Cognates: Common Words Shared by More Than One Language

Ease into the English language with words that are already familiar to you. A great tip for learning English is to get familiar with cognates. Cognates are words that share similar spelling, meaning, and pronunciation in more than one language.

Benefits of Cognate Awareness

Research has shown that cognate awareness benefits learners by providing a bridge of familiarity between one language and the next. Cognate awareness is simply using cognates in your language of origin to understand an additional language. Cognate awareness can grow in the level of sophistication and difficulty. For example, cognates can have multiple meanings. The English assist and the Spanish asistir both mean ‘to help.’ However, asistir also means ‘to attend.’

False Cognates

Another great topic for discussion, and language exercise for English students is to study false cognates: False cognates appear to share a common origin as they may look or sound the same as words in another language. However, false cognates do not actually share a common origin. For example the word pie refers to a type of dessert in English. In Spanish, pie means foot. Pie is therefore a false cognate in English and Spanish. Another example is the word rope, which in English refers to a length of strong cord, and the word ropa (Spanish) which means clothing in English.

Do Cognates Work?

In English they say “ocean” and in Spanish we say “océano.” English and Spanish speakers can easily make the connection between these cognates to learn and remember the name of this place.

In English, they say “house” but in Spanish we say “casa.” House and casa are not cognates, and the lack of connection means learners will find those words harder to use and remember.

We know that people need to use their new language to really learn it. Cognates make it possible for language learners as you to use your new words right away. By starting with the cognate words, a learner can build their vocabulary and gain the confidence to add more words in their new language.