Cognates are a powerful tool for learning a second language. Students of English learn to use the knowledge of cognates to build an extensive base of English vocabulary.
What are cognates?
Vocabulary/vocabulario, animal/animal, actor/actor, color/color are just a few of the thousand of English and Spanish cognates.
Cognates are an important part of learning English. Cognates are words in two languages that have the same or similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation. Spanish and English cognates include: doctor/doctor, family/familia, construction, construccion, and electricity/electricidad. Some languages like Spanish have thousands of cognates with English and other languages like Chinese and Arabic have very few.
Cognates, words in two languages that have the same or similar meanings and spelling increases English language learners vocabularies.
Why teach cognates?
These similarities in meaning and often in spelling give second language learners the ability to figure out new words and learn vocabulary in English more quickly. These cognates give students an instant foundation of vocabulary. When students can identify cognates from their first language it increases student English knowledge of vocabulary by thousands of words they already know.
English learners need to simply learn the spelling and pronunciation rules that go with the cognate and they have a strong foundation of English vocabulary.
What does the research say?
According to Nagy and Nagy, et al (1988; 1993) many Spanish second language learners need help recognizing and using cognates. Direct instruction by the teacher helps students use cognates to understand new or unknown words in English.
What are false cognates?
False cognates are words that are spelled or pronounced similarly in two languages, but do not have the same meaning. Idioma/Idiom in Spanish and English are examples of false cognates. Idioma in Spanish means language, while idiom in English means a phrase that does not mean what the words say (raining cats and dogs). Another important reason to teach English language learners about cognates is to alert them to the false cognates.
What can parents do?
Talk with your children. When you see a cognate, a word in two languages that have the same or similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation, point it out to your child and talk about the meaning in your first language. Remember, Spanish and English cognates include: doctor/doctor, family/familia, construction, construccion, and electricity/electricidad. Cognates are everywhere!
Here is a list of everyday cognates you can use to help teach your child the recognize and use cognates to build English Vocabulary!