Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wish I could learn vocabulary quickly and effortlessly”? Well, the truth is, at one time, you actually did learn words so easily that you hardly gave it any thought at all.
“When was that” you ask?
Think back to when you were a child and just beginning to learn your mother tongue. You probably don’t remember much about the techniques you used to acquire vocabulary because you really didn’t have to think about it back then. You simply focused on learning the words that seemed most important to you at the time that would meet your basic wants and needs. The words you learned were not some textbook vocabulary words, but words that you heard your parents and others around you used on a daily basis. At the same time, you were exposed to new words you heard other children say while you were playing with them, new words from television and films, and later, new words that you learned in school.
This all happened so naturally and effortlessly as a child mostly because you had hours and hours of exposure to practice your mother language. It’s basically the same way that thousands of other children learned their native languages without even thinking about it.
So, am I suggesting that all you have to do is return to your childhood to learn basic Arabic words and other Arabic vocabulary more easily?
Well, yes and no because there are certain advantages and disadvantages you have when you want to learn Arabic language skills as an adult.
Let’s start with the advantages.
First, you already have the ability to speak, read, write, listen to and understand one language. As an adult, you also have the advantage of already knowing about the world and how it works which lets you acquire information even faster than when you were a child. Add to that the benefit of already knowing what learning methods work best for you and the resources you prefer to use when learning.
On the other hand, one of the disadvantages is that you don’t have the time you used to have when you were a child to dedicate to learning Arabic because you have obligations like work, school, family and other adult responsibilities. You’re also probably not living in one of the Arab speaking countries which would fully immerse you in the language in the same way you were fully immersed in learning English because you were born and raised in America, for example. Additionally, you already know English, the lingua franca of the world, so you may have neither the ability nor the desire to learn Arabic.
Truth be told, the disadvantages of going back to your childhood learning techniques far outweigh the advantages mostly because you don’t have all of that time to immerse yourself into learning the language that you had back then.
However, when it comes to learning Arabic vocabulary, you can use some aspects of that learning strategy from childhood while also benefitting from some of the advantages you have as an adult learner.
By starting with these five amazing tips, you can learn Arabic vocabulary in an easy, effortless and engaging way!
5 Tips for Effective Arabic Vocabulary Acquisition
- Always Learn Arabic Words from Context
If you want to learn words well, learning words form context is better than trying to learn them from a list. This means practicing and memorizing full phrases and sentences just as you did when you were a child. For example (and maybe I’m dating myself here), some of you may remember the talking toy called “See ‘N Say” that allowed children to choose the exact phrase they wanted to hear by adjusting a pointer on the toy’s face to a particular item and pulling the “chatty ring” attached to a string. In the case of the “See ‘N Say” toy that taught you about animals called the “The Farmer Says…”, you could point the arrow to a cat, pull the string and it would play back, “Listen to a cat. ‘Meoooow!’” so instead of just learning the word “cat”, children learned it in the context of it being in a sentence.
Along with studying words in context, it is also helpful to know what part of speech a word is playing in a given sentence. Let’s look at the word “pop” in English, as an example.
“Pop” as a noun can be “a nickname for a father”, “a carbonated beverage”, “a sharp sound”, a sharp exploding sound as from a gunshot, or “a type of music which usually appeals to teenagers”.
As a verb, “pop” can take on many meanings among which include “to bulge outward”, “to appear suddenly or unexpectedly”, or “to hit or punch”.
The adjective form of “pop” is “of music or art, something that is new and of general appeal to young people”
“Pop” as an adverb is “like a pop or with a pop”
Looking at all these definitions, it’s clear that “pop” isn’t really one word, but many words; each in different accord to it its grammatical place and part of speech it plays in a sentence. However, it’s not only the word by itself that is important, but also the context that surrounds the word that makes each meaning clear. And this is why knowing the meaning of a word due to what part of speech and its surrounding context words is critical to learning Arabic vocabulary.
“Pop and I went to the store for an orange pop, when all of a sudden, we heard a loud pop from a child playing with a pop gun while his mother was listening to pop on her mobile and didn’t hear a thing. Pop wanted to pop the kid because the pop almost caused pop’s heart to pop, not to mention that he almost dropped his pop.”
