The Wikipedia Vocabulary Flood

Do you need a lot of new vocabulary about a specific topic? Then this is the post for you.

We live in remarkable times. Wikipedia provides an incredible amount of free information, and in various languages. Farsi Wikipedia has more than 250,000 articles. (Pashto Wikipedia has more than 1,000 articles—not as many as for Farsi, but certainly more than you can read!) My experience of the Farsi Wikipedia is that the text is very high quality—no typographical mistakes or grammatical mistakes. If you want to get a lot of vocabulary about a particular subject, Wikipedia is a great place to start.

Here’s the procedure:

  1. Find your topic using English Wikipedia (or your native language Wikipedia). Then look on the left side of the screen under “Languages”. Click on the link that says “فارسی” (alphabetized under “F”).
    • If you don’t see “فارسی”, then there’s no Farsi equivalent. Try looking under a more general subject—like “Economics” instead of “Inflation”.
  2. Zoom in! Try Ctrl-Plus, or holding down Ctrl and using your mouse wheel. Make it large enough that you can read the words without difficulty.
  3. Open up your flashcard program, or at least a Word document to record your new words. I recommend using Anki for flashcards.
  4. Start reading the text. Look up every word you don’t know in the dictionary. Copy/paste it into your flashcards, or your vocabulary list. Work through the grammar as well as you can.
  5. Stop when it gets too much—maybe after a paragraph or two?
  6. Review the vocabulary using your usual methods.
  7. Once you’ve got the vocabulary down, you may want to discuss the grammar with a teacher.

This will produce a lot of new vocabulary. I got 28 new words from a three-paragraph text!


This is an activity for people who can read. You’ll probably need to be decent at figuring out the meaning of sentences for this to work. For instance, you need to be the kind of person who could learn from the LCP News Collection.


So we’ve solved the “not enough new words” problem. Are they the right words?

Are they, for instance, too Iranian? Well, as I’ve commented before, it’s impractical to try to filter out Iranian words before you’ve learned them and listened for a while. I am more convinced of this than ever. I initially learned the word [bʌk] باک because it occurred in a 13th century Rumi  poem. Does that seem like it would be a useful word? Within a few weeks I heard it used in the lunchtime conversation.

Remember also that we’re trying to break the ice and get at some new words. People in your life are using simple words with you because they know your Dari is weak. Your co-workers are not going to be a good source of new words. You’ve got to look elsewhere.

Finally, keep in mind that the differences between Iranian Farsi and Afghan Dari are much less pronounced when you get to “higher” topics. Do you think Afghans and Iranians have different words for the chess pieces? (Spoiler: no, they don’t.)

So get out there and take advantage of Wikipedia. It’s an all-you-can-memorize vocabulary buffet!