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Journal of Latinos and Education
ISSN: 1534-8431 (Print) 1532-771X (Online) Journal homepage:
Teaching English-Spanish cognate-recognition
strategies through the Américas Book Awardwinners and honor picture books
José A. Montelongo, Anita C. Hernández, Johanna Esquivel, Francisco
Serrano-Wall & Adriana Goenaga de Zuazu
To cite this article: José A. Montelongo, Anita C. Hernández, Johanna Esquivel, Francisco
Serrano-Wall & Adriana Goenaga de Zuazu (2017): Teaching English-Spanish cognate-recognition
strategies through the Américas Book Award-winners and honor picture books, Journal of Latinos
and Education, DOI: 10.1080/15348431.2017.1348299
To link to this article:
Published online: 07 Aug 2017.
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Date: 25 October 2017, At: 03:19
Teaching English-Spanish cognate-recognition strategies through
the Américas Book Award-winners and honor picture books
José A. Montelongo, Anita C. Hernández, Johanna Esquivel, Francisco Serrano-Wall,
and Adriana Goenaga de Zuazu
College of Education/Department of Curriculum & Instruction, New Mexico State University
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Cognates are words that are the same or nearly the same orthographically
and semantically in English and Spanish. The majority of the more than
20,000 cognates are academic vocabulary words comprised of Latin and
Greek roots and affixes. Several thousand cognates can be found in the
picture books that have earned the Américas Book Award, which was
established to honor quality multicultural books that portray Latino cultures
in a positive light. The authors present lessons for teaching primary school
Latino ELLs about cognates through the Américas Award picture books, as
they educate their students about their rich Latino cultures.
English-Spanish Cognates;
Vocabulary Instruction;
Américas Book Award;
Multicultural Picture Books
Linguistically, Latino English Language Learners (ELLs) enter U.S. public schools having spent
their early formative years acquiring their native language, Spanish. Culturally, Latino ELLs
grow up as part of a heterogeneous group of cultures and subcultures in the Americas and the
Caribbean. In contrast to their English-speaking peers, whose language and culture are valued
and promoted, the linguistic and cultural backgrounds that Latino ELLs bring to school are
cast aside, uncelebrated, and often vilified. Today, Latino ELLs continue to be taught in
classroom settings that do not validate their linguistic achievements or reflect their culture.
Furthermore, they are seldom encouraged to continue the acquisition and development of their
heritage language or to learn about their Hispanic cultures.
Elementary schoolteachers can advance the linguistic development of Latino ELLs by teaching
them about cognates, words in English and Spanish that possess identical or nearly identical spellings
and meanings in both languages as a result of a common etymology. Schoolteachers can also support
Latino ELLs in acquiring knowledge of their respective cultures by teaching them about cognates
through culturally relevant picture books that provide an honest and respectful portrayal of the
various Hispanic cultures. It is with these two goals in mind that we describe the rationale, methods,
and materials for teaching Latino ELLs about cognates in the elementary school grades using the rich
vocabulary found in the culturally relevant picture books that have been designated as Américas
Book Award winners or “honor” books.
The case for teaching Latino ELLs about English-Spanish cognates
There are more than 20,000 English-Spanish cognates (Nash, 1997), the majority of which are
academic vocabulary words. Cognates comprise approximately one-third to one-half of the
vocabulary of an average educated English speaker (Holmes & Ramos, 1995). Nearly 90% of
the headwords on the Academic Word List (Coxhead, 2000) are English-Spanish cognates
(Lubliner & Hiebert, 2011). In content area textbooks, cognates are most often the words
CONTACT José A. Montelongo
New Mexico State University, Department of Curriculum & Instruction,
MSC 3CUR, P.O. Box 30001, Las Cruces New Mexico, 88003-8001, USA.
© 2017 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
printed in boldface type and constitute a large proportion of the words included in textbook
glossaries. In a study of science vocabulary, Bravo, Hiebert, and Pearson (2007) found that 76%
of the instructional vocabulary words were cognates. Further evidence of the importance of
these words in academic learning is provided by the fact that cognates make up the majority of
the subject terms in the Dewey Decimal System for organizing books in school and public
libraries (Author, 2012a).
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Teaching Latino ELLs a rich cognate vocabulary through picture books
Picture books are treasure troves of cognates (Author, 2012b, 2013) and contain words much richer
than those found in basal and leveled readers (Beck, McKeown, & Kucan, 2002, 2008). Not only do
picture books contain Tier One vocabulary, words like ball and house that are semantically familiar
to students as a result of lived experiences, but also Tier Two words such as content and sufficient,
general vocabulary that must be explicitly taught to students. More precisely, Tier Two words are
typically those that are: (1) not ordinarily used or heard in daily language; (2) appear across a variety
of content areas; (3) are important for understanding a selection; and (4) allow for rich representations and connections to other words (Kucan, 2012). Picture books also contain Tier Three words
such as photosynthesis and rhomboid, which are specific to a particular discipline or topic (Beck et al.,
2002, 2008). Most importantly for teachers of Latino ELLs, the majority of the Tier Two and Tier
Three words in picture books are cognates (Author, 2015).
Research has demonstrated that elementary schoolchildren learn new vocabulary words through
picture book read-alouds, especially when they are accompanied by meaningful activities (Biemiller &
Boote, 2006). Successful vocabulary-building enrichment activities taught in tandem with the reading
aloud of picture books are those that present student-friendly definitions, examples, imagery, and the
morphemic analysis of words (Kindle, 2009). Teaching Latino ELLs about the English-Spanish cognates
contained in a picture book increases their repertoire of English words because it can build upon their
knowledge of the definitions, examples, imagery, and morphemic analysis of Spanish words.
