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Making a photo

You are on vacation and would love to have a picture to remember it by. You walk up to a stranger, hand them your camera, and ask:

Can you make a photo of me?

If they took you literally, most people couldn’t. Asking someone to make something is asking them to create it, and creating a photo requires paper, chemicals, and a very special set of skills. It is unlikely the person you asked has all of these.

The German “ein Foto/Video machen” translates to “taking a picture/video”.

The mistranslation is tricky, because it affects both directions. Bear with me, but: Germany’s Next Top Model.

My girlfriend was watching the show while I was minding my own business, which consisted mainly of me not watching Germany’s Next Top Model. On the show, one of the contestants proclaimed:

Heidi Klum nimmt meine Fotos!

Not watching the screen, I pictured a young woman holding photos. I assumed Heidi walked up to her and grabbed them out of her hand, leaving the contestant sad and without photos. But she didn’t sound sad. She sounded excited.

Her accent gave away that she was not born in Germany. Applying what we learned today, we now know what she wanted to say:

Heidi Klum is taking my pictures!

You see, Heidi was the photographer. She wasn’t taking anyone’s pictures away from them, she was taking taking pictures of them. We ran into the same mistranslation, but translating to German rather than from it.

You can take a photo, take a break, take a shower, or take a test, and none of them mean you are stealing something.

What else can you “take” that does not translate to “nehmen”? Tweet it to me at @domhabersack and help me grow my collection!

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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