Look for Latin roots to help remember French and Spanish vocabulary!

Look for the Latin roots in Spanish and French words that may also be found English. This helps one remember vocabulary and appreciate the connection between languages!
Here are some examples!
1. Aprender is 'to learn' in Spanish (apprendre in French), which corresponds to the English word 'apprentice.'
2. Escribir is to write in Spanish (écrire in French), which corresponds to the English word 'scribe'
(escribe = he writes).
3. Dormir means 'to sleep' in Spanish (dormir in French as well), which corresponds to the English words 'dormitory' and 'dormant'.
4. Abrazar is 'to hug/embrace' in Spanish (embrasser in French), which corresponds to the English word 'embrace'. Keep in mind that in French it means a "kissing embrace" versus a "hugging embrace".
And there are many more! Please add to the list!
It is important to note that the Latin roots shared by an English, French and/or Spanish word will not mean that they have the same exact meaning. Instead, it will show that they are connected and can be used as a guide to help remember the new vocabulary word. It may be important to also point out how the words differ between the languages. For further information on this, and examples, read the posts below :)


Although it can prove helpful for the basics, it can also be a red herring due to the evolution of language. As such, I would stress to study current meaning and caution this approach.

Librairie means bookstore and no longer library. During the 16th century, la libraire de Montaigne was of course Michel de Montaigne's library (and a famous one at that).
1. It is worth noting that apprendre can mean both to learn and teach.
4. Embrasser like librairie is another good example of a false cognate (semi-false cognate) and how words change over time. Embrasser means to kiss rather than to hug. This is one of cultural significance as hugging in France is not very commonplace whereas les bises are.
Other common semi-false or false cognates: professeur/professor, réalizer/realize, raisin/raisin, prune/prune, grappe/grape, sympa(sympathique)/sympathetic, actuellement/actually etc.
Middle English was a time where English evolved rapidly. Meanings began to deviate from their roots of either old French, Latin etc.
Those are good points!

With that in mind, I do find that the semi-false (or semi-correct) cognates are still helpful. For example, thinking of a library to help one remember bookstore may be helpful when learning the new vocabulary word la librairie.

As you mentioned, however, it is definitely important to clarify that it is not the exact translation, just a guide. 

In fact, I find most of your examples to be great examples :)

1. Le professeur, when connected to the English word profesor, is a wonderful way to remember teacher.
(Note: teacher for middle, high school and university levels).

2. Réaliser, which sounds like to realize, can be helpful to remember that it not only mean to realize or understand something, but to fulfill like in “realizing your dreams”.

3. Sympatique, which sounds like sympathetic, is a great way to remember that it means nice. Although not always true, I like to say that if you think of a sympathetic person, you can think of a nice person.

4. La prune is connected to the English word prune, although it means plum. In this case, I would tell the student think of how a prune is made from a plum in order to help remember the word.

Thanks for clarifying!
This advice is for people learning a language and not people that have learned a language looking back.
A student/language learner given the word librairie would more times than not, assume it means library. Even after having learned that librairie means bookstore, it would take more time to distinguish it between library than learning a word that is completely dissimilar. Because they are so similar, and most teaching is relative to the working language (AmE in the US), this does more harm than help.
2. J'ai réalisé ce tableau. I can't think of many people that would say, I realized this painting. Although they may have similar meanings, the registers greatly differ. Réaliser more commonly means to accomplish/do/make happen/etc.
3. A person that is sympathetic, feels sympathy for others, this does not directly mean, "nice." This winding makes it difficult for students. Similarly, Les Pathétiques by Beethoven means stirring and moving rather than pathetic in common use.
The fault in teaching in this way means that students are not learning the actual meanings and use of words, but rather a distorted perspective of the target language (and even a perversion of their own). These implications are very important to keep in mind if the purpose of teaching is to make sure information is understood appropriately.
Thank you for sharing. While there is evidence about the benefits of not using one’s L1 (first language) when acquiring the L2 (second language), modern studies have proven that connecting the two languages to help one acquire the L2 is indeed very beneficial.

In my own experience, I have found it very helpful as well. Keep in mind, I am not saying to tell the student that la prune means prune, but that it is a key to help you remember that it means plum, for prunes are dried plums.

Going back to one of my first examples, escribir/écrire. These relate to the word scribe. It does not mean scribe, it is a tool to help the student remember it means to write, for a scribe writes.

Pretend that you have no idea what the word la librairie means in French. Your teacher tells you it means bookstore, and that a helpful way to remember this is to think of a library. I would say most students will remember this and find it a helpful tool for memorizing the new word, as well as to remember that it does not mean library.
Remember, these correlations are to build connectors to help one use their L1 to acquire the L2, not to give direct translations for the words. I hope this helps clarify. 
The librairie example is fine along with prune because they have fixed and simple meanings. However...
Especially the case with professor which, in the US is extremely specific. Not only does it mean someone that is the holder of a doctorate (or multiple with continuing work) but having tenure. In college more commonly, people come across lecturers, instructors, and all the like with "adjunct" or " associate" attached. The association between professeur and professor is that of a blanket term vs a highly specific one. 

This rules proves more useful in Spanish with Italian or Italian with French because their language structures are more similar (romantic languages and not Germanic...). 
Take your example inversely with réaliser or even embrasser. These connectors between L1 and L2 cause confusion rather than clarification.
I see what you are saying. I agree that these semi-correct/semi-false cognates could definitely cause the student to mistake the meaning of the word if they simply look at the new word/L2 word, see it’s similarity to the L1 word, and then assume that is the meaning without looking into it further.

That is all the more reason to discuss the correlations (and differences, like you’ve mentioned) between the words that share Latin roots.

I like that you are bringing up the importance of emphasizing the differences between the words. Like you said, réalizer is to fulfill, create, among other things, versus to become aware of, which is how it is most commonly used in English. This said, once the difference in meaning has been clarified, bringing up the English use of the word in the phrase I mentioned earlier, to realize one’s dreams, may help the student remember that réaliser means to fulfill. I will definitely add to my original blog the importance of clarifying the differences in meaning between words from the L1 and L2 that share the same Latin roots.


Shayna K.

ESL & Spanish Teacher - Lessons for all ages or for your Workplace

10+ hours
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