Teaching about culture through Américas Award Picture books
Just as picture books are ideal for teaching Latino ELLs about cognates, multicultural picture books
are exceptional vehicles for presenting them with the stories, poetry, and folklore that reflect their
cultural backgrounds and which they can relate to. Such picture books “cultivate an appreciation and
understanding of the many voices that represent the Latino cultural experiences” (Naidoo, 2008, p.
32). Furthermore, picture book read-alouds are excellent for teaching Latino ELLs about culture
because teachers can offer elaborate explanations of the culture and provide guidance during reading
time (Morgan, 2009). In turn, students can contribute their own cultural experiences to the classroom discussion.
In 1993, the Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs (CLASP) created the Américas
Book Award. According to the information given on the Américas Book Award website, http://www., the award was established to encourage and recognize “authors,
illustrators, and publishers who produce quality children’s and young adult books that portray Latin
America, the Caribbean, or Latinos in the United States, and to provide teachers with recommendations for classroom use,” (CLASP, 2015). Separate awards and recommended lists of the Américas
Book Award are given for children’s books and young adult literature.
The Américas Book Award picture books for children vary in themes and genres. Some of the
books are biographical in nature. Clemente! (Perdomo, 2010), for example, presents the life of the
tragic Puerto Rican baseball player and humanitarian, Roberto Clemente. Other Américas Award
picture books treat subjects such as mental illness—The Face at the Window (Hanson, 1997)—or
living under martial rule, as in The Composition (Skármeta, 1998). There are picture books that
portray the problems of immigrant life in the US—Uncle Rain Cloud (Johnston, 2003). A recent
Américas Award winner, Separate is Never Equal: Sylvia Mendez & Her Family’s Fight for
Desegregation (Tonatiuh, 2014), tells the true story of the Mendez v. Westminster School District, a
landmark case in the desegregation of California public schools seven years prior to the more famous
Brown v. Board of Education case. The picture book René has Two Last Names/René Tiene Dos
Appellidos (Colato-Laínez, 2009) is a classroom favorite among primary school Latino ELLs because
of its insightful look at the differential treatment maternal and paternal surnames receive in Latin
American countries and the United States. Some, like Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Alarcón, 2008),
are works of poetry, and others present the folktales of a particular region—Martina the Beautiful
Cockroach: A Cuban Folktale (Deedy, 2007).
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English-Spanish cognates in the Américas Book Award picture books
In addition to positively depicting aspects of Latino culture and history, the picture books that have won
the Américas Award or have been cited as either “honor books” or “commended titles” provide teachers
with a rich resource of Tier Two cognates. As a result, teachers can use Américas Award picture books
to provide their students not only with stories about Hispanic cultures and themes, but also to teach
them about the linguistic richness of cognates that comprise the books, such as those in Table 1.
Table 1. Examples of Tier Two Words in the Américas Award Books.
Américas Award Book
Abuela’s Weave
Examples of Tier Two English/Spanish Cognates
commercial/comercial; elaborate/elaborado; intricate/intrincado; rumor/rumor; symbol/
flow/fluir; guide/guía; pause/pausar; prefer/preferir; spicy/especiado; suppose/suponer
The Composition
adjust/ajustar; colleague/colega; comment/comentario; intercept/interceptar; obey/
obedecer; protest/protestar
The Dream on Blanca’s Wall: Poems. . . accent/acento; content/contento; dedicated/dedicado; justice/justicia; liberty/libertad;
Elena’s Serenade
appear/aparecer; exclaim/exclamar; firm/firme;proclaim/proclamar; recite/recitar;
Fiesta Fireworks
accompany/acompañar; emerge/emerger; honor/honrar; procession/procesión;
sculpture/escultura; tower/torre
From the Bellybutton of the Moon and. . . bilingual/bilingüe; continent/continente; luminous/luminoso; origin/origen; transform/
I Am of Two Places
client/cliente; designer/diseñador; express/espresar; mystery/misterio; united/unido;
In My Family
briefly/brevemente; constant/constante; culture/cultura; member/miembro; offering/
ofrenda; phase/fase
Journey of the Nightly Jaguar
capture/capturar; ebony/ébano; glorious/glorioso; legend/leyenda; refuge/refugio;
Lights on the River
breeze/brisa; descend/descender; devour/devorar; enchant/encantar; fragrant/fragante;
Martina the Beautiful Cockroach. . .
adorable/adorable; custom/costumbre; humble/humilde; livid/lívido; refuse/rehusar;
Me, Frida
admire/admirar; annual/anual; contain/contener; elite/elite; entire/entero; ornate/
ornamentado; verse/verso
Prietita and the Ghost Woman
cure/curar; examine/examinar; ingredient/ingrediente; intently/atentamente; lagoon/
laguna; remedy/remedio;
Roadrunner’s Dance
admit/admitir; agile/ágil; convinced/convencido; inhibit/inhibir; sacred/sagrado; timid/
The Santero’s Miracle: A Bilingual Story aroma/aroma; assure/asegurar; intone/entonar; pale/pálido; pigment/pigmento; pure/
A Season for Mangoes
ancestor/ancestro; concentrate/concentrar; humorous/humorístico; traditional/
Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story of
abandon/abandonar; contribute/contribuir; interrupt/interrumpir; silence/silencio
To Go Singing through the World: The
abruptly/abruptamente; anticipate/anticipar; conflict/conflicto; decipher/descifrar; vast/
Childhood. . .
