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  • Yelena McCafferty

Why a Washing Machine Turns into a Car or on Linguistic Interference

Updated: Nov 18, 2020

The original idea for my next blog was to write about false friends of Russian interpreters. I meant to write about words which sound very similar to some English words and have a totally different meaning. A professional Russian interpreter would know the differences, but in the spur of the moment in a very stressful situation in which we may often find ourselves when interpreting, those words are almost spat out of our mouths. The English word “Dutch” sounds very much like Russian датский (Danish) and the Russian word pronounced “dekada” (декада) means only 10 days in Russian. But then I thought that writing about false friends of Russian language learners would be much more exciting.

I pick up these funny examples from my son who will hopefully grow up bilingual. When his dad tells him about a magazine, he means a journal, but when I say «magazin» (магазин), I mean a shop. Poor little soul must be getting even more confused when I call a toothpaste pasta (паста) in Russian and yet when I talk to his dad about pasta, I mean spaghetti or fusilli. A cravat is something you wear in English and кровать sounds exactly the same in Russian and actually means a bed.

My son calls a washing machine a car only because he thinks that machina (машина) is a car in Russian so must be the washer too. The little brain has transferred the word and is experiencing interference, the term they use in linguistics. A meek stranger in the street might get puzzled as to why our little boy shouts out дядя (dyadya), he is not his daddy! But the little one only meant to call him a man...

Russian speaking migrants living in the UK are beginning to confuse things too. Local councils are referred to by them as Consulates. So a council house becomes a consular house. Different things, I am sure, you’ll agree, even though both mean some kind of authority.

It’s catching and as long as my little son learns to speak both languages without mixing them and we, as Russian interpreters, do not use English words where there are perfectly good Russian equivalents, I think we are going to be all right and both languages will survive without too much littering.

[Tip: To use our Russian translation service, call us on 0207 0436940 or email]



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