Working on vocabulary – the little words

I finally seem to have mounted a full-frontal assault on ten languages. They divide roughly in half, with Spanish, Russian, French followed closely by Italian, Latin and Kweyol in term of comprehensibility, i.e. few look-ups per page. That doesn’t mean there aren’t words that I don’t know or know well, just that they are not essential for grasping the content. That, of course, creates the temptation to look those words up and store them somewhere – my brain, a notebook, on cards or something. All in all, I read along pretty well.
Then there is Urdu, whose vocabulary is so different from what I am familiar with but which I have amassed a large amount of; I just cannot read a novel like I can in the first three and pretty much the next three. Bringing up the rear are Dutch, Norwegian and Greek. The first two are loaded with cognates and possessed of a stripped down grammar. Greek is also loaded with cognates but only to the extent that they permit easy links to the English, e.g. leksis for word. Greek’s grammar is a thing of bristling morphology, in John McWhorter’s apt coinage.
The stumbling block at this point is the paucity of vocabulary in these last three. For that reason, I’ve begun to pull together several lists designed to instill in me something like a 75% per page vocabulary recognition. I am going through the instruction textbooks I use for the last three and writing down as I find them the basic vocabulary I need. I reread over and over until every word is clear to me. It is time consuming but I’m trying it as something new since in the past I have plowed on through less than comprehensible texts and gained comprehension gradually. Now I am doing close reading to see if the vocabulary sticks. Concomitantly, I make lists. Currently, I have zeroed in on adverbs and conjunctions like “just then” and “wherever”. This comes from frustration when reading stories in Urdu like Prem Chand’s Godan and being unsure of expressions like phyr bhi and jo kwch. Just organizing all these phrases, most of which I am familiar with, might give me some pegs on which to hang them when I come across them in reading or listening.

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