in connection with particular pairs in English resembling in form though having with a different meaning, such as homework-housework, desert-dessert, advice-advise, in time-on time, etc. Nonetheless, according to some (e.g. J.M. Dodds), it is perhaps “preferable to mistrust all friends as one cannot hope to know all false friends”, since the opposite may result in over-reliance on formal similarity and lead some learners to “recklessly guessing” the meanings of words in a foreign language. As a result, “the consequences could … be particularly dire in L1 to L2 translation, as little time and effort would be spent on other error sources” (Dodds, 1999: 61). Besides, not only in translation (and language teaching) does L1 (i.e. the first language) interfere in the production of L2 (i.e. the second or foreign language), but this influence, as Schaffner and Adab (2000) point out, is in fact two directional, since it takes place in both L1-to-L2 and L2-to L1 directions. The authors specifically draw their attention to the power the L2 source text has on its recipient, regardless of his/her language proficiency. Moreover, according to Belhán (2006), by erroneous addition of suffixes to the stem of vocabulary translated into English, some learners occasionally select words most similar to the source one assuming that these are the correct translations. On the other hand, one of the dissenters of the false friends’ importance, H. Ringbom (2007), reckons that false friends easily assume an importance in learners’ and teachers’ minds that is out of proportion to their significance and that the dangers of false friends should not be exaggerated. He also agrees with Newmark (1998) that “true friends are more numerous than false friends” (Ringbom, 2007: 125). Yet, with regards to language teaching, it has been claimed on several occasions that false friends (or “not-true” ones) may assist the progress of vocabulary learning or even the learning of a foreign language as such, for they might “help fluency and self-confidence with speakers of poorer English, giving them a sense of ability to communicate” (Ioana, 2007: 975). Finally, a fairly solid definition probably involving the main aspects of false friends was given by Chamizo-Domínguez, who defend their importance and considers them generally as the term, which “refers to the specific phenomenon of linguistic interference consisting of two given words in two or more given natural languages that are graphically and/or phonetically the same or very alike; yet, their meanings may be totally or partially different” (Chamizo-Domínguez, 2008: 1).

3. Examples of False Friends

Based on his own teaching experience and following a detailed research involving some of the common language mistakes made by his students of English, the author of this paper (after some necessary planning and careful consideration) decided to select seven examples of the most frequent Czech false friends in view of the English language. It should be emphasized here that the aim did not reside in covering all or the majority of existing or potential false friends, but the author (also with regards to the scope of this paper) rather paid a closer attention to words, or pairs of words, which have been mistaken or confused once too often, with particular Internet sources serving as the main references in connection with the subsequent use of such expressions. His main objective then was to clearly point out the differences in the words’ meaning(s) and clarify their use by demonstrating them in a particular context through example sentences, while striving for the highest degree of accuracy and correctness. In addition to this, the specific erroneous vocabulary, discovered in the works of the above students (studying a number of different tertiary degree programmes or fields of study and hence taking various English courses connected with their respective specializations) and caused by these individuals’ incorrect applying it from various online sources, is shown here as well. First, a particular word in the English language, which a Czech false friend has subsequently been derived from, is placed on the left, with the correct English meaning cited in round brackets and a right pointing arrow directed to the Czech equivalents. Then, this is followed by an X mark, which indicates the corresponding false friend stated in Czech, with its actual English meaning given in square brackets. The author believes that all the individuals concerned will not only reflect on the provided pieces of information below, but, when coming across the following words, these students will also use all of them accordingly in the right contexts and thus, try to minimize the number of their, at times, unnecessary language mistakes, while working on their assignments.

3.1. chef (the principal or chief cook in a restaurant) → šéfkuchař, vrchní kuchař X šéf [a boss, a head, a person in charge]

To begin with, this is one of the elementary mistakes concerning a lexicological transformation between the English and Czech languages. It is true that both words of the above pair are nouns, yet this represents perhaps their only mutual feature. Since the English one-syllable word “chef” approximates the Czech one-syllable word “šéf”, i.e. a boss, in terms of its form and pronunciation, some Czech learners of English have been somewhat puzzled by the ostensible affinity of these and similar words as well (e.g. chief, chaff, chafe, etc.). Apart from that, this bemusement has also been the case due to either the students’ lesser capability of using certain online translators or their using them only for a quick reference without looking the words (and their appropriate synonyms) up and/or ensuring their accuracy in reliable online or printed dictionaries. As a result, the words have been put into opposing contexts generating a number of language imprecisions similar to this:

I work part-time in office for a marketing company… My chef is strict and he gives me a lot work…, but my chef is fair and I like him.

