Due to the scarcity of good Arabic thesauruses (or thesauri, if you prefer), I have always looked for synonyms while writing in Arabic by translating the word into English, looking up the English synonyms, and then translating them back into Arabic.
As you can imagine, this was a long process before I had access to electronic dictionaries and had to flip through paper references.
Now, however, there is an array of Arabic-English dictionaries online. Moreover, there is Google, which can itself be used as a dictionary/thesaurus. I have written in another post about how to use Google as a dictionary.
To use Google as an Arabic thesaurus, I take advantage of the Google Translate tool combined with thesaurus.com. This allows me to translate a whole page of English synonyms into Arabic simultaneously, instead of translating each one word by word, like I used to do in the past.
Here are the steps:
1- First, I translate the word into English using one of the many online dictionaries, such as Alburaq, Ebnmasr, SPTechs, Tarjem, or Sakhr. This step can be skipped if I already know the English word.
2- I look the English word up in an online English thesaurus, such as thesaurus.com.
3- I use Google Translate to translate the English synonyms, by copying the link from thesaurus.com and pasting it in the Google Translate field.
Shortcut: Just bookmark this link and change the word in the link "build" into the English word you want synonyms for in Arabic:
Here are some examples:
I can also click on one of the hyperlinked synonyms and I will get its synonyms. Once again, the whole page will be translated into Arabic.
Common sense, intuition and acquired skills
If I don't find what I need, I try another word. It's an intuitive process that requires experimentation and learned skills. Using a thesaurus can trigger your thoughts and give you hints that help you get closer and closer to the word you are looking for. You will not always find what you want immediately. The process requires creativity and exploration.
There's always something new from Google
Be on the look out for new Google services. There is something new almost every week. There are constantly new tools that can improve our productivity.
In the past two weeks alone, Google unveiled a dictionary that supports 28 languages; Translated Search, which allows you to search for information in other languages; Real-Time search, which indexes real-time content published on Twitter, Facebook and blogs; and Google Goggles, which lets people search online using pictures taken with cameras in mobile phones or spoken words in multiple languages. It also improved Google Suggest, by displaying the search results right below the search box, it announced Quick Scroll for Chrome, and began handing out an experimental cell phone to its employees. This is just what I have heard of; there might be more.
Any good Arabic thesauruses?
The lack of good Arabic thesauruses is an issue that will be addressed in another post. The good news is that technology has made it easy to develop new references and harness existing tools to compensate for the scarcity of references.
Furthermore, these tools are getting better each day. Google is allowing users to contribute to them by adding translation suggestions. The democratization of dictionaries might very well gradually end up becoming better than any reference we use to rely on.