Uncle Rain Cloud
alert/alerto; anxious/ancioso; effect/efecto; furious/furioso; innocent/inocente; insist/
With few exceptions, the Américas Award picture books contain many cognates and themes to
enhance their study of languages and of their Latino cultural themes. For example, Abuela’s Weave
(Castañeda, 1993), the story of a young Mayan girl and her grandmother, includes such cognates as
elaborate/elaborado and intricate/intrincado, among others. The picture book In My Family (Garza,
1996) presents glimpses of Latino life in a Texas border city and includes such “adult” cognate
vocabulary words as constant/constante, and offering/ofrenda. Teaching Latino ELLs about their
Hispanic heritage and English-Spanish cognates through picture book read-alouds is a means for
validating these students’ native language, culture, life experiences, and self-worth. It is a way for
legitimizing thinking about language and culture through bilingual and bi-cultural lenses.
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Teaching English-Spanish cognates through the Américas Book Award picture books
Teaching Latino ELLs about cognates taps into these students’ pre-existing linguistic background
knowledge and enables them to engage with texts more effectively than strategies that ignore or
denigrate their linguistic background knowledge (Cummins, 2005). Cognate instruction secures a
prominent place for the role of Spanish in the learning of English and privileges Latino ELLs with
“funds of knowledge” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992) that give them an edge over Englishonly speakers, especially with respect to the acquisition of academic vocabulary (Lubliner & Hiebert,
2011). The cognate advantage may be seen as early as preschool, which parallels their older bi-literate
peers. In a study of 80 young children’s knowledge of cognates, Simpson Baird, Palacios, and Kibler
(2016) found that emergent bilingual preschoolers can recognize and orally produce cognates in both
their Spanish and English languages.
Beeman and Urow (2012) recommend that teachers use cognates as one of the primary ways to
focus on the similarities and differences between English and Spanish to enhance students’ crosslinguistic awareness of their two languages. Furthermore, in explicitly teaching Latino ELLs about
cognates, teachers provide their students with “declarative knowledge,” the ability to refer to
cognates as both a category of words and as a legitimate bilingual strategy for deciphering the
meanings of unknown words (Dressler, Carlo, Snow, August, & White, 2011). The term might also
be extended to those instances where students are metacognitively aware of generating new words in
their second language based upon words they know in the first language.
One important objective of cognate instruction is to teach Latino ELLs how to recognize cognates
when they encounter them. Being able to recognize cognates is “especially valuable” for reading
complex academic texts in English, as it affords Latino ELLs access to words, concepts, and ideas that
might otherwise elude them (Holmes & Ramos, 1995). Furthermore, research has consistently
demonstrated that students who have learned strategies for recognizing cognates typically outperform those who have not developed such skills (e.g., Jiménez, 1997). However, experimental evidence
also suggests that recognizing cognates is not an automatic process (Nagy, García, Durgunoglu, &
Hancin-Bhatt, 1993), as many Latino ELLs fail to notice cognates in both languages, despite their
obvious transparency (August, Carlo, Dressler, & Snow, 2005). Consequently, explicit instruction is
necessary for the learning of cognates and the development of cognate-recognition strategies
(Jiménez & Gámez, 1996).
Teaching English-Spanish cognates through morphology
Many English-Spanish cognates made their way into the English language as a result of the conquest
of the Anglo-Saxons by the French-speaking Norman conquerors in 1066 A.D. Since French was
derived from Latin (Carver, 1991), most of the English-Spanish cognates have Latin roots. Spanish is
also a Latinate language. Consequently, there are many words in English and Spanish that are
Morphology is the study of the structure of words. Corson (1997) theorized that members of
sociocultural and language groups who receive more frequent contact with the morphological and
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semantic features of academic words taken from Latin and Greek will differ from other groups in
their ability to do so. Not only will they become more familiar with the rules of use for these words,
which is a major advantage, but they will also have an edge in activating these words in their mental
English and Spanish are comprised of many cognates that are derived from the same Latin and
Greek roots. Due to this shared etymology, there are a finite set of morphological transformational
rules that exist between English and Spanish for converting words from one language to the other.
Given that there are a finite set of rules for converting words from one language to the other suggests
the possibility that explicitly teaching Latino ELLs the rules for transforming English words to their
Spanish cognates (and vice-versa) is as warranted as the teaching of other linguistic transformational
rules, such as those for converting verbs from one tense to another, nouns from singular to plural,
and adjectives to adverbs.
The explicit teaching of morphological rules also serves to foster “word consciousness” (Graves,
August, & Mancilla-Martínez, 2012) and to reduce much of the apparent randomness in learning
English (and Spanish) as students discover that many of the similarities and differences between
English words and Spanish words are rule-governed and predictable. In the following section, we
provide specific examples for teaching the morphological transformation rules using the culturally
relevant picture books that have earned the Américas Book Award.
