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When Words Mean not What They Are Supposed to Reflective Essay


Introduction: New Language, New Issues

Even when dealing with closely related languages, one is highly likely to confuse the so-called false friends for linguistic cognates. The problem becomes even more obvious and hard to cope with when it comes to dealing with the similarities and differences between Semitic languages, which the Arabic one belongs to, and the Indo-European language family, which the English language corresponds to.

Since the two languages have completely different vocabulary, the numerous cognates that I have encountered when trying to learn the basic English vocabulary were the greatest obstacle on my way of mastering the language.

Therefore, it was obvious that, not to confuse the words that sound alike in both languages, I had to develop a specific strategy that would allow me to remember about the peculiarities of the English vocabulary.

The Key Problem: When Words Mean not What They Should

It is worth mentioning that the key problem concerning the cognates was that the words which actually coincided in their meaning were extremely few.

Learning the borrowed words was the easiest part, yet when it came to perceiving the words that had a different meaning in Arabic than in English, the situation turned quite complicated. Indeed, as Swan and Smith explain, the key problem lies in the phonetic similarities rather that the change of meaning in the loanwords:

They [Arab learners] have virtually no positive transfer: only a minimal number of words in English are borrowed from Arabic. A small range of mainly technical words, such as radar, helicopter and television, have been taken into Arabic, but these are common to most languages. Arabic speakers have very few aids to reading and listening comprehension by virtue of their first language […]. (Swan and Smith 209)

Therefore, the difficulties that I encountered were inevitable. Despite the few loan words that helped me acquire new skills, most of the vocabulary could be easily confused with the Arabian words of different meaning.

The Opposing View: Homonyms Can Be of Sufficient Help

However, it should be admitted that the problem actually cuts both ways, also offering certain help in learning the language. On the one hand, the linguistic cognates can be viewed as an obstacle on the way of learning the language.

On the other hand, the words that sound similar yet have quite different meaning can help at certain point, offering considerable room for imagination and allowing to create specific exercises to remember the peculiar cognates. Paying a special attention to the cognates and noticing the differences in their meaning, one is likely to remember these words and their English meaning more efficiently.

Nevertheless, it is still evident that at present, the existing cognates prevent me from learning the English language efficiently. Considerable time is required to develop a series of exercises and train in recognizing the basic differences between cognates.

Conclusion: On My Way to Understanding

Therefore, it is obvious that one of the greatest problems that I have ever encountered in the course of studying the English language is the one concerning the cognates and their meaning in the English language. However, I must also admit that the issue is quite possible to solve, and after a series of exercises and specific training, I will be able to differentiate between the meaning of the cognates in English and Arabic.

Work Cited

Swan, Michael, and Bernard Smith. Learner English. A Teacher’s Guide to Interference and Other Problems. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001. Web. <>.

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"When Words Mean not What They Are Supposed to." IvyPanda, 20 Dec. 2019, ivypanda.com/essays/when-words-mean-not-what-they-are-supposed-to/.

1. IvyPanda. "When Words Mean not What They Are Supposed to." December 20, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-words-mean-not-what-they-are-supposed-to/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "When Words Mean not What They Are Supposed to." December 20, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/when-words-mean-not-what-they-are-supposed-to/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'When Words Mean not What They Are Supposed to'. 20 December.

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