What exactly is a loanword? We’ve written a lot about foreign loanwords, but do you know what they really are?

As always, Bespeaking is here to break it down for you! Read on to find out exactly what foreign loanwords in English are, and how you can use them in your everyday life.

What is a loanword?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, a loanword is “a word taken from one language and used in another.” This word is not translated, and so takes on a very similar meaning to its meaning in the original language.

For example, some loanwords in English are café from French meaning “coffee”, bazaar from Persian meaning “market”, and a kindergarten from German is a school children aged 3-6 attend before they go to grade school.

Why exactly are there foreign loanwords in languages?

Neither languages nor people exist in a vacuum, so there’s bound to be some crossover between languages.

As people from different cultures and languages interact with each other, we trade words from our native languages. These words might come about in the new language because there isn’t a good translation for the word, the idea doesn’t exist in the new language, or because the word simply sounds better in the original language!

If you want to learn more about foreign loanwords from certain countries, here are some of our previous articles on loanwords:

German Loanwords

German castle Neuschwanstein German- English vocabulary words

First, people always ask me if German is a hard language to learn and my answer always goes a little something like this: “To an extent, yes.” The grammar can be quite difficult. But when it comes to German vocabulary words themselves, it’s relatively easy.

If we are talking about borrowed words, English usually takes the cake (wins first place!) as the “cool” language to borrow words from, but in this case, the English language has borrowed a few words from German! Read more about German loan words here and here.

Yiddish Loanwords

Yiddish is the language spoken by Central and Eastern European Jews and is derived from Hebrew, Slavic languages, and other Germanic influences. I love Yiddish words, partly because they’re so much fun to say.

Oy vey! Here is the article about Yiddish loanwords.

French Loanwords

About 45% of English words have a French origin. 29% of those words are words that are directly stolen from French. (This is the same percentage of words in English with Latin origin, by the way). Suffice it to say, French is one of the biggest influencers on the English language, and here is our article about it.

This is all thanks to the Normans and William the Conqueror’s victory at Hastings in 1066. After his victory, French became the language of administration and nobility in England, and some words have hung around ever since.

Latin Loanwords

Latin is a originally a Roman language and many Latin words used in English today.

Both Latin and the Romans have had a huge influence on our culture and language, so we couldn’t let them go unacknowledged here on the Bespeaking blog. (It doesn’t hurt that Rome is one of our favorite cities!)

If you’d like to get a little more “ancient” in your knowledge of English, here are some Latin words used in English part 1 and part 2, their derivatives, and what they mean.

Spanish Loanwords

There are many Spanish words used in English.

Spanish is the second most common language spoken in the United States, and some of the words we get from it may surprise you!

Hungry for more? You can find even more Spanish loan words right here.

Scandinavian Loanwords

Scandinavian Loanwords in English- give someone a hug.

Scandinavia didn’t just give us the Vikings. It gave us all sorts of (many different) common words, as well! In fact, Scandinavian loanwords are some of the most sensible: hug, nudge, and cozy, for example. Here are just a few.

What are some of your favorite foreign loanwords that you use often? Share with us in the comments below!

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Erin Duffin lives in Hamburg, is an English teacher,  yoga instructor, and is glad that these languages also brought their food along with their loanwords! Who doesn’t love burritos, lasagna, and baklava??