Because so many words in English came from French, there are many words that resemble each other in the two languages. In addition to recognizing these word pairs, it is necessary to find out exactly how words in a French sentence correspond to their counterparts in an English translation. This is an important part of learning a new language.
Introduction to Cognates (common words)
While I refer to these words as ‘common words’, they are actually called cognates. Cognates are pairs of words in different languages similar in spelling and meaning. They can help you, a second-language learner, to expand your vocabulary and reading comprehension. On the other hand, false friends are pairs of words that have similar spelling but different meanings. These words should be avoided at all cost. Partial cognates are pairs of words in two languages that have the same meaning in some, but not all contexts.
Learning cognates are truly important when preparing for your exams such as the DELF/DALF, TCF, TEF, as it allows you to learn a lot of vocabulary in a short period of time. In addition, when you are able to see the relationship between the two language it makes it even easier to appreciate and learn the language.
An App to help you practice learning Cognates:
Examples of cognates were given in the post “Michel Thomas Methods apps: Improve your vocabulary. Learn the common words between English and French”. In addition some examples were given. This is a great app to use to learn and practice using cognates and learning how to create French sentences. An extract from the article:
Examples of words formation that are similar in both languages include:
- words ending in -ion are very often practically the same in French (“election”, “reservation”, “nation”…);
- words ending in -ist, -ism are often the same but ending in -iste, -isme;
- verbs ending in -ate in English are often similar but ending in -er in French (e.g. to separate is séparer); adjectives ending in -ate(d) are very often the same but ending in -é (complicated is compliqué; frustrated is frustré);
- verbs ending in -ify and -ise/-yse in English are often similar but ending in -ifier or -iser in French;
- In general, where there’s a “basic” word and a “complicated” word for something in English, the “complicated” word is often actually French. For example the word “start” can be replaced by the word “commence” in English. With “start” being the simple word and commence being the complicated word. The French word “commencer” means to start in English. Other examples include: “keep” is English, but “conserve” and “preserve” are actually French words: conserver, préserver.
Other alternatives to the App, to learn cognates:
Now we both know that this app is not the cheapest. As a result, for those of us who do not want to buy the app but would still like to know about cognates/ common words, I have provided two lists which I have come across. One is a list of cognates/common words between French and English and the other will show you how to recognize cognates/common words when you see them.
While I am not promising that these two lists are complete, it is a good place to start improving your vocabulary.
A short list of some false cognates or “faux amis” from French to English:
(This list was adopted from http://linguistech.ca)
- Actuel(lement) – CURRENT(LY), not actual(ly)
- Ancien – FORMER, not ancient
- Assister à – TO ATTEND, TO BE PRESENT AT, not to assist or to help
- Assumer – TO TAKE ON or ACCEPT, not to assume
- Change – FOREIGN CURRENCY, not change
- Comédien(ne) – ACTOR, not comedian
- Décevoir – TO DISAPPOINT, not to deceive
- Déception – DISAPPOINTMENT, not deception
- Deputé – MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT, not deputy
- Disposer de – TO HAVE (at your disposal), not to dispose of
- Éditeur – PUBLISHER, not editor
- Éventuel(lement) – POSSIBLE/POSSIBLY, not eventual(ly)
- Isolation – INSULATION, not isolation
- Issue – EXIT, SOLUTION, or OUTCOME, not issue
- Librairie – BOOKSTORE, not library
- Location – RENTAL, LEASE, HIRE or RESERVATION, not location
- Passer un examen – TO TAKE AN EXAM, not to pass an exam
- Prune – PLUM, not a prune
- Réaliser – CARRY OUT, ACCOMPLISH, TO COME TRUE, not to realize (in the sense of coming to understand or notice)
- Résumer – TO SUMMARIZE, not to resume
- Sensible – SENSITIVE, not sensible
- Tentative – AN ATTEMPT, not tentative