Be careful with false cognates when learning English

When a person makes the decision of learning English, he/ she should be aware of the different obstacles that can be found along the process. One of this obstacles, especially in the beginner levels, are false cognates. False cognates are words in English that can be confused with another word in the native language due to its similarity in spelling.

It is very common that a basic English learner tries to relate as much as he/ she can to his native language. In some cases this transfer can be benefitial but in other cases it can slow down the process. It is very important that you start differentiating them from a very early point in your language learning process. False cognates should be taught in the beginner levels in order to avoid future confusions and embarrassments.

In this articles you are going to find the most common ones to help you avoid confusing them. The first one is the word rope which is very similar to the Spanish word “ropa”. This word tends to be confused at the beginner levels due to the fact that there is only a change in the last vowel. The definition of the word rope is a very strong thick string and the corresponding word for “ropa” in English is clothes which is not similar at all to the Spanish word.

Another interesting false cognates is embarrassed which is confused with the Spanish word “embarazada”. If you don’t know what the meaning of embarrassed is and you see it in a sentence like “I am embarrassed” you will probably think you are right by thinking that it means “embarazada” in Spanish. However if the text where you read the sentence is talking about a man, you will understand that it does not mean that. That is why the context is so important. The meaning of embarrassed is “apenado/a”. The correct word in English for “embarazada” is pregnant. So the next time you want to say that you are expecting a baby don’t let the false cognates confuse you and make you say embarrassed instead of pregnant.This word cause me a lot of trouble when I was first learning English, I used to think that carpet was “carpeta” and I said to my teacher: “Teacher I forgot to bring my carpet” at that moment the teacher kindly corrected me and told me : “Simon the correct word for “carpeta” in English is folder”. After 3 times that I made the same mistake, I finally learnt that carpet did not mean “carpeta”. Then, I discovered that I was always saying to the teacher: “Profesor se me olvido traer la alfombra”. This is another reason why it is important to differentiate the false cognates; to avoid feeling embarrassed.

The last cognate that I will cover in this article is fabric. It is innate that when you see this word for the first time, you will instantly think in a “fabrica” instead of “tela” which is what fabric really means. The correct word for “fabrica” in English is factory.

We can help our students to avoid confusing these words by giving them words within a context. This is an useful strategy to avoid getting confused by the false cognates because it will help them to learn to get the meaning of the word out of the context. It is also important that rather than giving them tons of isolated words, we should give them words within a sentence that provides them a little bit of context. These sentences do not have to be very complex, they can be simple as longer as they make sense and give the learners some context.

By: Simon Ramirez

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