Learning Spanish as a native English speaker may seem daunting at first, but the task becomes substantially easier when you grasp the concept of cognates. Cognates are words in two languages that share a similar meaning, spelling, and pronunciation due to a common etymological origin. By focusing on these familiar terms, English speakers can quickly expand their Spanish vocabulary.
Perfect cognates are words that spell the same way in both English and Spanish. These words can be a starting point for English speakers as they embark on their Spanish language journey.
- Animal: In both English and Spanish, ‘animal’ refers to any member of the kingdom Animalia.
- Hospital: This term is the same in both languages, referring to a health care institution providing patient treatment.
- Artista (Artist): Whether they’re creating masterpieces in Madrid or Miami, artists are known as ‘artistas’ in Spanish.
- Doctor: Whether they’re practicing medicine in Boston or Barcelona, doctors are called ‘doctors’ in Spanish.
- Capital: This term retains the same spelling and meaning in both languages, referring to a city that serves as the seat of government, or financial resources.
- Hotel: No matter where you travel, a ‘hotel’ will provide you with a place to stay.
- Restaurant: Wherever you choose to dine, a ‘restaurant’ is the place you’ll go to.
- Telephone: Whether in English or Spanish, a ‘telephone’ helps you communicate over long distances.
- Pilot: This term refers to someone who operates the flying controls of an aircraft, whether they are an English-speaking or a Spanish-speaking ‘pilot’.
Near-perfect cognates are words that have the same or very similar spellings and meanings in both languages. They often follow patterns, such as ending in -tion in English and -ción in Spanish, or -ary in English and -ario in Spanish. Here are some examples:
- Celebración (Celebration): The Spanish word ‘celebración’ and the English word ‘celebration’ are nearly identical, differing only in their accents.
- Dictionario (Dictionary): ‘Dictionario’ in Spanish translates to ‘dictionary’ in English. Note the similar endings -ario and -ary.
- Familia (Family): ‘Familia’ is the Spanish equivalent for ‘family’. While not spelled identically, they are very similar and have the same meaning.
- Naturaleza (Nature): ‘Naturaleza’ is the Spanish word for ‘nature’. The two words share similar spelling and meaning.
- Nación (Nation): The Spanish ‘nación’ translates to ‘nation’ in English. It represents a large body of people united by common descent, history, culture, or language.
- Religión (Religion): ‘Religión’ in Spanish translates to ‘religion’ in English, encompassing a set of beliefs about the universe’s nature and purpose.
- Ordinario (Ordinary): The Spanish ‘ordinario’ mirrors the English ‘ordinary’, meaning normal or commonplace.
- Comunicación (Communication): ‘Comunicación’ in Spanish and ‘communication’ in English both refer to the act of conveying meanings from one entity or group to another.
- Observación (Observation): In both languages, ‘observación’ and ‘observation’ refer to the action or process of closely observing or monitoring something or someone.
While cognates can be a fantastic learning aid, beware of false cognates – words that look similar but have different meanings in the two languages. An example is “embarazada,” which may look like the English “embarrassed” but actually means “pregnant” in Spanish. Always cross-check when in doubt!
- Carpeta (Folder): Despite its resemblance to the English ‘carpet’, ‘carpeta’ in Spanish actually means ‘folder’.
- Ropa (Clothes): ‘Ropa’ might seem similar to ‘rope’, but it actually means ‘clothes’ in Spanish.
- Sopa (Soup): You might be tempted to think it means ‘soap’, but ‘sopa’ is the Spanish word for ‘soup’.
- Ratón (Mouse): ‘Ratón’ might sound like ‘rat’, but it is actually the Spanish word for ‘mouse’.
The use of cognates can significantly speed up your language learning process. However, don’t forget to be mindful of false cognates. Happy learning!
Check out our series of Complete Spanish Grammar articles – everything you’ll ever need to know about Spanish grammar.
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