English Latinate words regularly possess a tri-partite structure which renders them similar to
Spanish words and distinct from the English words derived from the Anglo-Saxon vocabulary, which
is Germanic in origin. Typically, Latinate words (and thereby, most cognates) consist of prefixes,
root words, and suffixes. For example, the word “incredible” is comprised of the prefix, /in-/(not),
the root word, /-cred-/(belief), and the suffix, /-ible/(able), to yield the word that signifies “unbelievable,” similar to its Spanish cognate, increíble. Teaching Latino ELLs about morphology provides
them with the means for recognizing cognates and deciphering their meanings (Kieffer & Lesaux,
2007; Ramírez, Chen, & Pasquarella, 2013).
The three types of morphology lessons presented in this article correlate with the tri-partite
structure of Latinate words: prefix + root word + suffix. These include the strategies for transforming
words from one language to the other based upon the knowledge of: (1) Latin and Greek prefixes; (2)
Latin and Greek word roots; and (3) Latin and Greek suffixes and word-ending rules. Learning these
three types of rules can help Latino ELLs make connections between English words and Spanish
words, thereby increasing their bi-literacy.
To contextualize the instruction on cognate morphology, we have provided readers with tables of
example prefixes, root words, and suffixes that might be included in the lessons, along with culturally
relevant Américas Award picture books that may be used as read-alouds to accompany the
vocabulary lessons. The pairings of cognate transformation rules with particular picture books are
meant only as suggestions. It is strongly encouraged that teachers use the picture books they feel will
best suit the needs of their students and of their curricula.
Cognate transformational rules with Latin and Greek prefixes
An important set of cognate transformational rules for converting English words to their Spanish
cognates and the converse are those in which the Latin and Greek prefixes are the same in both the
English and Spanish words. Lessons with examples of English words and their Spanish cognates
having the same prefix can be created to teach these correspondences. Through these examples,
Latino ELLs can learn those particular Latin and Greek prefixes that indicate that the English and
Spanish words are cognates and to use these to generalize the rule to other words having the same
prefix. For example, the prefix /inter-/ can be found in the English and Spanish cognate pairs
interfere/interferir, interrupt/interrumpir, and intersection/intersección, among others. Having
learned the rule that the prefix /inter-/is the same in both English and Spanish, a student can
generalize this knowledge to other encounters with the same prefix: intercept/interceptar,
Table 2. Latin and Greek Prefixes in the Américas Award Books.
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Prefix Rule Eng. → Sp.
ad- → ad-
to, toward
bi- → bi
con- → con-
with, together
e- → e-
epi- → epi-
upon, over
extra- → extra-
im- → im-
in- → in-
inter- → inter-
between, among
micro- → micro-
pre- → pre-
pro- → pro-
re- → re-
super- → super-
sym- → sym-
trans- → trans-
tri- → tri-
uni- → uni-
Américas Award Book
Example Cognates
The Pot that Juan Built
Pablo’s Tree
Iguanas in the Snow and other Winter. . .
A Movie in My Pillow
Jalapeño Bagels
A Day’s Work
Jorge Luis Borges
Erandi’s Braids
Feliz Nochebuena, Feliz Navidad
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in. . .
Animal Poems of the Iguazú
Just a Minute: A Trickster Tale and. . .
Roadrunner’s Dance
Mama and Papa Have a Store
Saturday Sancocho
The Song of El Coqui and Other Tales. . .
The Composition
Pascual’s Magic Pictures
Harvesting Hope: The Story of César. . .
A is for the Americas
The Santero’s Miracle: A Bilingual Story
The Hummingbird’s Gift
The Drummer Boy of John John
Cuban Kids
Alejandro’s Gift
Lucha Libre: The Man in the Silver. . .
Nana’s Big Surprise
Magic Windows
Lights on the River
Sélavi: That is Life: A Haitian Story. . .
Liliana’s Grandmothers
Mayeros: A Yucatec Maya Family
The Tangerine Tree
Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows
interrogate/interrogar, and interval/interval. Further examples of common Latin and Greek prefixes
and their associated English-Spanish cognates are presented in Table 2. Along with the cognate
prefixes and their meanings, the titles of Américas Award picture books where they may be found
are also provided. Teachers can use the information in Table 2 to create cognate prefix lessons to
accompany the read-alouds of the listed culturally relevant picture books.
Cognate transformational rules with Latin and Greek root words
Many academic words in English contain root words derived from the Latin and Greek. Words such
as credible, magnificent, and portable carry meaning-transparent clues in their roots. Using the
knowledge that cred- means “belief,” that liter- means “letter,” and that port- means “carry,”
Latino ELLs can use these word roots to make meaning of previously unknown words. Words
such as credible, credence, and credulous are all related to “beliefs.” Illiterate, literacy, and literature
refer to concepts having to do with “letters,” and deport, import, and portable have meanings
associated with some form of “carrying.” As may be surmised, knowledge of Latin and Greek
roots can be used to learn what words mean and how they are related to each other. Moreover,
there is evidence that Latino ELLs are better able to analyze the structure of complex English words if
the word root is an English-Spanish cognate (Ramírez et al., 2013).
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Teachers can create morphology lessons about Latin and Greek roots using the cognate words
from the Américas Award picture books as part of read-aloud activities. By teaching Latino ELLs that
English root words are often the same as Spanish root words, teachers provide their students with yet
another potent strategy for recognizing unknown words as possible cognates, thereby giving them
the opportunity to infer the meanings of problematic words in their second language.