This example sentence, uttered by a female student during a warm-up speaking activity of the first “General English I” lesson, captures a typical mistake caused by miusing of the word “chef” and using it as an English-Czech false friend. Though claiming to have come across this expression on her friend’s personal internet profile, the student was corrected and invited to try and think of a different word for her answer. As she was slightly nervous and unsure of her vocabulary, the main difference between the above nouns was explained to her and the following sentence was suggested:

I work part time in an office of (I’m a part-time office worker at) a marketing company… A boss of the company (the company boss) is strict and he gives me a lot of work (allocates plenty of work to me)…, but my boss is fair (a fair man) and I like him.

3.2. gymnasium (gym, a room or hall for physical exercise or indoor sports) → tělocvična, posilovna X gymnázium [a grammar school, a comprehensive school]

Mixing both of these nouns is a frequent error that some Czech learners of English usually commit, when their speech or written work are centered on the topic of schools they studied at or are planning to study (i.e. gymnázium as a type of school, as opposed to gymnasium or gym as a place for doing exercises or sports). After a certain period of time learning English, one would expect that most individuals should be aware of this linguistic nuance by then. Still, a misapplication of these vocabularies occasionally emerges on the secondary and even tertiary level of education, possibly as a result of a momentary lapse of concentration or a certain language “laziness”, when attempting to find a suitable equivalent. Nonetheless, mostly elementary level students should realize and avoid the misunderstandings mentioned below. They occurred during an introductory part of the “General English 1” one-on-one oral examination between the paper’s author and a male student:

After the primary school I went to gymnasium in… I studied German at gymnasium… I finished the gymnasium and went to university.

Having asked to be given some feedback after the examination, the student was informed about his overall performance. His attention was also drawn to some of the inconsistencies, including the above sentences. The student specifically requested to be elucidated the main variations of “gymnasium”, i.e. /dʒɪmˈneɪzɪəm/. Here, it should be stressed that one of the word’s meanings, as entered in some English-Czech online dictionaries, e.g. slovniky.centrum.cz, does actually stand for a (classical) preparatory (secondary) school (especially in Germany) preparing its pupils/students for universities (university entrances). However, according to the online monolingual dictionaries, oxforddictionaries.com and dictionary.com, in this instance the noun is pronounced differently, i.e. /ɡɪmˈnɑːzɪəm/, and has in other respects been commonly referred to its original meaning, i.e. gym., also retaining its related pronunciation. To prevent themselves from such ambiguities, (not only) the relative beginners could be possibly advised to be more specific in the terminology regarding their past or present education, and perhaps cite the full name of the school, depending indeed on its type or specialization. Therefore, the given example could be altered and proposed in the following manner:

After (When I finished) the primary school (,) I went to study (I attended) (a local) grammar school, (where) I studied German (there)… (When) I finished grammar school (After finishing grammar school, secondary school of engineering, automotive high school, secondary school of business, information technology high school, etc.) and went to (I decided to go to, attend) university (college, institute of technology and business, etc.).

3.3. transparent (see-through, clear; open, frank) → průhledný, jasný, zřejmý X transparent [banner, placard]

The above pair is a typical example of false friendship, when two forms of identically-looking words from respective languages carry a completely different meaning, with the difference being not only in the meaning. Whilst the English form of “transparent” is an adjective, its inexact Czech counterpart represents a noun, mistakenly seen as an equivalent to “a banner” or “a placard”. Thus, it is perhaps not surprising that the majority of mistakes linked to this word have appeared in contexts, where Czech students were assigned to write or talk about the topics of environment, living and working conditions, etc. Here, they have been often referring to various protests, demonstrations or strikes and their participants’ holding a number of “transparents”, i.e. banners. For instance, a mistake occurred in the following short excerpt of a “General English II” written assignment, composed by a female student, who allegedly used the Bing online translator (yet for separate translations of individual vocabulary rather than the whole sentences or text, which turned out to be a faulty solution, since the translator sometimes tends to display its instant translations of individual words misleadingly, though it does usually interpret the entered word’s correct meaning(s) below the right-hand translation box):

Some people showed frustration on their transparents… The transparents were large and had letters with different sizes and colours.

