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Usually, language flashcards are made with a word on the front and its translation on the back. This happens to work well with nouns like apple and most colors because, well, fruits and colors usually don't have more than one translation. But there exists a problem: what do you do about the words that simply cannot be translated into a single word in your language or the target language? I may make a flashcard with the word run on the front but how would I know if I mean run as in I like to run in the afternoon and not as in I run a big business? The same problem exists with synonyms found in either your native language or your target language.

Therefore... how can I make flashcards that force thinking in the target language but at same time limit confusion (synonyms and/or multiple definitions)

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  • This is a bit broad. Try narrowing down your questions a little. Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 23:02
  • @PythonMaster Perhaps this is a bit more specific. What methods are there in making flashcards using only the target language (alongside pictures as you suggested). Pictures may work for many words but how about synonyms (like say in English, intelligent vs smart)?
    – user11788
    Commented Sep 28, 2016 at 23:19
  • Welcome here by the way! Please read the Help Center on more information on rules and guidelines on this site: languagelearning.stackexchange.com/help Commented Sep 29, 2016 at 0:08
  • Have you read "Fluent Forever" by Gabriel Wyner? He talks about this problem in his book.
    – Golden Cuy
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 9:17
  • Wait, so is this discussing translation cards or not? I don't see how homonyms have anything to do with avoiding translation cards.
    – awe lotta
    Commented Jan 6, 2022 at 22:01

4 Answers 4

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Pictures!

Lots of people (maybe you) learn audio-visually, which basically means you learn with sounds and pictures. Tons of words can be differentiated with the appropriate picture. The word "park" can have two pictures with the respective definition: one for the park used as a place, the other when park is used as a verb. This is mentioned in this link from Fluent Forever:

There’s a neat principle that came out of cognitive psychology in the 60s and 70s called the “Pictorial Superiority Effect.” The basic idea is that we remember pictures ridiculously well, and we pretty much suck at remembering words. Unfortunately for us, languages are full of words, not pictures, so at least on the surface, we’re screwed.

But there’s a trick.

Studies show that pictures with words are even more memorable than pictures alone. Why? You wrestle with the meaning of that word in conjunction with the picture. Why is APPLE there? What does that sculpture have to do with apples? In the process of wresting with the combined meaning of a word and a picture, you store both of them deeply in your memory.

Thus, using the appropriate pictures with the correct word and definition will definitely help you out. Here's another tip, stick with methods that go with the direct method, a teaching method that only allows you to use the target language when learning. Try looking at all the other flash-cards related questions to see what helps for you.

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    The problem is, how do you use pictures for abstract nouns and grammatical words?
    – Tsundoku
    Commented Oct 26, 2016 at 15:06
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Without knowing big vocabulary I can't imaging how you can build glossary.

You may get (buy/download free) professional glossary and create cards from it.

With good amount of L2 words I found it is worth to work with glossary in SRS. But if your vocabulary is less then say 2000 words I do not know if it ever possible.

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What I do in your situation is to list what it doesn't mean. A synonym to run in run a business could maybe be manage. I have a field on my cards "association" that contains basically anything, a reference to a place where there is a personal connection between the word I try to learn, a picture and so on. In the cases you describe in your question I simply write "not manage", "not walking fast" or whatever is appropriate in that field.

The motivation for this is self explanatory but there is another advantage: you are reminded about they synonyms to/multiple meanings of a certain word everytime you see its card.

The reason I use a separate field is that then I could hide when I am confident I know the word.

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If you want to distinguish homonyms, you could use phrases. For example, have a card for the meaning/translation/picture for "run a business", and have another card for "run somewhere".

As for avoiding the problem entirely, you could use clozes with one word missing, plus a picture translation, or have the cards be reading sentences instead of words. This method is recommended by, e.g. Refold.

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