Part 5: Teaching Cognates to English Learner Students


When it comes to English Language Learners, it is critical that students have the opportunity to see their native language as an asset.   Particularly for native Spanish speakers, a way to do that is to help them understand the sheer amount of academic vocabulary they have at their disposal through the use of cognates.

Teaching students to leverage their native language to their advantage by looking for cognates is incredibly powerful due to a number of factors. One of those factors is the nature of these cognates themselves. Many of the cognates in Spanish seem to be high use words that cross domains (Reading, Science, Math, etc.). For example, matemáticas and mathematics are cognates in Spanish. The fact that these are “high utility” words only strengthens the power of instruction with them because of the the impact of multiple exposure to a specific set of words and student acquisition of the “layers” of meaning a given word might have.

One strategy to do this is to following the process below:

  • Teach students what cognates are – “words that mean just about the same thing in English as in your native language”.
  • Have students look at for words that might be cognates in authentic texts
  • Have the students answer the following questions about the word
  • What is the English word and what is the native language equivalent?
  • Does the word mean about the same thing in both languages?
  • Do the words sound alike?
  • Do the words look alike?
  • Are the two words cognates? Why or why not?
  • Are there any parts of the word that are not the same?

While this strategy above is not fool-proof, it does begin to help students see how to pull from their native language knowledge in order to have access to a larger bank of words, concepts, and background knowledge which can only help.

If you have questions about cognate instruction, please don’t hesitate to leave your question below. Additionally, if there is an additional topic that you would like to see posted or additional ways that you engage your students to invest in word learning, please comment below. Or you can email us at tajulearning@gmail.com.