As may be gathered from the two sentences, the end result contains vocabulary combined into a hardly comprehensible mixture than it was originally intended. Although this was unexpectedly due to the online translator’s failure, the student should have been more thorough in her approach and definitely drawn a few comparisons between translations from other sources as well, without merely relying on one. This is particularly connected with the choice of vocabulary, as a higher number of explored sources brings forward more options for synonyms, equivalents or examples of context sentences, which may be either instantly utilized or saved and retrieved for future reference. On that account, students of English need to consider more cautiously the selection of their vocabulary and examine more consistently both the quality and authenticity of the sources they are about to use to be able to come up with improved translatorial solutions, e.g.:

Some people expressed their frustration (anger, rage, disappointment) on (through) their banners… The banners were large (There were large format banners) with letters of different sizes and colours (on them).

3.4. frequent (constant, regular, often) → častý, hojný X frekventovaný [busy]

Despite being not so widely used and keeping rather low-profile status in the subjects taught, the word “frequent” may be fairly tricky for some students of English, as far as the areas of traffic, transportation, logistics, housing, etc. are concerned. Due to its certain resemblance in form to “frekventovaný” (also an adjective in the Czech language and thus, automatically considered by some as being a potentially suitable equivalent), a number of students of the “English for Transportation” and “English for Logistics” subjects have tended to incorporate lexically inaccurate terms, such as “frequent roads” or “frequent streets”, into their seminar papers, projects or oral presentations. These works have largely contained various issues related to the aforementioned topic areas, resulting in the students’ own suggestions or ideas for specific improvements of current states (mainly concerning traffic calming or plans for reduction of traffic in certain locations). Unfamiliar with the impropriety of such terms and perhaps not being aware either that the true English “friend” here is a seemingly simple adjective “busy”, some students have ended up discussing their viewpoints lacking sufficient clarity and also being distracting for one’s ear to listen to, as shown below:

Many accidents happened in this part of town because of frequented routes… That’s why I proposed these calming elements and I think the roads won’t be so frequent here.

This could be heard towards the end of an oral “English for Transportation” presentation by a male student, who admitted to having used the Google online translator, possibly the most popular online tool among the students for basic translation tasks. As typically conducted in these circumstances, into the left translation box the student entered his request for translation of his text into English. However, it is necessary to point out here that he did so without typing the correct diacritical marks (i.e.’, ˇ, °, as characteristic features added to overall majority of lexical expressions in the Czech language), otherwise the translation result would have been displayed flawlessly. As a matter of fact, this pair of sentences could be put into a different and indeed more appropriate format, definitely by substituting “frequent” for “busy” and possibly by introducing more formal vocabulary. The whole part would then read as follows:

To conclude my presentation (to sum up what has been said in my presentation), it is obvious that a high number of accidents (have) (unfortunately) happened (occurred) in this part of the town due to the fact that local roads are (tend to be) very (quite, fairly) busy. That’s why (Therefore, On that account) I have decided to propose these calming elements and I believe that the roads will (eventually) be less busy.

3.5. sympathetic (understanding and caring about other people’s feelings or problems; agreeing or supporting somebody or something) → soucitný; souhlasný, nakloněný X sympatický [nice, pleasant, congenial]

In view of the Czech language, “sympathetic” is a truly confusing and easily mistakable word that some of the former and current fellow colleagues have adverted to as “a popular error” or “a favourite mistake” of their students. Furthermore, this adjective has even been occasionally reported to be unsuitably translated on some Czech television channels broadcasting British or American films and series of episodes, which had been dubbed into Czech. Put into a closer perspective, not a small number of Czech learners of English have often assumed this word, when forming a personal impression of other person/people and alluding to their physical appearance; the reason being that the adjective’s false friend in the Czech language, i.e. “sympatický”, has been traditionally associated with a pleasant-looking male or female, whom the speaker(s) may take a degree of liking to, though judging merely from a glimpse at a photograph, watching television, etc. Still, this word should be kept a vigilant eye on and its real meaning taken into consideration prior to the written or spoken assignments. Otherwise, certain misinterpretations may be produced:

My best friend is a sympathetic girl. Many guys smile at her or want to go with her or ask her phone number.

