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In vocabulary books, I frequently see lists of homonyms (i.e. words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation, but have different meanings); however, I've wondered what is the best method for learning these.

It seems like going through a big list of words and learning all their various definitions could lead to confusion and overloading. Of course you could have this with any type of vocabulary list memorization, but it seems worse with homonyms because there are multiple, unrelated definitions for each word. I have usually taken the approach of just naturally learning the different definitions as I experience them (i.e. not using these types of lists), but wondering if there there has been research or people have personal experience with different techniques.

I'm sure this question applies to all languages, but I'm specifically studying Korean, which does seem to have an enormous number of homonyms in part because of loan words from Chinese which lost their tones.

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Interestingly, not only second language learners, but also children often have trouble learning homonyms, for instance according to this study. This is however not always the case. In this other study with visual support, children were more accurate in responding to homonyms than to novel words. Thus, my guess is that a possible strategy for learning homonyms would be to use pictures for both meanings of each word.

  • Welcome to Language Learning! – fi12 Jun 8 '17 at 5:18
  • Thanks, good point about using visuals, but I'm still wondering more about the order of learning them: word by word vs definition vs definition. – ryanbrainard Jun 12 '17 at 12:59

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