The Américas Award picture books contain many instances of English-Spanish cognates that can
be used to teach the meanings of Latin and Greek word roots. Baseball in the Barrios (Horenstein,
1997), a book about young boys learning to play baseball in Venezuela, contains the cognates
central/central and concentrate/concentrar. These cognates can be used to teach the Greek root,
/-centr-/, which can then be generalized to the meanings of other cognates such as centralize/
centralizar and eccentric/excéntrico. My Feet are Laughing (Norman, 2006), a book filled with
rhyme and rhythm about a Latina growing up in Harlem, is ideal for teaching the meaning of the
Greek root for sound, /-phon-/. Teachers can then show their students to make the word-to-word
connections among the English-Spanish cognates saxophone/saxofón, homophone/homófono, and
phonic/fónico. A representative set of Latin and Greek roots culled from the Américas Award
winners is presented in Table 3. Examples of cognates and the titles of the Américas Award books
from which they were drawn are also provided. Again, teachers can create root word morphology
lessons to go with books listed in the table.
Table 3. Latin and Greek Root Words in the Américas Books.
Root Word
good, well
walk, step, go
draw, write
Américas Award Book
La Boda: A Mexican Wedding Celebration
Baseball in the Barrios
Round is a Tortilla: A Book of Shapes
Pelé, King of Soccer
Sonia Sotomayor: A Judge Grows in the. . .
The Composition
My Name is Gabito: The Life of Gabriel. . .
Capoeira: Game! Dance! Martial Art!
Going Home
Over Here it’s Different: Carolina’s Story
Toussaint L’Ouverture: The Fight for. . .
La Mariposa
Cuban Kids
Celebrate! In Central America
Anthony Reynoso: Born to Rope
¡Olé! Flamenco
Abuela’s Weave
A Season for Mangoes
A Perfect Season for Dreaming
Jorge Luis Borges
The Lizard and the Sun
Elena’s Serenade
Magic Windows
Journey of the Nightly Jaguar
A Caribbean Counting Book
My Little Car
The Sad Night: The Story of an Aztec. . .
Angels Ride Bikes and other Fall Poems
Diego: Bigger than Life
The Old Man & His Door
A Little Salmon
The Story of Doña Chila
Sawdust Carpets
Me, Frida
Barrio: José’s Neighborhood
Example Cognates
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Cognate transformational rules with suffixes and word endings
A particularly fruitful set of resources for enabling Latino ELLs to develop cognate-recognition
strategies is the suffix or word-ending generalizations that exist between English and Spanish.
Thousands of English words can be transformed into their Spanish cognates by knowing a few
rule-governed suffix and word-ending rules (Means, 2003). For example, English nouns ending in /–
tion/ can be converted into Spanish cognates ending in /–ción/, as exemplified by the pair collaboration/colaboración. English adjectives possessing the ending /–ate/ become Spanish cognates having
the /–ado/ending (e.g., delicate/delicado). English adverbs ending in /-ly/ become the Spanish
adverbs ending in /-mente/. The Américas Award picture books are comprised of thousands of
cognates that can be converted from English to Spanish (and vice-versa) using word-ending generalizations to create meaning. Examples of English-Spanish cognates, suffix and word-ending rules, and
the Américas Award books from which they were drawn are presented in Table 4.
The word endings and suffixes presented in Table 4 are excellent for creating cognate lessons to
accompany picture book read-alouds. In Angela Weaves a Dream (Solá, 1997), several of the cognate
nouns fit the /-tion/→/-ción/pattern: attention/atención, generation/generación, and tradition/
tradición. Another frequent noun ending is the /-ty/→/-dad/pattern, which is represented by the
nouns dignity/dignidad, equality/igualdad, and society/sociedad, in the picture book, Toussaint
L’Ouverture: The Fight for Haiti’s Freedom (Myers, 1996), the story of the slave who led the fight
for liberty against the French in the 1800s.
Perhaps the most common word ending is the English adverbial word ending introduced earlier,
which states that /-ly/ is often equivalent to the Spanish /-mente/. The English-Spanish cognate pairs
that typify the /-ly/→/mente/rule are: finally/finalmente, formally/formalmente, and rapidly/
rápidamente, which can be found in the picture book ¡Olé! Flamenco (Ancona, 2010), about the
history of the traditional dance form very popular in the Spanish-speaking world. English adjectives
can be transformed into Spanish cognates through the rule, /-ous/→/-oso/. In the ABC book that
captures the rich diversity that is life in the Americas, A is for the Americas (Chin-Lee & de la Peña,
1999), teachers can find the adjectival cognates disastrous/desastroso, famous/famoso, and precious/
precioso to create the lessons or mini-lessons to accompany the reading of the book.
Table 4. Word-Ending Regularities and Suffixes in the Américas Books.
Américas Award Book
To Go Singing through the World: The
Childhood. . .
Jorge Luis Borges
From Father to Son
Tan to Tamarind: Poems about the Color -id/-ido
Capoeira: Game! Dance! Martial Art!
