English, Spanish and French Cognates

Ohhh how I LOVE cognates!  They are a multilingual learner’s best friend.  A cognate is a word that holds the same meaning and has an identical, or almost identical, spelling in more than one language.  I like to think of them as “freebies” when learning a new language; you most likely already know this word in English, so committing it to memory in Spanish or French will be so much easier.

Here is an example of a cognate in English, Spanish and French:

English: different
Spanish: diferente
French: différent (for a masculine description), différente (for a feminine description)

Besides a slight difference in spelling and the use of the accent mark in French, the word “different” is almost identical in three languages.  Isn’t it ironic that the word "different" is actually the same?!

In my book, The Perfect Present, I use cognates as much as possible to facilitate comprehension and phonetic learning in Spanish and French.  Please read below for two excerpts from my book that contain cognates:

At last, Dog finds a black collar with diamonds.
Por fin, Perro encuentra un collar negro de diamantes.
Enfin, Chien trouve un collier noir en diamants.

On Christmas Day, Dog is very nervous.
El día de Navidad, Perro está muy nervioso.
Le jour de Noël, Chien est très nerveux.

Although these cognates are amazing facilitators for learning to read and understand a new language, we don’t want to forget that the pronunciation of the word will most likely be different among the three languages.  For example, the word “nervous” in English is pronounced “nare-vee-oh-so” in Spanish and “nare-voh” in French.  Please look out for video tutorials on my website for pronunciation tips!

When you recognize words in another language, your mind is more open to learning the unknown words in the sentence.  I encourage you to look for cognates as you are reading in other languages!

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