Language Learning: Cognates

Maybe you’re thinking about learning a new language, maybe you’re already learning one, or maybe you’re struggling to remember all the vocabulary of French, Romanian, German, Swedish, Spanish, Russian, etc. Today I’m going to share a tip with you that has always helped me remember the extensive vocabulary - especially as native speakers retain a vocabulary of 10,000 to 17,000 words. Plus, even if knowing just 2,000 words would give you a 95% comprehension of spoken English, 2,000 words is still eight times the length of this article.

Anyways, without further ado, language learners should think the following way to retain the vocabulary more easily:

  • German Hund is not English dog; think instead of English hound.
  • Spanish fin isn’t end, it is instead like finale or final.
  • Russian шофёр (pronounced shofyor) isn’t driver, it is chauffeur.

Just as a tidbit, most of English vocabulary is of French origin and Germanic origin - a great example being the above Spanish fin, which comes from the Latin finis, rather than end, which comes from Germanic Ende.

Especially if you’re jumping between languages in the same language family (such as the Romance languages), or learning a language from one with many loan-words (English is one), it has always helped me to think in this way. In fact, between English and any Romance language, it is fairly easy to find at least one word that follows from the same Latin root.

For example, you may have trouble remembering that the Spanish correr means run - it might help to remember that current, as in a flowing river stream, comes from the same Latin root currere (etymology of current).

With this simple technique, remembering seemingly unrelated vocabulary of a foreign language immediately becomes much easier. Thanks for reading.