When asked to speak for one minute about her best friend and, more specifically, describe the reason(s) for their friendship, such was a part of the answer expressed by an elementary level female student in the second section of her “General English I” oral exam. After being provided with some feedback and awarded with the total score, the student was keen on discussing the exam in a more detailed way. It turned out that a part of her pre-exam preparation also involved consulting slovniky.seznam.cz, which is a widely recognized Czech website that provides bilingual online dictionaries and serves as a valuable vocabulary base, being both frequently looked up and cited from. Surprisingly enough, one of the falsely displayed Czech equivalents of “sympathetic” does in fact read “sympatický”, thus indicating “nice” or “pleasant”. Despite this serious shortcoming, the student was reminded that it is always wise to check and compare other dictionaries as well to try to decrease the probability of errors. A more comprehensible version of her answer was also suggested:

My best friend is a pleasant-looking girl. Many (A lot of) guys smile at her or want (would like) to go out (go on a date) with her or ask for her phone number.

3.6. economical (using the minimum or not using a lot, saving, not wasteful) → úsporný, šetrný, hospodárný X ekonomický [economic, financial, relating to economics]

Even some of the advanced (let alone pre-/intermediate or elementary level) Czech students of English have seemed to struggle with the right use as well as correct meaning of “economical”, as discovered in its respective context(s). To add to the complexity of the specific vocabulary, an adjective similar to this one in form, i.e. “economic”, is sometimes erroneously assumed in such contexts as well. Particularly speaking, not only have both of these adjectives been interchangeably implemented in several “English for Economics” oral presentations and written works, but they have also been largely misinterpreted in several reading comprehension tasks, when students were either assigned to translate the adjectives from English into Czech (and vice versa) or make up an example expression as a part of their follow-up practise task. According to a common perception of some students, which is possible to agree with, meanings of certain words have been claimed to be directly inferred or more or less guessed at their first glance or impression. However, this is usually not the case in point for this pair of adjectives. Though clearly related, their seemingly obvious meanings (particularly when each is seen separately) are, strictly speaking, mutually quite distinct and may turn out to be very confusing. Therefore, those intending to use either of these adjectives should completely “explore” them and/or refer to a decent dictionary beforehand in order to avoid errors, as illustrated in the following examples:

The company didn’t have very good economical results… and the economical situation was bad because of…

The examples were formed as a part of the “Current Financial Trends and Practices” oral discussion, prepared by a female student attending the “English for Economics” tutorials. The student, who allegedly felt she had insufficient time for her preparation, admitted to having merely guessed some of the used expressions or briefly looked them up in an online dictionary linguee.cz, which also serves as a translation search engine. After typing a request for translation, the result is typically displayed here as a highlighted expression in a bilingual context of (left-handed and right-handed columns of) sentence(s) or longer pieces of texts concerning particular areas, such as economics, transportation, the EU regulations, etc. Unfortunately, in spite of being usually considered by some as a decent reference, the dictionary may sometimes lack officially verified translations or include sentences translated from unqualified sources. Nevertheless, the student inquired about the mistakes afterwards and demanded an explanation, which would help her distinguish the main differences between the aforementioned adjectives. Thus, to put this language matter into a semantic perspective, the actual meaning of “economical” may be seen as “not using a lot of resources” or “being frugal”. It is then adequate to employ this particular term only in connection with situations that indicate avoiding waste or extravagance, i.e. when particular acts or activities are not wasteful of time, effort, money, etc., but are rather thrifty, sparing (e.g. walking or cycling to school/work instead of driving), saving (e.g. when travelling in economy class) or even efficient (e.g. fuel, work, energy). On the other hand, “economic” denotes actions or events, which are related to trade, industry or money. Therefore, when considering the use of “ekonomický” for topics relating to the science of economics (e.g. economic theories) or issues concerning finances or material resources (e.g. economic development or crisis), students are strongly recommended to choose “economic” (instead of “economical”) in their texts or spoken discourses. As a result, the above examples would be altered in the following manners:

The company didn’t have very good economic results… and the economic situation was bad because of (due to)…

3.7. actually (really, in fact) → doopravdy, ve skutečnosti, vlastně X aktuálně [at present, currently, up-to-date, topically]

In terms of the linguistic false friendship, “actually” has been one of the most frequently and repeatedly applied and confused words (not only in the works of the above students). As both its pronunciation and form bear a strong resemblance to the Czech word “aktuálně” (i.e. at present, currently), which is an adverb as well, it is obvious to see the reasons why from this standpoint. (Likewise, a similar example in this respect would also be the English adverb “eventually” – i.e. at last, finally, which some Czech learners translate or view as “eventuálně” – i.e. or, if need be, alternatively. Being under this apprehension, they show a degree of language inconsistency in their expressions). Again, both “actually” and “eventually” prove that it is always a good idea to verify the correctness of meaning, even though it may seem patently obvious. To provide an example, the following sentence illustrates the former word’s intended yet incorrect use, as heard in a student’s oral “English for Economics” presentation on a particular business company:

Company’s figures on profits are not actually available, but should be soon published on the web site.

