I’ve been trying to get a decent system going for my vocabulary learning over the past few days. I’m going with a flashcard system, based on the Leitner system. I think flashcards are effective when you’re disciplined about using them (which I haven’t been in the past, much to my annoyance). I’m running into a tricky problem though, one which I hope to get some feedback on.
The problem revolves around words that, when translated, can have a wide range of meanings. I don’t mean different shades of meaning, such as with the German word umfassend: it can come across as thorough, comprehensive, encompassing and quite a few others. However, when you get down to it, the words are all expressing a similar concept. Instead, I’m talking about words that have blatantly different meanings attached to them. The example that brought up this issue for me was this word from the Word of the Day piece at About German. Here’s the entry:
die Vertretung (-en) replacement, substitute (teacher), deputy; representation (of firm, agency, etc.); agency, office
So, this single word can be a replacement, a substitue teacher, or a deputy; it can also be representation of a firm or agency, or, it can express not the representation of a firm or agency, but an agency or office! The issue, of course, is this: what do I learn? All of it? A substitute teacher is quite a bit different from an agency or office (and even a deputy is quite a bit different from a substitute!) If I opt to learn all of the meanings in one go (as opposed to learning the different meanings as I come in contact with them in reading or conversation), do I make a separate flashcard for each meaning, or do I make one flashcard for die Vertretung and attach all of the English meanings? That sounds like a path for disaster, I think.
What’s your take? How do you handle this problem?