Learning English Made Easy with Suffixes and Cognates

Around 800,000 million people worldwide speak Latin based languages.
Around 800,000 million people worldwide speak Latin based languages.

In today’s increasingly global world of business, the Internet, entertainment, and the media, the domination of the English language is overwhelming. For example, a girl and boy meet on holiday in Thailand. He is from Holland, she from Japan. What option do they have but to try and communicate in English? In love as much as in business and work opportunities, learning fluent English is of paramount importance. But why should this be so?

Why Is English So Popular?

Firstly, the mixture of its linguistic origins makes English rich and versatile. English has its roots partly in northwest Germany and the Netherlands brought to Britain by invaders and settlers during the fifth to seventh centuries. Secondly, dating back to the Norman Conquest in 1066, English also acquired the influence of Anglo-Norman French, a Latin based language. Much later, colonization spread the English language like (literally) wild fire in the conquest of the British Empire.

Benefits of the English Language
You notice it anytime when reading an in-flight magazine on the plane. Any English text printed next to its translation in another language is shorter. The second language usually needs a few more lines of text to convey the same content. Compare the three columns below.

The relative shortness of English versus other languages is evident.
The relative shortness of English versus other languages is evident.

But enough praise for the English language, how can it be absorbed quickly and efficiently, by over 800 million Latin based language speakers spread out all over the world? The circles denote little islands on this map.

Global spread of Latin Based languages.
Global spread of Latin Based languages.

Certain Suffixes (Word Endings)

To this end, here is a little known fact: all Latin influenced (Romance) language speakers already possess a huge potential English vocabulary of thousands of words. How is that possible? Let us look at some English suffix comparisons in several other languages.

Common suffixes denote a shared vocabulary.
Common suffixes denote a shared vocabulary.

Words Ending in –ion or –able –ible

In all Latin based languages, most English words with the suffixes “-ion”, “-able” or “-ible” are the same or very similar. In all cases, there is a distinct difference in pronunciation. In many cases, there may be a slight difference in spelling, and where those words are placed in a sentence. Let us put this to the test with a few examples.

Levitation has magical connotations
La levitación tiene connotaciones mágicas
La lévitation a des connotations magiques
Levitazione ha connotazione magiche
Adorable babies touch emotions
Los bebés adorables tocan emociones
Les bébés adorables touchent les émotions
Bambini adorabili toccano emozioni
Inflation is not always detectable
La inflación no siempre es detectable
L'inflation n'est pas toujours détectable
L'inflazione non è sempre rilevabile
Vacations are for rehabilitation
Las vacaciones son para la rehabilitación
Les vacances sont pour la réhabilitation
Le vacanze sono per la riabilitazione
The situation is irrevocable
La situación es irrevocable
La situation est irrévocable
La situazione è irrevocabile
This extension is measurable
Esta extensión es mensurable
Cette extension est mesurable
Questa estensione è misurabile
This apparition is most presentable
Esta aparición es más presentable
Cette apparition est la plus présentable
Questa apparizione è più presentabile
The constitution defines what is acceptable
La constitución define lo que es aceptable
La constitution définit ce qui est acceptable
La Costituzione definisce ciò che è accettabile

From the above examples, it looks like it may be easier to learn several related languages all at once. The saying that the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn a new one is very true.

Words Ending in -ant, -ent, -ance, and -ence

Next is a list of only 5 words each in the category of countless words with the suffixes "-ant" and "-ent", "-ance" and "-ence". In French, the words are usually spelt the same as in English. In Spanish, ”-ance” becomes “-ancia”.



When I was new to London, aged 25, hardly speaking a word of English, I began to realize that many English words were the same or very similar to French. Being fluent in French, my trick was to simply use a French word and then try to pronounce it in an English fashion. And more often than not, it worked. I later found out that such words are called cognates. The next illustration shows only a few examples of many more English/French cognates, beginning with each letter of the alphabet.

Adventures of a New Language Learner

To further lighten the load of learning a new language, here are some funny anecdotes I have experienced during my frequent moves from one country to another.

