Quintilingual ex-dancer born in Budapest who grew up lived and worked in Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin, London, the US, and the Far East.
There are over 900 million Latin-based language speakers all over the world for whom learning a new Latin-based language is easier than you think. Why? Because their native language already contains many words that are the same or very similar to any other Latin-based language. This article shows how such crucial words can easily be discovered by two factors:
- All Latin-based languages share words with similar suffixes (word endings).
- Many of such words are also cognates. Cognates are words in different languages that look the same, sound the same, and also mean the same.
So Where is the Similarity? The similarity between English and all other Latin-based languages lies in suffixes (word endings) and cognates. The last syllable in thousands of words is virtually the same in English as it is in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and several other related languages like Filipino, etc.
Let us define which suffixes we are talking about. All words ending with
are the same or very similar, just with a different pronunciation. Let us begin by looking at some words ending on "-ion".
And that is only the tip of the iceberg. According to The Free Dictionary's Word Finder, there are 13113 words in the English language that end with "-tion"! Not all of them are cognates of course but thousands are.
Words ending with "-able"
Try to say out loud the next 10 words with a French accent, then a Spanish or Italian one. Getting the accent right makes up, I would guess, at least 60% of language fluency. Living in Spain now I often hear English people speaking a grammatically perfect Spanish sentence to a Spaniard who then puts his palms up in the air and responds with "Qué?", not understanding a word the Englishman is saying. So if possible ask a French, Spanish Italian, or Portuguese friend to read the following words out loud for you in their native tongue.
According to The Free Dictionary's Word Finder, there are 2695 words in the English language that end in "-able"! They might not all work but it's sure worth having a go.
Words Ending with "-ible"
Now say out loud the next 10 words with a French accent, then a Spanish or Italian one. The words are the same, only the pronunciation is different.
According to The Free Dictionary's Word Finder, there are almost 500 words that end in "-ible"! Sometimes the "-ible" suffix changes to "-able" as in the English word "responsible" which translates to Fench and Spanish as " responsable".
Words Ending in "-ant", "-ent", "-ance", & "-ence"
The next table shows a list of only 5 words in each of the suffixes categories. Again, the words can all be read in several different languages, depending on which language's accent you choose to speak with.
In French, the words are usually spelt the same as in English with maybe the odd "é" with an accent aigu. In Spanish, ”-ance” becomes “-ancia” and "-ence" changes to "encia" but basically the words are the same. For example, the word "evidence" in English turns into "évidence" in French and "evidencia" in Spanish.
Find out more about the similarity between Latin-based languages in the next video.
The next useful language learning hack is to make full use of cognates. What are Cognates? Remember, cognates are words in different languages that
- look the same
- sound the same
- mean the same
In English, there are over 1,700 “true cognates” borrowed from French – that is, words that not only look the same or similar but have exactly the same meaning in both languages.
This came in handy when I was new to London, aged 25, hardly speaking a word of English, I began to realize that so many English words were the same as, or very similar to French. Being fluent in French, my trick was to simply use a French word like for example "journal", and then try to pronounce it in an English fashion. And it often worked. I later found out that such words are called cognates.
Follows a short example of a paragraph full of English/French true cognates. How many can you find?
Spot the French True Cognates
The lieutenant asked his wife, “Shall we go to that restaurant over there? I do hope they have a good chef.” They sat down in the elegant settings. “Let’s have a look at the menu, she said. “Do you like aubergines? Look, they also have courgettes. Hhm, maybe I’ll have an omelette instead and a salad with plenty of vinaigrette.” OK, then we can finish the meal with a dessert of crème brulée.”
Mind the False Cognates
False Cognates are words in different languages that
- look the same
- sound the same
- do not mean the same
False Cognates May Cause Embarrassment
One day, an Englishman working in Spain was late for work because he failed to wake up on time. He told his boss "lo siento y embarazada" believing it to mean "I am sorry and embarrassed". After a short silence his boss broke out in wild laughter. "embarazada" means "pregnant" in Spanish.
The next short video explains the difference between cognates and false cognates.
More Embarrassing Misunderstandings
The Ant in the Beer
An English speaking visitor to a French rural town is sitting in a bar drinking a beer.
He is approached by one of the locals who points at the beer and says "fourmi".
"No, no" replies the visitor "for me, it’s mine".
The Frenchman thinks for a minute and the repeats "fourmi".
The visitor rather exasperated says again "No, no, for me".
This sequence is repeated several times until the visitor, very annoyed, thumps the Frenchman who hastily leaves the bar.
The barman seeing the altercation comes across and explains: “There is an ant in your beer!”
"Oh heavens" says the visitor, "I must apologize to him. Does he come in here often?"
"Yes, every day" replies the barman. The next day the visitor meets the Frenchman again in the bar and apologetically says,
The Frenchman waves his arms about in fright and replies,
“Non, non, pas comme hier!” (= “not like yesterday”)
Despite a few accidental misunderstandings that can arise from using false cognates, knowing that so many thousands of words are the same or very similar in so many other languages makes learning a new language much more attractive. Of course, it takes more than just vocabulary to learn a new language, but now that you can recognize suffixes and cognates they can open your mind to those words you didn't know you already knew in at least 7 languages.
With a second or third language at your fingertips, the opportunities are endless. Good luck and let us know how you are getting on in the comments discussion.
Sources and Further Learning
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Ravi Rajan from Mumbai on March 10, 2021:
This is very useful information written by you in a simple and understandable way.Thanks for sharing.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 09, 2021:
This is interesting an so well-written. I learned the Croatian language and a difficiult language.