Did you know that English and Spanish share 10,000 to 15,000 cognates? That means that you already know the meaning of around 10,000 to 15,000 words in Spanish! Qué fascinante! (You might recognize the Spanish word fascinante, which means "fascinating" in English!)
But… what is a cognate anyway? And how can cognates help you communicate in Spanish? Read on for tips for using cognates to boost your vocabulary!
What is a cognate?
A cognate is a word that looks similar in two languages and has similar meanings in both. And when it comes to learning a new language, a cognate is your best friend! Even if you've never officially learned the cognate in your new language, you can make a good guess about what it means. It's like getting vocabulary for free!
Languages might share cognates because they both evolved from a common language or because one language borrowed a word from another language:
- French and Spanish have a lot of cognates because they both developed from Latin.
- English and French share a lot of words because English borrowed heavily from French for centuries, especially after a big French invasion in England a thousand years ago. These languages have borrowed from each other more recently, too!
- English and Spanish have also had opportunities to borrow words from each other, especially in bilingual communities in the U.S. and Mexico.
As a result, you'll find many cognates in English and Spanish!
Sometimes words might look similar by accident… and they could have really different meanings! For example, the Spanish word embarazada may look a lot like the English word "embarrassed," but it actually means "pregnant"! Look out for these "false cognates" or "false friends."
Examples of cognates in Spanish and English
Since cognates have similar meanings and are pronounced similarly, English speakers might be able to guess the meanings of these Spanish words—even if you've never learned them before! (Check the end of the post for their translations.)
How to use cognates in Spanish to boost your learning
Cognates make it easier for you to use Spanish! They can help you feel more comfortable and confident whether you're a new learner starting out or an advanced learner looking to level up your skills.
Here's how you can use cognates to increase your Spanish vocabulary:
- Look for cognates on social media. Follow accounts that post in Spanish and see if you can identify cognates in their posts. The comment section is also a great place to look for cognates. If you do this every day, you'll soon have your own cognate list!
Música y amistad, la mejor combinación pic.twitter.com/BBy8cGJfSs— Shakira (@shakira) January 31, 2023
- Read an article in Spanish about a favorite topic. Look for a Wikipedia page, news article, Reddit forum, or even a Duolingo blog post in Spanish about a topic or celebrity you already know a lot about. Combining cognates with your existing knowledge about the topic is a great way to challenge your reading skills! You'll also be building vocabulary and grammar relevant to your interests. 💪
- Pay attention to cognates in Duolingo Stories. Speaking of your favorite topics, Duolingo Stories are a great place to use cognates for learning! Stories are designed to boost your comprehension abilities by combining what you learn in lessons with new vocabulary and grammar, so they're a great place to put your cognate knowledge to the test!
- 💡 FOR ADVANCED LEARNERS: Read your favorite English book in Spanish. By finding a Spanish version of a beloved book, you get to experience the story for the first time all over again! Even though you already know the plot and how it ends, the story and even the characters will feel different in Spanish. You'll encounter more complex words by reading books—and many of them will be cognates!
Cognates are another tool you can use to learn Spanish!
Keep an eye out for new cognates when you practice Spanish! For more tips about learning Spanish, read our posts, or send your own question to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cognates in Spanish and English
|limón||lemon (and lime!)|