The English false friends of Italian speakers: 10 of the most common and most unfortunate mistakes

Languages of the world: numbers and interesting facts
3 August 2017

English is often considered, quite wrongly, as an easy-to-learn language, especially by Italian speakers, who are experts at using gestures when they fall short of words.

However, while gestures and broken English may be regarded as funny and even seductive as part of a Latin lover’s techniques used while flirting with a hot Swedish blondie under the shade of a beach umbrella, you may end up learning the hard way that stumbling over cultural differences at an important meeting or while presenting your dream project to the company’s top-ranking executive is not screamingly funny.

So what are the most common and most serious mistakes Italian speakers are likely to make when speaking in English in a professional context, such that Queen Elisabeth II would want to set her beloved, but very strong and fierce, Corgi dogs on you?

Remember those infamed “false friends” you had to learn at school? According to Business English experts, these are 10 of the most common, and most unfortunate, mistakes made by Italian speakers. Beware!

  1. Notice

“I have some notices to share with you about this project.”

The word “notice” does not mean “notizia”, it means “avviso”, “comunicazione”, “nota”. And if you are in the States, beware! If you say to your boss “I want to give notice”, it means you want to resign.

  1. Vacancy

“I’m planning a vacancy to Mauritius.”

No. “Vacancy” does not mean “vacanza”. Job-seekers, for example, would like to find a vacancy, that is to say a vacant position. If you go “in vacanza”, you go on holiday (British English) or on vacation (American English).

  1. Argument

“This is the argument I’d like to talk about today.”

If you start out like this at a meeting, no wonder your English colleagues will look at you askance! In English Argument means “litigio”, “discussione”, while the words that translate “argomento” are topic, subject, matter, theme.

  1. Decided

“I am very decided to make a significant difference at your company.”

You are at a job interview and they ask you to talk about your strengths and weaknesses and you want to say that you are a determined person, ready to commit yourself to achieving your goals. If you want this message to get across to your British recruiter, forget decided, a false friend, and use determined instead, the correct word.

  1. Lecture

“I’ll give a lecture to your cover letter and I’ll give you my feedback.”

Lecture is a widely-used word both in professional and academic contexts to refer to a lesson at university or a conference. If you want to talk about “lettura”, you should use the verb to read and its substantivized form.

  1. Terrific

“The project was terrific. You have to do it again.”

If your boss tells you that you have done a terrific job, just smile and relax, for this word means “splendido”, “magnifico”, not “terribile” (terrible).

  1. Actually

“I’m actually working on a new project.”

This word is widely used (and abused) in the English-speaking world but is very tricky indeed for non-native speakers. In fact, Actually means “in realtà”, “effettivamente”, and is not at all a time expression. If you want to translate “attualmente”, the correct word to use is currently.

  1. Adjust

“I want to adjust the photocopier before the boss comes back.”

You may be very good at guessing, but be careful! Your guessed words often have completely different meanings, as is the case with adjust, which in spite of having a similar sound to “aggiustare” means “adattarsi”, “inserirsi”, “adeguarsi”. In English the correct word for “aggiustare”, meaning “riparare qualcosa di rotto”, is to fix.

  1. Realize

“We realized this project from scratch, we’re very proud of it.”

In this case too, there is no correspondence in meaning, just give up on that.

The verb to realise means “rendersi conto”, “capire”, “comprendere” and cannot be used to mean either “produrre” –you can use to design, to produce, or to craft instead or “realizzare”, “soddisfare” – which can be rendered by to fulfil or to make something come true.

  1. Ultimate

“The ultimate project I worked on wasn’t very interesting.”

Maybe one of the trickiest words and, hence, one of the most common errors. You may be strongly tempted to use it or translate it to “ultimo”, but we strongly suggest you take the trouble to use the correct word instead: last (“The last project I worked on…”). Ultimate means “definitivo”, “migliore”, “massimo” although it can mean “più recente” in certain cases.

Reistingue will turn your false friends into your best friends. Come and find out more!

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