Word Lists Don’t Work (For Me)

I wanted to add a little bit more to my previous post about words in context vs. word lists. I said in my last post that going through and adding word lists to your SRS application, like Anki, could be effective, if only you could bring yourself to do it. At this point, however, I’m thinking words without context are perhaps more trouble than they’re worth, even if you can bring yourself to adding them to your SRS program.

Before I became dreadfully bored with the process, I had added 40 or 50 German words from Using German Vocabulary to my Anki deck. They’ve been in my deck for a few weeks now, and I’ve noticed a rather blatant trend: I keep outright forgetting these words, or getting them completely wrong, whereas with words that are in context, I rarely forget them completely, and only very occasionally will I make a mistake in remembering them. Some of the words that I’ve added without context, I’ve forgotten completely 3 or 4 times.

Die Kommode is one example of one of the words I’ve “lost” repeatedly. It means “chest of drawers”, something rather simple, but everytime die Kommode would pop up in Anki, I’d blank on it, or think of something similar – a coatrack, a closet, etc.

A couple of days ago I added some context to the card, changing it to die Schubladen der Kommode aufziehen (essentially “to open the drawers of the chest [of drawers]”), and the word seems to be sticking well now. It hasn’t been long enough to see if the context makes a long-term change, but I expect it will.

So, I have to reiterate something that I’ve seen elsewhere many times: while it may take a bit more time to find example sentences / phrases for the words you’re trying to learn, they really do seem to make a difference.

Words In Context Vs. Word Lists, Part 2

I wrote previously about word lists vs. words in context, and said that I thought for a lot of words, context just wasn’t needed much. This is especially true of concrete nouns. A bakery is a bakery, whether you say “bakery” or “die Bäckerei,” a library is a library, whether you say “library” or “die Bibliothek.”


One aspect I didn’t really think about when I was writing that post was the issue of enjoyment during study. I checked out Using German Vocabulary, which consists almost entirely of thematic word lists, with some exercises / authentic German material after each unit, from the university library. I had the intent of systematically adding all of the words in it to my SRS application, Anki. The book has a huge number of everyday words, and so I figured learning all of them would be a good thing.

Except… I’m not doing it. The book has sat on the shelf for a while now, while I’ve continued yanking whole sentences from news articles and from my monolingual German dictionary. Why? Mostly because sitting and typing in word after word into Anki isn’t a great deal of fun, whereas reading articles and slowly increasing my understanding via learning new words, is.

Maybe a dual approach is needed – use the word lists in the book as a guide as to what to learn, but look up sentences for each word via Google or my dictionary. I’m hesitant to just toss out the book (or return it to the library, more specifically), because I’ve found that if I just read news articles and what not, I end up with large holes in my vocabulary, particularly words for everyday things. I’ve not read many articles which have dealt with bookshelves, shelves, sets of shelves, etc., which are all things I recently learned the German for, via the above-mentioned book.

Certainly, though, I don’t think just cramming word lists into Anki isn’t going to work for me, at least not as a long term learning practice. It’s effective – I could learn a lot of words in a short amount of time – but only if I can bring myself to do it, which I’ve failed at. Live and learn.

Free access to Collins dictionaries

I was looking for a translation of a German word this morning (arbeitsreich), to see if I could find some examples of usage. At the top of the search results was this. The page answered my question, but more importantly, through it, I discovered that you can access Collins foreign language dictionaries online for free.

The dictionaries available from the site are:

Quite the bundle!

A humorous pronunciation mistake

My 3 year old recently acquired a liking for the kids’ show, Bob the Builder. He’ll often tell us in the morning: “I want to watch Bob Builder!” He always leaves out the definite article. However, the humorous bit is this: he can’t, for whatever reason, get the end “b” on Bob to come out quite right. Instead of the correct sound, he gets “mb” – thus, he says bomb instead of Bob. Which, of course, brings the full phrase to:

“I want to watch bomb builder!”

I certainly hope the FBI or Homeland Security hasn’t had a reason to bug our home; if they have, we’re going to have some explaining to do.