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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. 

Examples of Cognates

Here are some examples of the cognate for the word mother.

  • English: mother
  • Spanish: madre
  • German: mutter
  • Hindi: matri
  • Dutch: moeder
  • Latin: mater
  • Greek: meter

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.

What You Can do to Learn Cognates

Cognate flashcards are a great way to learn.  Try writing the English cognate on the front and the meaning and other language versions on the back.  Another idea is to highlight cognates as you come across them in textbooks and other reading material.  The more you pay attention to these words, the more you will start to notice them.