Multiple similar-but-not-completely-identical translations are confusing

I have been having a problem with vocab with more than one translation, similar to other vocab. Since it’s difficult to explain, I will cut directly to some examples:

大気 - atmosphere
空気 - air, atmosphere

一代 - lifetime, one lifetime, generation
一生 - whole life, entire life, a lifetime, all through life, one existence, a generation, an age

In the end, I don’t remember which meant what and I have them confused in my head as roughly synonyms, which leads to always failing one or the other in reviews.

Of course, this may be more difficult for me since I’m not a native English speaker. But my question is: is it really necessary to show all possible synonym meanings of a vocab? Wouldn’t it be easier to learn one simple meaning and then learn possible shades of this meaning through experience, reading and using the particular word?

I have learned several languages and I always find some word used in a context or with a meaning I didn’t know, but since it’s normally similar to the meanings I know, I get it and add it to my knowledge. This happens very often for words with rather abstract meanings.

Did you already check the leeches thread?

The problem is that if they don’t include those other meanings, then people are going to be marked wrong for blatantly correct answers.

Let’s say you learn a word here on WK, then you review that one meaning a bunch of times, but in the next 4 months you do get that experience you were talking about.

Then you come back and use one of the other, correct, meanings and WK tells you you’re wrong and moves it back to guru status.

Now, they don’t have as many meanings as they would need to in order to cover that entirely, but that’s the general idea. They should’t be marking people wrong for answers that are clearly correct.

At the end of the day, you shouldn’t be relying on any of these to actually learn the meaning though. You should be finding the meanings in Japanese sources. But there’s no other good way to check your understanding in an SRS tool.


I also try to learn

  1. All English meanings --> Japanese
  2. Japanese sentence cloze PLUS one picture / one meaning --> Full Japanese sentence

So, I’d both ALL and ONE meaning works, but differently. However, in context, there is only one meaning at a time.

Also, my rationale for both Add Synonym and Ignore Script, is that the pre-existing English meanings don’t always work, even if you add it yourself.

So, add synonym, at least.

No, I hadn’t and it can be really helpful to have a list of leeches (also, cool concept!). Thanks!

No, of course. I understand the use of synonyms to accept slightly different but still correct translations. That’s why I’m not requesting any change, I’m just wondering.

I just have the feeling that it’s easier to learn first one-to-one relationships (one japanese word -> one english meaning) and later build on this with different contexts and connotations in which the English word would be different.

That’s right, using both features I guess I could solve my problem. I’m just afraid of “cheating” like this, I might not be able to control myself xD

I’m not sure if there really is a solution to this problem, outside of just learning the separate words in context outside of WK. I mean, some words are just used in a way that you don’t necessarily think they would be, if you had only read the definition. For example, when I was in Japan, people would say どうぞ when signalling to you to go ahead, or when handing you a menu. I learned later that the main definition of どうぞ is “please”, but I would never have thought that, given the context it was used in. I thought it was more like “here you go” or “go ahead”. I don’t have a lot of experience with Japanese as a whole, but I get the impression that a lot of words depend heavily on greater context, and that’s why they can have overlapping meanings in English. Yeah, it’s super frustrating :frowning: But it seems like words just don’t map 1-1 like they might do in another language such as French or Spanish.

1 Like

I understand your frustration, but doing as @leebo suggested and looking at Japanese sources to understand the usage of words is the smartest strategy. Sure, you’ll take longer to go through your lessons, but you’ll have actually learned the word. If you learn only one-to-one Japanese-English simplifications, you’re just gonna have to learn the meanings all over again later.

I have the same feeling, context is really important in japanese.

I will try to spend more time in my lessons looking for examples to understand the meanings :slight_smile:

This topic was automatically closed 365 days after the last reply. New replies are no longer allowed.