One real advantage in learning German rather than Vietnamese, for example, is that the two languages share common roots and have many words in common. This advantage can also be problematic. You can develop a sense that you know more than you do each time that you ask how to say something in German and are given either the English word or a cognate – Question/Frage: Wie sagt man “balcony” auf deutsch? Answer/Antwort: Balkon. You can also be lulled into a false sense of security, a feeling that if a German word looks like English, you can treat it as the same word…which brings us to false friends – die Übersetzungsfalle or der Fauxami.
Just for fun, I broke down the first translation of “false friend.” With so many compound words in German, one can often come up with a reasonable stab at a word’s meaning from this sort of exercise and it certainly helps widen your understanding of the smaller words that make up the compound.
über – across
setzen – to put, to place, to set
Übersetzung – translation
Falle – trap
So, roughly, we have a trap in putting the meaning in one language across into a second language, or a translation trap.
The second translation is a loan word or Fremdwort – der Fauxami is a direct import of the French faux ami.
Interestingly, der Feind, the translation of the word “enemy” is nearly a true friend or cognate as one’s enemy could certainly be thought of as a “fiend” especially if you engage in Freund-Feind-Denken or the feeling that “if you aren’t with us, you’re against us!”