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Lesson Transcript


Michael: What are some Swedish-English false friends?
Jesper: And what are some words that are often used incorrectly?
Michael: At SwedishPod101.com, we hear these questions often. In the following dialogue, Sverker Ström is sharing a cooking recipe with Mark Lee. Mark gets confused when Sverker says,
Sverker Ström: Du behöver lite dragon.
Michael: "You need some tarragon."
Sverker Ström: Du behöver lite dragon.
Mark Lee: Vad?
Michael: Once more with the English translation.
Sverker Ström: Du behöver lite dragon.
Michael: "You need some tarragon."
Mark Lee: Vad?
Michael: "What?"

Lesson focus

Michael: In this lesson, we will talk about Swedish words that are sometimes used incorrectly. In other words: ‘false friends'. But what are ‘false friends'? They are words that exist in two languages that may look or sound alike, but which do not have the same meaning. In some cases, the two words may even have opposite meanings!
English and Swedish are both Germanic languages, which means they developed from a single, early, parent language. Languages that derive from the same ancestry tend to share some similar characteristics. The exact origin of each word is difficult to track, but most of them started as loanwords from a third language and, due to cultural influences, developed different meanings in each language over time.
Let's look at some examples. Also, remember to practice with Jesper, if you choose! We're going to start with
Jesper: [NORMAL] Barn [SLOWLY] Barn
Michael: which means ‘child'. The word ‘barn' in Swedish doesn't refer to a building housing farm animals the way it does in English—it means a child, or children. In Swedish, a barn is called a:
Jesper: [NORMAL] ladugård [SLOWLY] ladugård
Michael: The next false friend in Swedish is
Jesper: [NORMAL] Gift [SLOWLY] Gift
Michael: which is spelled like the English ‘gift', g-i-f-t, but has nothing to do with a present. It actually has two meanings. As an adjective, it means ‘married', or, when used as a noun, it means ‘poison.' Interesting, right? You don't want to get that one wrong! In Swedish, a gift is called a:
Jesper: [NORMAL] gåva [SLOWLY] gåva
Michael: Another example of a false friend is:
Jesper: [NORMAL] Hugg [SLOWLY] Hugg
Michael: which won't get you a hug, it will get you a stab! If you want to embrace someone in Sweden, a hug is called a
Jesper: [NORMAL] kram [SLOWLY] kram
Michael: Now, here's a common Swedish word that comes up when talking about future plans, so it's important to know what it means:
Jesper: [NORMAL] Eventuellt [SLOWLY] Eventuellt
Michael: It sounds like ‘eventually', right? Well, in Swedish, it means ‘possibly', which is just not the same thing. ‘Eventually' is something that will happen, whereas ‘possibly' is something that might happen. The way to say ‘eventually' in Swedish is actually a two-word phrase:
Jesper: [NORMAL] så småningom [SLOWLY] så småningom
Michael: Then, some Swedish-English false friends could land you in embarrassing situations if you get them wrong, such as:
Jesper: [NORMAL] Kiss [SLOWLY] Kiss
Michael: which has nothing to do with romance and actually means ‘pee'! I would write that one down! But since we're on the subject of kissing, a kiss in Sweden is a similar word, but it's spelled with a ‘y' and pronounced differently like this:
Jesper: [NORMAL] kyss [SLOWLY] kyss
Michael: Glad we sorted that out!
[Recall 1]
Michael: Now, let's go back to the dialogue. Can you remember how Sverker says
Jesper as Sverker: [NORMAL] Du behöver lite dragon. [SLOWLY] Du behöver lite dragon,
Michael: meaning "You need some tarragon"? Well, as funny as it sounds in Swedish, Sverker is definitely not suggesting Mark Lee put some dragon in the recipe!
‘Tarragon' is an herb used for cooking, as I'm sure you know. The interesting thing about this word is that, in old Europe, it was commonly called ‘dragon's wort' or ‘dragon weed'—which comes from its Latin name, Artemisia dracunculus. Based on that, it's clear why the Swedes call it
Jesper: dragon!
Michael: For your information—in Swedish, a dragon is called a
Jesper: [NORMAL] drake [SLOWLY] drake
[Recall 2]
Michael: Now, do you remember how Mark Lee asked,
Jesper: [NORMAL] Vad? [SLOWLY] Vad?
Michael: meaning "What?" Mark Lee asked this because he did not understand what Sverker meant. As you can hear, these two words sound quite similar. So, in this case, we have a match! Be careful of the context, though, because the word
Jesper: vad
Michael: has more than one meaning in Swedish. It can also mean a bet or wager, or it can mean the lower part of your leg—your calf.
In this lesson, we learned that ‘false friends' are words in two languages that appear to be the same, but, in fact, have different meanings. We covered a few examples of Swedish-English false friends and how to use them correctly.
Cultural Expansion
Michael: In addition to the common Germanic origins of English and Swedish, Old Norse—the language from which Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic evolved—had a significant influence on the development of English through colonization. So, it is not surprising that the two languages share some vocabulary.
In fact, there are a number of Swedish words that resemble English and also share the same meanings. However, never just assume two visually-similar words mean the same thing!
Some cases are a little more tricky. For instance, a few Swedish words translate to two different English words. Like this one:
Jesper: [NORMAL] effektiv [SLOWLY] effektiv
Michael: Which means both ‘effective' and ‘efficient'. In English, the meanings are not exactly the same, are they? ‘Effective' means achieving a goal, whereas ‘efficient' means achieving a goal using little money or effort.
Then, there's the Swedish word,
Jesper: [NORMAL] ambitiös [SLOWLY] ambitiös,
Michael: which is less complex and more positive than the English ‘ambitious'. In English, ‘ambitious' may also imply ruthlessness or undue optimism. Swedes use it only as a positive word. Our Swedish friends sometimes have difficulty with these subtle differences when learning English.


Michael: Do you have any more questions? We're here to answer them!
Jesper: Vi ses!
Michael: See you soon!

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