My level of English is at the C2-level (I have passed the Cambridge Proficiency in English exam, CPE, and according to https://www.cambridgeenglish.org/exams-and-tests/cefr/ that equals C2). Even though I don't live in an English speaking country I use English everyday at work, private, watching TV (with subtitles) and so on but this usage is usually on a quite basic level, simply because that is how one uses language in everyday settings.
However, I also read a lot of English at quite a bit higher level, e.g., The Economist, The New Yorker, academic papers and similar. And when doing so it is obvious English is not my native language. Even though I have no problems understanding what I read at a quite detailed level, there are still plenty of words that I only have a vague idea of their meaning.
Recently I therefore decided to do something about this - I started using the Anki flashcard system. Whenever I bump into a word I am unsure about the meaning of (or maybe I know the word but in another meaning, that doesn't make sense in this context) I add it to Anki and then once a week or so I look up the new words in a dictionary and add a translation. So far so good.
The problem is that the meaning of many of these new words is quite extensive (see the screenshot at the bottom for a translation of gather. Of course, I know that gather means assemble, come together but in the specific the context I read it it was the fourth meaning of it that was used, draw a conclusion.) which causes difficulties on many levels.
- It is hard to make Anki card. Gather has more than 10 different translations, just the word (Some of them clearly are related, while some are very different from the main meaning of gather.). Add to that a bunch of idioms or constructions.
A quick look tells me that I know about half of those more than 10 meaning. Of those 5-6 meanings, I could use half "actively" (e.g., use that meaning when I write or speak without thinking) while the other half is passive knowledge which I would understand when reading/listening but not use myself.
When rehearsing, if I see a card that says gather I immediately come to think about the main meaning of gather and it is difficult to recall the secondary, tertiary or quaternary meanings since the primary meaning is so strongly imprinted in me.
If I want to learn most of the meanings of gather I would need to create maybe 5 reversible cards (= 10 cards) in Anki. To separate them I need to add some hints but those hints often makes it too easy. On the other hand, creating one massive card with 5 meanings would mean that I almost always will fail that card because I only recall 3-4 of the translations.
Many words are similar. These are some of the words I added in the last month:
I guess you can appreciate that it is easy to mix up many of them...
For reference, I also study French at the B2-level and learning vocabulary at that level is much easier since it is almost always enough to learn the main translation of a word.
What are some good strategies to overcome the four problems listed above?
Footnote: a quick translation back to English of most of the meanings of gather my dictionary lists.
- Come together
- get, gain
- come to a conclusion
- understand, realise
- wrinkle, to wrinkle
- lift up
- sum up
- grow in size
- bad weather is incoming
- a "ripe" boil
- a swollen finger
- something about sewing technique