The Sauerkraut Story

At age 12, when we had just moved from Paris to Amsterdam, my bossy Dutch step father was cooking dinner and wanted some "zuurkool" (sauerkraut). He ordered,
'Juliette, quickly go to the greengrocers and get me some "zuurkool" but I protested.
'I can't say that in Dutch, and I'll forget.'
'Don't be stupid,' he shouted, you've got to learn the language, so you might as well start now. It's simple enough, say "zuur"...
I repeated 'zuur'
'Good. Now say "kool (pronounced "cohl")
I copied him and said 'kool'
'Good. Now say "zuurkool"
I said 'zuurkool'
'Very good; you see, there is nothing to it, now just keep repeating "zuurkool" until you get to the shop.'...

My linguistic ignorance turned cabbage into oxygen.
My linguistic ignorance turned cabbage into oxygen.

...Chanting "zuurkoolzuurkoolzuur..., etc.” all along the canal, I turned right where all the shops were, still chanting, but more quietly now that I was among more people in the busy street. When I finally got to the greengrocer shop, a man was standing there wiping his hands on a dirty apron and said something incomprehensible in Dutch but it sounded like a question. I very bravely said,
'koolzuur'. The man looked at me with large eyes, lifted his shoulders and opened his palms. He pointed at various fruits and vegetables but I shook my head, no, no, no, that's not what I want. In the end I left the shop.

When I returned home empty handed, my step father asked,
'Well, where is the sauerkraut?'
'The man in the shop didn't have any koolzuur.'
'Idiot!' my step father said, 'koolzuur means "oxygen" you should have said "zuurkool, you idiot!' He went out and got it himself.

More About Romance (Latin based) Languages

Meeting My First Cockney

Later, I moved to London to complete my studies in Choreology. One day, I wanted to get some bread at the little local grocery shop but my English was virtually non-existent. I was relieved to notice that the bread was neatly laid out in different piles on a shelf behind the counter. Pointing at the bread, I uttered,
'Bred pleeze?' but now the shopkeeper was beginning to make life difficult.
'Wotshlahsst?' he asked.
'No speek Inglies' I replied. And again I pointed at the bread, more forcefully this time. The man looked up in despair and handed me a loaf of bread, wrapped in plastic. On the way home, I read the label on the bread. It said: "White Sliced". Was that really what the man had been saying when he'd said "Wotshlahsst?" I wondered climbing up the stairs to my new room, unaware that I had just encountered my first London Cockney.


Much later, when I had just moved to Andalusia in Southern Spain, again not speaking the language, I made friends with my Spanish neighbors. The mother kept introducing me to her friends as ”La Traéra”. Wondering what “traéra” meant, I looked it up in my English / Spanish dictionary but the word didn’t exist in my dictionary. The next day I asked her: “What does ‘traéra’ mean? “Oh,” the mother said, she got out a piece of paper and wrote ‘estrangera’, which means “foreigner”. The people in Andalusia speak a very rapid incomprehensible dialect which often omits to pronounce the letter “s”.

Embarrassing Misunderstandings

Many words exist in several languages but have different meanings (false cognates). This can often result in unintentional jokes or embarrassing misunderstandings. A friend sent me this one:

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,
“Come here”
The Frenchman waves his arms about in fright and replies,
“Non, non, pas comme hier!” (= “not like yesterday”)

How do you prefer to learn a language?

  • I’ll never learn another language.
  • I tried, but failed to learn a foreign language.
  • I prefer to take lessons with a qualified teacher.
  • .I like to learn online on my own.
  • I prefer to learn from the locals, be thrown into the deep end.
See results without voting

Now Let Us Add Up the Numbers



Those whose native language is based on Latin already know over 9000 English words before they even start learning English because over 9000 words are virtually the same in their own language. Considering that the average native English speaking adult uses a vocabulary of around 20,000 words, you are almost halfway there without even realizing it. Of course it takes more than just vocabulary to learn a language, but now that you know about the suffixes and cognates that English has in common with all latin based languages, there is surely a lot less to memorize than you expected.

To Recap
Here are the six suffixes again: -ion, -able,- ible, -ant, -ent, -ance, -ence. As for cognates, just try it on. The availability of such a large vocabulary before you even start learning English increases your confidence and makes learning English much easier. Keep practicing. The rewards are humongous. With English at your fingertips, the opportunities are endless. Good luck and let us know how you are getting on in the comments discussion.


© 2016 JULIETTE KANDO - You may link to this article, but you may Not copy it. Copied content will be reported with a DMCA notice and will be removed.


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