Cognates between English and Spanish: “good” or “false” friends?

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1. What are cognates?

 Cognates are words which have the same or very similar spelling in both languages (e.g. television, nation, actually)

 2. How would you classify cognates in terms of teaching their meaning?

 Cognates sometimes mean the same in both languages, and we could term them as “good friends”. Some other times, their meaning is totally different and we then term them as “false friends”. Finally, there are those which sometimes mean the same, but at other times don’t, depending on their context.

Thus, words like nation, television, analysis or hibernate are “good” friends because they mean the same in English and in Spanish.

 But words like ”to assume” or “sentence” sometimes mean the same in both languages, while other times they mean something different.

Indeed, the verbto assume” is a “false friend” in 90% of the cases and translates as “suponer” as in “Let’s assume the papers are a fake, who would’ve been interested in leaking them?”. The other 10% of cases is “ good friend”, translating as “asumir”. 

Sentence,  on the other hand, is a “good friend” in “pass sentence on” = “dictar sentencia”, and a “false friend” in “This sentence” = “Esta oración/frase”

False friends are many, among them:

Lecture “Conferencia”, “charla”
Actually “de hecho, por cierto, en efecto, por extraño que parezca, efectivamente”
Sensible “sensato”
Conductor “cobrador (de autobús), revisor”, “director de orquesta”
To collapse “hundirse”, destruirse”, venirse abajo”

How would you say the following Spanish words in English?

disponer de

 Consider now the following:

1. How would you teach cognates when they have the same meaning in both languages?

2. To which levels would you present false friends? Give reasons for your answer.

 The answer to the questions above, with some further examples, can be found in our Inglés: Volumen Práctico, together with other questions on verbal idioms, idiomatic expressions, hypernyms, synonyms, antonyms, etc. 

Cognates are also part of topic 11 of the 1993 list.



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  1. Pingback: Answers to 6th December 2012’s Listening where Ben Dyson is introduced | Business-and-Economics-English-Practice-with-SlsHallam

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