How To Increase Your Arabic Vocabulary

A question I get asked very often is “how can I increase my Arabic vocabulary?”. In this post I want to share with you some of my ideas on this subject.

1. First of all, let me make it clear that there are no fast fixes for vocabulary, perhaps with the exception of so-called “cognates” – words of English origin that have become a part of the Arabic language. If you haven’t done so already I suggest you download my free report on over 200 such words here: Arabic Words.

2. You need to understand that Arabic is based on a system of roots. For example, the three letters K -T – B (كتب) can be used to form a vast number of words, such as kaatib – writer, kitaab – book, istiktaab – dictation, maktoob – written, kitaaba – writing etc. Most of these derivations are formed according to rules that can be learned easily. Once you have mastered these grammatical rules you will be able not only to guess the meaning of many unknown words, but to “invent” or “guess” new words yourself. So a good place to start your campaign to increase your Arabic vocabulary would be to take a good look at the grammatical forms that can be derived from a root.

3. Read extensively. What I mean by this is that you should try to read as much and as widely as possible. Only be seeing an Arabic word in multiple contexts repeatedly will you be able to build up the required connections in your brain to recognize it and remember its meaning accurately at a later point. Learning vocabulary from lists is very inefficient, as it strips the word from its meaningful context.

4. Read intensively. This is the counterpart to step 3: often, you should try to read a single piece of writing multiple times. Read it silently at first and then try to read it out aloud. A third pass through the text could have you trying to emphasise words for meaning, like in a theatre play.

5. Use audio whenever you can get hold of it. Using an audio recording of a text in conjunction with the text itself is not only good for Arabic pronunciation, but it also gives your brain another chance to absorb the new words.

6. Use memory techniques to remember stubborn words. As you know (see my method for learning the Arabic alphabet) I’m a big fan of mnemonics, or memory techniques that speed up learning. An example of such a technique for remembering Arabic vocabulary words would be this: “black” in Arabic is aswad. Visualize spilling dark black ink on a swot (a geek) in a classroom back at school. This little story allows you to associate the sound of the word aswad with its meaning black.

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