When asked about this sentence, the student confirmed that the intended meaning here was to convey that it wasn’t possible to access any information on the company’s financial gains then or at the time the presentation had been put together. However, “actually”, which was originally thought to stand for “currently”, wasn’t appropriately used in this context and semantically affected the sentence. Apparently, the mistake was caused due to the student’s improper use of the Czech online translator mujprekladac.cz, which functions on the same basis as the Google or Yandex online translators. One of the very few drawbacks of their use, however, reside in their displaying certain misleading translations, unless the request for translation was typed with adequate context and/or particular diacritical marks, the latter being the case here as well. The student acknowledged the mistake and inquired about a more accurate version. A revised and perhaps more improved sentence construction was therefore suggested:

Although the company’s profit figures are currently not available, they are expected to be published on its website soon.

4. Conclusion (Suggestions for Improvement)

At times it may be difficult for teachers (let alone learners/students) of English to determine what is correct and what to teach (to learn/to study). Besides Association of Teachers of English of the Czech Republic, there is currently no official authority in the country to decide the “rights or wrongs” of the English language. However, it should not be seen as an excuse and should not prevent the learners/students of English either from developing their knowledge (not only) in their studied language. Acquisition of such knowledge may also contribute to a variety of choices for their active vocabulary, since it may provide them with guaranteed certainty for future reference that their answer is faultless, should the topics or tasks, they have previously struggled with, be brought up and discussed again. As well as that, it would raise their level of language confidence in these circumstances and positively motivate them in their further progress (and ongoing process) of developing specific skills and abilities in English, without relying heavily on some of the online translators. Furthermore, when teaching specific methods (and learning how) to try and avoid language interference, it might be a good idea to remind all of the involved individuals that their concern should reside in their effort to be understood correctly. In connection with this, they should also try and change their way of thinking and adopt “the native speaker’s attitude”, as they are likely to be anticipated to use rather standard English than their own version of it. Moreover, they should look out for nuances in meaning and bear in mind the language “clusters” and not merely separate vocabulary. A positive approach (without worrying too much about the received feedback) should be encouraged as well, possibly in the form of addressing the learners/students that progressing or flourishing their language will occur sooner or later. Also, in order to better their English and to lessen the amount of mistakes in this particular context of interference, the individuals could be suggested (beside reading books, watching films or listening to radio programmes in English) following some of these steps, e.g.:

  • do quizzes and on-line exercises in Moodle based on English or Czenglish;
  • visit <http://www.helpforenglish.cz> or <http://www.sogoodlanguages.com/english>, which are websites mainly for individuals requiring interactive and user-friendly content for their learning and practice with provided expert feedback;
  • based on the German book “Speak you English?” (by G. Bischoff, also available online in pdf format), try and work out which English sentences are right or wrong and why;
  • draw a greater attention to collocations (these can be searched through a web corpus of British English on the website of Institute of Czech National Corpus, i.e. <http://ucnk.ff.cuni.cz/english/index.php>;
  • search (or “google”) through Fagan Finder, which is an interface enabling to restrict searches to particular domains or languages;
  • use Amapro or CZIN, which are relatively new Czech search engines able to verify translations and their frequency and also to decline and conjugate;
  • search through googlefight to learn about frequency on the Internet relatively quickly, as it compares two words or phrases, with multiword expressions having to be in inverted commas;
  • make use of “good” (i.e. decent) English texts grouped together either as authentic printed materials (e.g. Czech magazines Bridge or R&R for elementary to intermediate levels and the Czech Journal or Prague Daily Monitor for intermediate to advanced levels) or available on the Internet (e.g. The Times Archive, the BBC Archive, etc.);
  • in case of translating a text through an online translator from Czech into English, make sure to always include the relevant diacritical marks in the respective translation box when typing the text;
  • when in need of a reliable online translator, use the more proven ones, such as <http://dictionary.cambridge.org/translate>, which allows one to type a text with up to 160 characters each time and up to 2,000 per day.

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