A Lesson Plan and Activities for Teaching False Cognates in Spanish

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Teaching false cognates in Spanish will help your students more clearly express themselves in their new language.

Cognates and False Cognates

Cognates are words from different languages that share a similar origin. A native English speaker reading the Spanish word familia for the first time would likely guess that the word translates as “family”. However, not all similar looking or sounding words actually have similar meanings. For instance, while a pie is a tasty treat in English, un pie is a foot, and asistir means “to attend” rather than “to assist”. These words are known as false cognates, and also referred to as falsos amigos/false friends.

Ideas for Teaching False Cognates in Spanish

Before discussing false cognates, it’s important for students to understand what cognates are. One way to introduce the concept is to present a reading passage that contains numerous words that are beyond their vocabulary level but includes many cognates. Ask them to attempt to figure out the meaning of the new words. Share the correct translation and then ask them how they successfully figured out the meaning of some of the new words. Lead the discussion toward a definition of cognates.

When first introducing the concept, this article on false cognates may be a useful resource for students. Ask students to create skits based on words on the list and the misunderstandings they might cause. The humor will help students remember the correct translation. Here is a download of false cognates in Spanish for your students,

Visuals can be helpful for teaching false cognates in Spanish. A picture of a student raising his or her hand can help your class remember that contestar means “to answer” rather than having anything to do with competing in a contest. You don’t need great artistic skill. Clip art and magazine cutouts will be just as helpful as drawings. Students can also create these pictures. Assign one word to each student and then ask the students to present their illustrations to the class.

Some teachers would rather not devote an entire class period to a topic that is unrelated to the current unit of instruction. You can still help your students understand false cognates by having a false cognate of the day. Start off each class period by introducing a new falso amigo. Discuss with the students what the word sounds like and then give several examples of its correct meaning. By only spending a few minutes on this task each day, you can introduce numerous new words to your students without interrupting the overall flow of your curriculum.

Again, visuals would be very helpful in illustrating the true meaning of these words. Illustrations can be used to create a wall of false cognates if you have a bulletin board available. To make the learning more student-directed, assign words to individuals in the class and ask them to present them to the class in your place.

A fill-in-the-blank activity is a good way to give students additional practice or to quiz them at the end of the lesson. For example:

Comí ________ en el restaurante. (la sopa)

Me lavo con _______________. (el jabón)

No puedo ________ su número de teléfono. (recordar)

Quiero __________ el programa de television esta noche. (grabar)

Tenía mucho __________ con la entrevista y ahora tiene un trabajo. (el èxito)

Caminaron por ___________ del colegio al fin del día. (la salida)

After introducing the idea of falso amigos, teachers can award extra credit to students who identify additional false cognates in their reading. This will keep the concept in the forefront of students’ minds and help them view unfamiliar words with a critical eye.