german language

Unlock Hidden German Vocabulary

German cognates-Learning German through English
der Schlüssel – the key / Image via Pixabay

How to Unlock Hidden German Vocabulary in Your Brain

German and English have many words in common. Often at times it is only slight changes that you would have to make to let you understand a German word. Do you think you can make out the meaning of the following words? Try to change the marked letters and be a bit creative with the vowels.

Buch – Rechenwach – sprechen – brechen

Of course it’s not always this simple but it’s always worth a try. Did you find the letter k in the above examples?

This is just one example of how little it takes to make use of your knowledge to speed up your German learning. I will not bother you with a list of possible changes as that would be way too passive for smarter German learners. I would like to challenge you and make this an exercise:

Take a thorough look at the words on the next page and write them on a piece of paper. Write those that seem to follow the same change pattern in columns or groups and name the group like this:

Group Name: ch > k
Buch           book
Rechen       rake
wach           (a)wake
sprechen     speak
brechen       break

There are 8 categories in which you can sort them. Should you have more or less, check your results again. Feel free to post your results in the comments like this:

Group 0:  ch > k (5)
Group 1:

The number in parentheses gives the amount of words that belong to that group that you have found. You will get my results when you post yours in the comments ^^.

Everything clear? Then here you go. Your list of German words. Find those who belong together and name the groups. Try to find out their meaning. Some of them are tough but not too many and others may appear in several groups. Those are marked with a little star (*).

By the way: The words are wildly mixed, not like in the above example. You will need a piece of paper and a pen. And you may want to print out the next page. Ready? Then unlock your hidden German vocabulary now:

list of german cognates

Viel Erfolg and let me know how it went.
Yours Michael

3 thoughts on “Unlock Hidden German Vocabulary

  1. First, I’ll note that that four words in the list are duplicated: Schnee, Tag, Zimmer-/zimmern, hoffen.

    Continuing on, here are my eight categories.

    1. z > t (9)
    2. t > d (12)
    3. sch > sh/s (14)
    4. mm > m/mb/mp (9)
    5. b > v/f (10)
    6. d > th (13)
    7. f > p (10)
    8. g > y (6)

    With the exception of Trog (“trough”), all the words are used within either one or two of these categories.

    Words obviously used in two of the above categories were: Tod (death), Schlummer (slumber), Bischof (bishop), Schiff (ship), Schaf (sheep), treiben (drive) and Dieb (thief).

    Vater was a bit tricky so I got creative with it. I included Vater in two categories in order to convert it into the assumed father precursor “Vather.” This is achieved by a t>d conversion and then a subsequent conversion of this d to th. There was no remaining category with which to convert the V to f, although I can think of one other example of a v > f conversion that exists: volks > folks. This is perhaps not surprising since the German v and English f are pronounced the same.

    (I’m always reminded of Darth Vader when looking at Vater — clearly George Lucas did some linguistics research when writing his script for Star Wars. Those familiar with German perhaps could foretell from the beginning that Darth Vader would eventually be revealed to be the “Vater” of Luke Skywalker).

    1. Hi there Tom,
      thorough and excellent work. Thanks for pointing out those who are double. ‘Tag’ though belongs to those words, that belong to two categories: t>d and g>y.

      Funny fact, I had the same epiphany about Darth (dark) Vader (father) a while ago and like Lucas’ namegiving for the son: Luke ( > Luck > Lücke = gap > Glück) is not less meaningful.

      Be careful with the German ‘v’ as we have incidents where it sounds like an English one: die Vase, vague, die Version etc. As you might recognize, those are foreign words, nevertheless they confuse not few German learners.

      1. I haven’t got too far into this so I don’t have much to say about it. Except that I always
        suspected that it worked this way. Much German to English is obvious. I just didn’t know
        it was intentional. Wrong word. What’s the right
        one? Intrinsic? I must go struggle with this. See ya. — Charlie

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