Indeed, without context, a word can mean both everything and nothing at all.
I learned this technique when I first started to learn to speak Arabic with other native speakers in Jordan. I could understand a word here and there, but maybe not exactly know the word in the middle of here and there; however, I could take a good guess at what it meant simply by knowing the context of the word, and thus, get the gist of what they were talking about.
- Read… and Real a Lot!
If you’re learning Arabic for beginners, nearly every word you read is going to be a word you’ve never heard before. However, as you read more and more, the new words will appear less and less.
The most effective way to keep encountering new vocabulary often is to learn to read Arabic and then read it often as books, magazines, newspapers, and other written media offer plenty of chances to learn new words, and as mentioned above, you get to see those words used in context (and as a bonus, you can also learn a lot about grammar and punctuation).
To get the most out of reading in Arabic, you should get into the habit of reading at least one hour per day, so that you have a steady stream of new words that can really fire up your vocabulary learning.
- Stay on an Even Level
As we’ve just discussed in Tip #2, reading is an excellent way to learn new words to learn Arabic. However, I’ve always told my students to read something you like – something you’re interested in, but also take care to choose material that’s right for you and your level of Arabic.
For example, if you’re a beginning Arabic language learner, you might be enthusiastic about reading A Thousand Arabian Nights in Arabic which contains thousands of more words than nights that you don’t yet know. However, in practice, this massive undertaking could overwhelm you and like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon, learning every word from this great work would be far above your level of understanding to be useful.A quick guide which can help you find good comprehensible input is if you can understand seven out of every 10 words (or 70% of the material), then that could be sufficient considered comprehensible input for your current Arabic language level.
- Learn Only What You Need
Some professionals who study these things suggest that Arabic has between 90 million and 500 million words. Others suggest that these professionals are making this up and in actuality there are only about 12, 500, 000 words in Arabic. In either case, with so many words, should you worry about having to learn them all?
Of course not!
Learn only the words that you need to know in everyday life first. For example, an Arabic farmer is not going to have the same vocabulary as a rocket scientist. This is because, in general, Arabic native speakers learn vocabulary that is of high relevance (words that are used in daily life by the Arabic speaker and his family friends and neighbors) or high interest (words that are unique to his passions, desires, and personal interests) to them personally.
As a non-native speaker, you should therefore learn words that pertain to you and your personal interests. What may be interesting to you may not be interesting to another Arabic language learner however. Just remember that, whether you’re trying to learn Arabic online or in a classroom, you will find differences in what you and your classmates find relevant, but ultimately, your reasons for learning Arabic are more important.
If you’re learning from a textbook and it has a whole unit featuring vocabulary for working with others and you have no intention of ever working in one of the Arabic speaking countries, then don’t try to learn those words.
As an alternative, find something that will teach you words that you are interested in and words that have to do with your own personal Arabic language learning. Believe me, there will be lots of words you only ever hear once, and will never encounter ever again. Trying to learn them all is stressful and a waste of time, so find words that you care about and are sure to use again and again.
- Read and Listen Out Loud
Reading alone can never truly convey all the subtleties and nuances of Arabic phonology, intonation, and the all of the other things that go along with speaking Arabic. So, mix them up and read out loud.
Listen to yourself read. Listen to audiobooks of other people reading the same text. Doing so exercises both your reading and listening skills and also helps improve your Arabic pronunciation, making you a true multitasker at learning Arabic.
If you do this reading and listening practice at your beginner to intermediate levels of Arabic language learning, it can greatly boost your comprehension skills overall of your language learning.
In sum, you can take some of the basic learning strategies that you learned as a kid and apply them to your adult language learning plan to help you learn Arabic more easily and efficiently.
Before I close, I’d also like to mention another great way to learn Arabic vocabulary is by downloading one of the best Arabic language learning apps available on the market today. The Kaleela Arabic language learning app not only helps you learn Modern Standard Arabic vocabulary, but also helps you learn Egyptian Arabic and Levantine Arabic dialects, so you can personalize your Arabic language learning experience even more to the words you want and need to know. Check it out at kaleela.com.