¡Olé! Flamenco
Celebrate! In America
A is for the Americas
Example Cognate Pairs English/Spanish
constant/constante; distant/distante; fragrant/fragante; giant/gigante
dictionary/diccionario; extraordinary/extraordinario; hereditary/hereditario;
different/diferente; excellent/excelente; ingredient/ingrediente; patient/
electric/eléctrico; organic/orgánico; plastic/plástico; public/público; toxic/
rapid/rápido; splendid/espléndido; vivid/vívido
aggressive/agresivo; native/nativo; positive/positivo
finally/finalmente; formally/formalmente; originally/originalmente; rapidly/
element/elemento; monument/monumento; ornament/ornamento
delicious/delicioso; disastrous/desastroso; famous/famoso; precious/
precioso; religious/religioso
Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows -sion/sión depression/depresión; possession/posesión; procession/procesión
Angela Weaves a Dream
-tion/-ción attention/atención; generation/generación; section/sección; tradition/
Toussaint L’Ouverture: The Fight for
dignity/dignidad; equality/igualdad; opportunity/oportunidad; society/
Haiti’s Freedom
In summary, there are a finite number of morphological transformation rules that can be reliably
used to convert words from one language to the cognates of the other language.
In the next section of the article, we present cognate orthographic or spelling transformational
rules which teachers can introduce as part of the vocabulary activities to accompany the read-alouds
of the culturally relevant Américas Award picture books. While there is ample research evidence
which demonstrates that teaching cognate morphological rules can improve student aptitude for
cognate recognition, there is a gap in the literature with respect to the effectiveness of teaching
orthographic transformation rules on the ability to recognize cognates.
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Orthographic transformation rules and cognate recognition instruction
Many English words and their Spanish cognates are identical in the way they are spelled. The
cognate pairs doctor/doctor and invisible/invisible are exactly the same in both languages. Other pairs
are slightly different but still obvious cognates. As was the case with the morphological transformation rules, teachers can also introduce three types of orthographic transformation rules as part of the
vocabulary activities to accompany the read-alouds of the culturally relevant Américas Award
picture books.
English cognate double consonants to Spanish cognate single consonants
Many English words that possess double consonants have, as their cognates, Spanish words with only
a single consonant. For example, the English word suffer possesses the double consonant /ff/. Its
Spanish cognate, sufrir, has only the single /f/ grapheme. Teachers can introduce the double
consonant rule to teach their students that whenever they encounter an English word they do not
understand, they can often convert the English word to a Spanish word by converting the double
consonant to a single grapheme to see if the resulting Spanish word is one that they know. However,
the converse of doubling a consonant in a Spanish word to create an English word does not
necessarily always result in the correct spelling of an English word. For example, the English word
mitten, with its double consonant, is a predictable cognate of the Spanish word mitón, which has
only a single consonant. However, doubling the consonant in the Spanish word motor does not lead
to an approximate spelling of the English word for motor—mottor. Exceptions to these rules can be
used as “teachable moments,” something teachers often do with exceptions to other rules.
Many Américas Award picture books contain instances of English-Spanish cognates that follow a
double consonant/single consonant rule. For example, the words “association,” “pass,” and “possession” may be found in the picture book biography of the great farmworkers’ union leader, Harvesting
Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez (Krull, 2003). These English words may be converted into their
Spanish cognates by changing the double consonants /ss/ to the single /s/ to form the words
asociación, pasar, and posesión. More examples of English and Spanish cognates that follow the
double consonant rule are presented in Table 5, along with the titles of the Américas Award books
that contain them.
Several of the spelling regularities listed in Table 5 are representative of the many instances of
English-Spanish cognates in the Américas Award picture books that follow a particular rule.
Cognates that follow the /pp/→/p/, /ss/→/s/, and /tt/→/t/rules are among the most frequent. On
the other hand, /cc/→/c/, /gg/→/g/, and /dd/→/d/ include few instances. As the examples in Table 5
demonstrate, there is as much variety in the cognates that follow the double consonant rule as there
are Américas Award picture books.
The consonant digraphs and cognates
Like double consonants, teaching Latino ELLs about consonant digraphs can alert students that an
unknown English word may or may not be an English-Spanish cognate, while simultaneously
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Table 5. Double Consonant Orthographic Transformational Rules in the Américas Book Award.
Américas Award Books
Diego: Bigger than Life
What Can You Do with a Paleta?
Not a Copper Penny in Me House
Mexico’s Marvelous Corn
Arco Iris de Poesia: Poemas de las Américas. . .
Roadrunner’s Dance
Old Letivia and the Mountain of Sorrows
Hooray, a Piñata!
Angels Ride Bikes and Other Fall Poems
The Crab Man
Lights on the River
Jorge Luis Borges
Me, Frida
Pelé, King of Soccer
Two Days in May
I Am of Two Places
Mola: Cuna Life Stories and Art
Where Fireflies Dance
La Boda: A Mexican Wedding Celebration
Spelling Rule
Cognate Examples
helping them to become better spellers. The phrase “consonant digraph” signifies two consecutive
consonants representing a single speech sound. In English, the consonant digraphs are /ch/, /ph/,
/sh/, /th/, and /wh/. Consonant digraphs can occur anywhere in a word—in the initial, medial, or
final positions.
The most reliable consonant digraph that signals that an unknown English word is possibly the
cognate of a Spanish word is the digraph /ph/, which does not exist as such in Spanish. Rather, the
English words consisting of the digraph /ph/ are words that have the Spanish grapheme /f/. The /ph/
→/f/ digraph is especially consistent because most of the English words that possess it are cognates:
elephant/elefante, pharmacy/farmacia, and symphony/sinfonía.
The rule /ph/→/f/ works reliably only for converting English words to Spanish words because
Spanish does not have the /ph/ digraph to represent the /f/ sound. Since, English has both the /ph/
digraph and the /f/ grapheme, one is not able to reliably predict which English digraph is correct
from the Spanish. For example, while elefante becomes elephant, jirafa becomes giraffe, not giraph.
