While exploring a new city by yourself, your phone ran out of battery. You want to call your friends to let them know, and you still know their phone number for some weird 1990s reason. You walk up to a stranger waiting at a bus stop and ask:

Can you give me a handy?

Slow down there, cowboy! You accidentally asked them something very inappropriate. You might even get slapped in the face for it.

Nokia introduced the term “Handy” to explain mobile phones to the German market. They decided to describe them as “phones you use with your hands”. You know, exactly like all other kinds of phones. The marketing term stuck for decades, but only has this meaning in Germany.

When used as a noun in English, “handy” is a slang term describing an adult activity. To avoid your spam folder, I won’t explain it here and recommend you look it up on urbandictionary.com instead. How do you feel about our bus stop story now? The question is still valid, but the response won’t help you call your friends.

You can also use “handy” as an adjective, similar to “Arm/arm” and “Fest/fest” in German. If a person is handy, they are good with tools and working with their hands. If a tool is handy, it is useful and practical. A mobile phone can be “handy”, but it won’t ever be “a handy”.

“Handy” is tricky because it looks so English. It is, but not with the same meaning as we have given it in German. This also teaches us to always check Urban Dictionary before naming products. I blame Nokia for this unnecessary and very awkward confusion.

When in need of a mobile phone, ask people for a “mobile phone” instead.

All lessons in this course


An actual video

Two words can look like translations of each other even if they aren’t. The word “actual” is our first venture into this category of false friends.

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Making a photo

Even if you translate each individual word in a sentence correctly, the resulting translation can still be off.

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What for a picture

Not every word in a sentence needs to appear in its translation. Languages don’t map to each other one-to-one.

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You can spot Germans by the fact that they use “or” to ask questions. Unfortunately, the word doesn’t work that way in English.

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Hello together

This mistranslation gave this course its name. “Together” refers to doing something with others. Here’s how to greet a group of people instead.

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What do you call a phone you can hold in your hand? Well, it’s not this. If you call it a handy, you’re in for some awkward looks.

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Becoming a car

“Bekommen” and “to become” are another pair of false friends. If you want something, make sure you’re not accidentally turning yourself into that thing.

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Less vs fewer

Is it “less mistakes” or “fewer mistakes”? They both seem to say that something is not as much as it was before, but only one is grammatically correct.

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False friends are everywhere. Eventually is very similar to the German “eventuell”, but it means something completely different.

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Why isn’t it “Whom let the dogs out”? The extra letter does not turn a regular “who” into a fancy version of itself.

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When coming from a language that doesn’t normally use them, where to put apostrophes can seem confusing.

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I vs me

Was an event organized by “Nina and I” or “Nina and me”? To find which one applies, take the other person out of the sentence for a second.

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Good vs well

You’re doing well, Superman is doing good. This lesson looks at the rules behind which of these two is correct in a given situation.

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Looking forward

When you’re excited about something, tell others what that thing is. On its own, you’re only saying half an expression otherwise.

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Gender-neutral pronouns

When you don’t know someone’s preferred pronouns, you can use they/them even when speaking about an individual person and not a group.

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We have been taught to always say please and thank you. Whether they are right for a situation depends on the context.

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Each other

Some actions happen to multiple people at once, like running into someone. In these situations, we need to use reciprocal pronouns.

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Other languages don’t always use the auxillary “do” as much as the English language does, so it’s often lost in translation.

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