Thursday, April 3, 2008

On improving one's grasp of language

My English had been faulty, probably still is, but indeed it’s a lot better. How though? Was this a gradual process or have I ever done something that made it ‘suddenly’ improve?

I think both are true. While language improves with one’s daily use of it – when we pick up new words, new proverbs, when we ‘think in sentences’ with improving fluency of use. It also can take a leap of improvement.

In my case this was when I had to prepare for an exam. An exam with a very high requirement that I do well, with time to prepare for it and a straightforward methodology for how to do well in it; an exam with many parts one large part being an English section. This section puts significant demands on improving vocabulary. The exam was the GRE.

I prepared a full two months from a book by Barrons on GRE available in Urdu Bazaar with a selected list of 3500 words, most frequently used in the English language. I knew at least half of them before I started and my target was to do a handful everyday.

I had two months to prepare at the end which I knew the entire list and finally in the exam I did well. I got a 720/800 on the English section.

A lot of the words I learnt have probably escaped me, but a lot I still remember.

The words helped me understand articles I used to read requiring fewer pauses on my part to look up the words.

The exercise in itself gave me a knack of picking up new words.

The most beautiful part of the experience of learning words is when the 'concept' each word represents reaches you in an articulated form - the definition, you really enjoy it. This process of understanding the concept helps retaining the word.

The improvement in vocabulary has made a tremendous difference – a greater command and comfort level with the language.

I was discussing with somebody the other day and they said that in the Urdu language you probably need about 200 or fewer words to be able to understand the entire Jang Akhbar through and through (maybe a lot fewer). Add in a few more words you would have a great command on the language. (As if just the 200 weren’t good enough!)

I had thought of repeating the exercise with the Urdu language and found a couple of sites on the internet with selected ‘ashar’ and words but I have not done this exercise very seriously. If I do I am sure my Urdu language will improve tremendously.

Interestingly with the little vocabulary I have I was able to read an entire story written in Urdu in a book called “Himaqataen” (I think the name of the author is: Shafiq ur Rehman). The name of the story was “Nilee Jheel”. The fantastic part about it was that the author used the simplest of words used in spoken Urdu to write the story. Any body who is familiar with Urdu literature would tell you that it is a good book in its genre.


  1. 720? wow! I think I got half of that, exactly.. :)