The inability to predict from a Spanish word to its English cognate is a characteristic of not only the
/ph/→/f/ rule, but all of the consonant digraphs discussed in this section.
The Américas Award picture books contain many examples of the /ph/→/f/ digraph rule. In
Animal Poems of the Iguazú (Alarcón, 2008), for instance, a picture book about the different animals
and birds that live in the Argentine national park, the English words possessing the /ph/ digraph
—“alphabet,” “hemisphere,” and “photo”—become the Spanish words alfabeto, hemisferio, and foto,
possessing the /f/ grapheme.
Another important digraph rule is the /th/→/t/ rule evidenced in the English-Spanish cognates
theme/tema, thermos/termo, and north/norte. Its existence in many more non-cognate words
—“thank,” “thorn,” and “month”—limits its reliability as a predictor of cognates. Nevertheless,
there are important cognates that follow the /th/→/t/ rule in the Américas Award books that
make their teaching of them worthwhile. Examples of these include enthusiasm/entusiasmo, mythology/mitología, and panther/pantera, which may be found in Jorge Luis Borges (Lázaro, 2009), the
picture book biography of the South American author.
In English, the /ch/ digraph can have several sounds when it is in the initial position. There are
the /ch/ words that have the /ch/ sound, as in the words “champion,” “chapel,” and “charity.” These
/ch/ words have Spanish cognates that possess the hard /k/ sound: campeón, capilla, and caridad.
There are also English /ch/ words that have the hard /k/ sound, as in the words “chamomile,”
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“choreography,” and “choir,” which are typically derived from the Greek. These words are the
cognates of Spanish words that also possess the hard /k/ sound: camomila, corografía, and coro.
Finally, there are those cases where the English word and its Spanish cognate both have the /ch/
sound, as in the cognate pairs “chili/chile, chimney/chimenea, and chocolate/chocolate. A review of
the frequencies in which these three types of English word-initial /ch/ digraphs occur in the
Américas Award books failed to yield a clear-cut choice for the most frequent sound. As a result,
teachers may wish to wait for “teachable moments” to introduce any of the three different types of
the initial /ch/ digraph rules.
Similar to the English digraph /ch/ in the initial position, there are three different digraph rules
for the medial or final positions. Some cognate pairs have the /ch/ sound for the English word, but
the hard /k/ sound for the Spanish word: bench/banco, spinach/espinacas, and touch/tocar. There are
also those cases in which the digraphs possess the hard /k/ sound in both the English and Spanish
cognates: echo/eco, mechanical/mecánico, and sepulcher/sepulcro. Finally, there are words that have
the same /ch/ sounds in English and Spanish. These cognates include: conch/concha, porch/porche,
and ranch/rancho. As was the case with the different types of word-initial /ch/ digraphs, we once
again recommend that teachers postpone introducing any of the three medial or final /ch/ digraph
rules until the teacher feels it is right to do so.
Another consonant digraph, /ck/, has the hard /k/ sound, and appears in a few English words,
where it occupies only the medial or final positions. Although primarily found in non-cognates
—“flock,” “sick,” and “wreck”—the /ck/ consonant digraph appears in some common cognates:
peck/picar, rock/roca, and sack/saco. English words possessing the /ck/ digraph may also be the
cognates of Spanish words that have the /que/ trigraph as their cognate pairs: attack/ataque, block/
bloque, and check/chequear. Since neither digraph spelling rule appears to be clearly more frequent
than the other, we suggest teaching these two spelling rules separately in the context of a picture
book read-aloud vocabulary lesson.
In summarizing this section on consonant digraphs, it seems reasonable to suggest that only the
spelling rules involving the English words following the rules for the /ph/and /th/ digraphs, /ph/→/f/
and /th/→/t/, should be explicitly taught. Since there seems to be no apparent “most frequent” type
of digraph involving the different /ch/ digraphs for any position, we recommend that these rules only
be taught when they are essential for student learning. The same suggestion can be made for the two
spelling rules involving /ck/ consonant digraph, /ck/→/c/and /ck/→/que/. Furthermore, there are
very few instances of the /sh/and/wh/ digraphs to warrant explicit instruction. The same may be said
of the “ghost digraphs,” so named because the first letter was at one time pronounced.
English cognate consonant blends beginning with S
Teachers who have Latino ELLs in their classrooms often remark that these students have a tendency
to pronounce English words such as “stop” as “estop,” and “student” as “estudent.” This is due to the
fact that Spanish does not have words that begin with the s+consonant blends, /sc/, /scr/, /sl/, /sm/,
/sn/, /sp/, /spr/, /st/ or /str/. Instead, Spanish has words that begin with /esc/, /escr/, /esl/, /esm/,
/esn/, /esp/, /espr/, /est/ or /estr/. Thus, the English words “scarlet,” “special,” “stomach,” and “stress”
become escarlata, especial, estómago, and estrés. While most of the English s+consonant blends are
non-cognates, there are enough frequent cognates that follow the /s/+consonant spelling rule and its
Spanish equivalent, /es/+consonant, to warrant their teaching as orthographic transformational
The most important English s+consonant blend in terms of frequency is the /sp/→/esp/rule,
which includes cognate pairs such as space/espacio and spectator/espectador among others. For
example, A Season for Mangoes (Hanson, 2005), an Américas Book Award selection about a
young Jamaican girl whose grandmother has just died, includes the cognate blends special/especial,
spine/espina, spirit/espíritu, and spy/espiar. The rules /st/→/est/and /str/→/estr/ are also important
because several of their words figure prominently in picture books, as demonstrated in the words,
study/estudiar and strict/estricto, from the book, To Go Singing through the World (Ray, 2006). The
other cognate blends, such as /sc/→/esc/ and /scr/→/escr/, are not as common. Blends such as /sl/,
/sm, /sn, /spr/, /squ/, and /sw/ are typically found in non-cognate words. Therefore, once the
students have learned the suggested English s+consonant blend transformational rules, they can be
taught as indicators of non-cognates.
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Concluding remarks
Teaching Latino ELLs morphological and orthographic transformational rules such as those presented here provides these students with an advantage in learning academic vocabulary, much of
which is derived from Latin and Greek prefixes, root words, and suffixes. The foundation for
building these cognate-recognition strategies can begin early in the primary grades through the
cognate morphology and orthography lessons that accompany the read-alouds of culturally relevant
picture books such as those that have been selected as Américas Award winners and honor books.
Learning about cognates empowers Latino ELLs. No doubt, many of these students are aware of
English words that are conspicuously similar to Spanish words prior to cognate instruction.
Providing these students with a referential label for these words gives their suppositions a legitimacy
that inspires them to search for more such words. We have observed that students begin to think
metacognitively about English and Spanish cognates and about language in general. Learning about
cognates stimulates their curiosity for learning more about them. Students as young as those in the
early primary grades demonstrate their excitement for learning cognates by telling their teachers,
parents, and fellow classmates about the cognates they “discover,” in and out of school. Moreover,
learning about cognates makes Latino ELLs more capable readers and better spellers, which will
prepare them to read and write more academically.
Latino ELLs learn to cherish their cultures through the read-alouds of quality picture books that
have been selected as Américas Book Award winners or honor books. They appreciate the struggles
of those who have gone before them and realize that there is still much left to do. They begin to
understand and value cultural practices such as the use of both paternal and maternal surnames,
folktales, histories, and their grandmother’s visits with the curanderas.
Teachers who value bi-literacy and multiculturalism can use the America’s Award books as
resources to show their Latino ELL students that their home language and their culture are assets
that should be incorporated in their schooling, and not deficits in need of remediation (Yosso, 2005).
As Jackson, Kolb, and Wilson (2011) wrote:
America’s increasing diversity demands the opportunity for our students to develop those linguistic and
cultural skills that people in every other part of the world receive as a core part of their academic programs.
To these thoughts, we add that all students deserve the right to develop their heritage language, even
as they develop a second language. Furthermore, all students have the right to learn about their
heritage cultures and to be proud of them.
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Children’s books cited in research
Alarcón, F. X. (2008). Animal poems of the Iguazú. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Ancona, G. (1997). Mayeros: A Yucatec Maya family. New York, NY: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books.
Ancona, G. (2000). Cuban kids. New York, NY: Marshall Cavendish.
Ancona, G. (2010). ¡Olé! Flamenco. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books.
Argueta, J. (2006). The fiesta of the tortillas. Miami, FL: Alfaguara.
Carling, A. L. (1998). Mama and papa have a store. New York, NY: Dial Books for Young Readers.
Castañeda, O. S. (1993). Abuela’s weave. New York, NY: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Chin-Lee, C., & de la Peña, T. (1999). A is for the Americas. New York, NY: Scholastic.
Colato-Laínez, R. (2009). René has two last names/René tiene dos appellidos. Houston, TX: Arte Público Press.
Deedy, C. A. (2007). Martina the beautiful cockroach: A Cuban folktale. Atlanta, GA: Peachtree.
Garza, C. L. (1996). In my family. San Francisco, CA: Children’s Book Press.
Garza, X. (2005). Lucha libre: The man in the silver mask: A bilingual cuento. El Paso, TX: Cinco Puntos Press.
Hanson, R. (1997). The face at the window. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Hanson, R. (2005). A season for mangoes. New York, NY: Clarion Books.
Horenstein, H. (1997). Baseball in the barrios. San Diego, CA: Gulliver Books.
Johnston, T. (2003). Uncle rain cloud. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge.
Krull, K. (2003). Harvesting hope: The story of Cesar Chavez. San Diego, CA: Harcourt.
Lázaro, G. (2009). Jorge Luis Borges. New York, NY: Lectorum Publications.
Mora, P. (2007). Yum! Mmm! ¡Qué Rico! America’s sproutings. New York, NY: Lee and Low Books.
Myers, W. D. (1996). Toussaint L’Ouverture: The fight for Haiti’s freedom. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster Books for
Young Readers.
Norman, L. (2006). My feet are laughing. New York, NY: Farrar Straus Giroux.
Perdomo, W. (2010). Clemente! New York, NY: Henry Holt and Company.
Ray, D.K. (2006). To go singing through the world: The childhood of Pablo Neruda. New York, NY: Farrar Straus
Skármeta, A. (1998). The composition. Buffalo, NY: Groundwood Books.
Solá, M. (1997). Angela weaves a dream. New York, NY: Hyperion Books for Children.
Tonatiuh, D. (2014). Separate is never equal: Sylvia Mendez & her family’s fight for desegregation. New York, NY:
Abrams Books for Young Readers.
Winter, J. (2005). Roberto Clemente: Pride of the Pittsburgh Pirates. New York, NY: Atheneum Books for Young
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