LEARNING STRATEGY: Transfer/Use Cognates
STANDARDS: Communication 1.1, 1.2, Cultures 2.1; Comparisons 4.1


Language:Any language that has many English cognates, e.g. Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German. Example: French

Proficiency Level: Intermediate, Advanced

Brief description of the activity: Students guess the meanings of many unfamiliar French words because of their similarity to English words. As a class, students will read an article from Le Figaro or another French-language newspaper with cognates underlined to guess the meanings. Then they will work on another article individually.


  1. Students will explore target culture perspectives.
  2. Students will explore target culture perspectives.
  3. Students will develop vocabulary
  4. Students will be able to use their knowledge of their first language (or other languages they speak) to guess the meaning of new words.

Language focus: Reading

Materials:Copies of an article from Le Figaro or another French-language newspaper for each student; a variety of French-language newspapers (one for each student or one for each pair of students)


  1. Introduce the content
    Present the first article to students and explain that you have underlined words that students may not have learned directly, but that are similar to words in English. (see example below).
    Liberia : les soldats français évacuent les étrangers de Monrovia
    Supervisée depuis Paris par l'état-major des armées, l'opération avait été baptisée "Providence". Elle a consisté, hier, à évacuer dans la journée d'hier 350 ressortissants français et étranger de Monrovia, alors que de violents combats se poursuivaient dans la capitale libérienne. [from Le Figaro, June 10, 2003]
  2. Introduce and model the learning strategy
    Explain that there are many terms in French that resemble words with the same or similar meaning in English. These words are often easy to recognize in written form, and guessing the meaning of such words based on the English words they resemble can help students to understand a piece of writing in French. These words are called cognates.

    Go through the first article with the students; define the first few words yourself. Then ask them to guess the meaning of the underlined words and suggest English words and their meanings that helped them make those guesses. Create a vocabulary sheet based on the cognates they learned. After reading, discuss how this article provides the French perspective on the issue or topic they read about.
  3. Practice
    Hand out various other newspapers or articles to students or student pairs, and ask them to read and underline the words that they could define based on similarity to English words. Ask learners how they could use cognates to help them in other language learning areas.


  1. Supplement classroom texts with assignments using other newspaper or magazine articles of interest to students.
  2. Have learners use cognates to help them understand new terms in a listening assignment.
  3. Create a fun lesson of false cognates (words that look or sound the same but actually have different meanings), to make sure learners do not become dependent on language transfer.

Teacher Resources (to help teacher enhance activity):
Many foreign-language newspapers and magazines can be found on the Web: