For someone trying to learn a language that is not related to their native language (let's say for example, an English speaker trying to achieve a roughly native level in Arabic), how would you go about tackling the issue of memorization of vocabulary, that is so vast and completely different?

I'm especially asking this in the context of a very high end goal, with "roughly native level" meaning perhaps 15'000 to 20'000 individual words to memorize.

I like to use spaced repetition apps, like Anki, and I mostly use cards with sentences or parts of sentences to demonstrate how a certain word is applied in the language. However, if you add, say, 20 new sentences a day, and you're in the 5 digit range already, simply trying to "hammer in" more and more of it only works to a certain degree.

So, in short, I guess my question is: What tricks or techniques are there to learn vast amounts of vocabulary in a completely different / unrelated language?

1 Answer 1


Use the language. Read books, news and whatever else. Speak and write in the language.

At least I do not typically have active means of memorizing vocabulary in my native language (Finnish) or unrelated languages I know sufficiently well (English, soon Norwegian and Danish). Explicit vocabulary memorization is a thing you do while trying to reach a sufficient level in the language to start actually using it.

What I did with Danish was to start reading early. At first I was happy to get the subject of a given paragraph, but as I studied the language, I got all the way to understanding almost all texts. I did use Duolingo in the beginning and still have an Anki-deck, but with the Anki deck the focus is listening comprehension, not vocabulary. Vocabulary, of course, comes as a bonus.

Start reading: books, news, an interesting blog, whatever. Reading is often easier than listening, as you have more time. As expertise increases, extend to listening news, podcasts or whatever you normally listen to.

Actively using the language is a good next step: write, speak if you have possibilities for it. Personally I prefer writing the things I would write in any case, but now in the languages I am learning, and naturally speaking those languages with all natives and other learners when I meet them. An alternative is to use some explicit language learning service; fine if you have the motivation for it, but is it not much easier to just consider your own interests and do those (at least partially) in the target language?

  • +1 As the OP wants to reach "roughly native level", it surely is for some reason, e.g. living in an Arab country, working at an Arab-speaking company, or similar. Each of these situations has its own requirements and vocabulary. So using the language in a comparable setting is really good advice. Jan 6, 2022 at 9:16

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