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How to approach words with multiple meanings? Should I make multiple cards?

January 16, 2023 — Tatsumoto Ren

Consider the word . What does it mean exactly? 念のため and 不安の念 express drastically different concepts. 出す has 8 meanings in 旺文社 and 29 in 大辞林.

The main way we do sentence mining is by adding sentences from our immersion to the SRS. The SRS is designed to test on very small pieces of information. So if you want to make multiple cards, each card should cover only one meaning. In other words, one meaning equals to one targeted sentence card.

When you notice a new word in your immersion, it is sufficient to make just one card with the sentence the word appears in. Before you make the card, you look up the word in a dictionary. If a word has many meanings, there will be multiple definitions listed. In monolingual dictionaries the number of definitions can be especially large. You can either paste every definition on the card or put just the one that applies to that situation, that particular meaning. Either is fine as long as the back of the card has the meaning that is used in the sentence on the front of the card. Which definition or definitions to choose is highly specific to the target word.

When you review the card, test yourself only on one meaning. Grade it "Good" if you remember the meaning relevant to the context of the sentence. You certainly don't want to be trying to recall many meanings at once because if you forget one, you fail the whole card. Having to recall multiple things at once violates the minimum information principle.

So should you make 29 different targeted sentence cards just for 出す? It's not necessary. If you want to make cards for all meanings of the word, you'll have to look for additional example sentences that express each meaning. This is not efficient. Don't do it.

When a word comes up in your immersion that you already learned, but it is used to express a different meaning, then it's acceptable to make another card. In this case you already have an example sentence at hand, and since the sentence comes from your immersion, it is authentic. Making another card does not contradict the minimum information principle because the extra information is added in extra cards. However, I wouldn't learn the card that same day. I would instead assume that I'm going to be able to remember it without the card. If you can't remember it the next time it comes up again with that same new meaning, then go back and learn the card.

When you know something, you have an entry for it in your head. It's a lot easier for the brain to add new information into the same box. Creating new memories is what's hard.

Tags: faq