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English Detective # 54— Cognates: Language in Common, 8-4-15
August 04, 2015

The current investigation (Introducing this issue):

I have been fascinated by cognates and their use (and potential misuse) in language learning for a long time. Because English has Germanic roots, it has many words that resemble their German counterparts. However, when I was studying German this spring (before a special visit to central Europe), I was surprised that there were not more cognates in the basic vocabulary I was trying to learn.

On the other hand, the academic English vocabulary I have emphasized on EnglishHints has far more words in common with Spanish and other Romance languages (both words coming into English from French after the Norman Conquest and scholarly words directly from Latin roots.)

If English Language Learners become familiar with the way these words come into English, their differences in pronunciation, and the English suffixes that show different parts of speech, they have a huge head start in studying academic vocabulary.

However, they do need to be aware of false cognates and of multiple meanings that might not match the primary meanings in their first language. (One more reason to teach them to look a word up if the meaning they know doesn’t make sense in context.)

The rest of this newsletter gives annotated links to cognate research, to cognate practice on EnglishHints, and to a new packet of cognate practice materials that I hope will prove useful in classrooms with lots of Spanish-speaking ELLs.

There is also a link to some fascinating research on the way causation is expressed in various languages and how it may affect perception, and helpful videos and discussion on teaching academic language (CALP).

Getting the whole story

Cognate Research:

The April 2015 IDRA Newletter has a summary of cognate research.

They note that Jiménez & Gámez (1996) found that just using cognates is not enough, “Direct instruction is required” to show students how to make connections.

Colorin Colorado also discusses research on teaching language learners how to use cognates and to recognize the possibility of multiple, sometimes different, meanings.

They suggest having students record cognates they find as they read, then share them and discuss differences in spelling and sound with the related words in their first language. (Students can point out spelling differences for the teacher to circle as s/he makes a class list of the cognates found.)

They also emphasize the importance of teaching about false cognates: ”words that look alike but do not have the same meaning in English and Spanish.”

Cognate Practice on EnglishHints

Here's a cognate practice page.

If you would like more practice and lesson suggestions, see the new EnglishHints Spanish-English Cognates pdf. There are versions both for self-study ("Learn...") and for classroom use ("Teach...")

It has a number of useful ways for English learners to practice with cognates.

I would love to get some feedback on it.

If you are interested in it, and willing to send me a brief evaluation (whether positive feedback, criticism, or suggestions, along with a note about your class size and level and possibly how you intend to use it) “reply” to this email.

I will send a free copy to the first five subscribers who respond and will reduce its price for any others who respond before Thursday.

You might also be interested in:

Lost in Translation ” We don’t shape language, language shapes us.”

Lera Boroditsky studies the differences in the ways languages express actions and intentions. She points out that in English (unlike Spanish or Japanese) “if I knock this cup off the table, even accidentally, you would likely say, ‘She broke the cup.’”

She has found that in languages like English, which emphasize the person responsible for an action, whether deliberately or accidentally, the speaker is more likely to remember who did it.

“She is amassing a body of intriguing and creative evidence that language influences how its speakers focus their attention, remember events and people, and think about the world around them.”

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