Sometimes words have (more than) two meanings

One challenge that comes with learning Hebrew is when a word has multiple definitions.

It’s worth trying to learn these definitions in order, since the earlier meanings occur more frequently than the later ones.

This means that my vocab drill process is to look at the Hebrew characters, try to convert them straight to sounds, fail, have the English letters appear in my head, make the sound of the English letters, then think of either the definition or – for a complex word – the mnemonic, and then remember the words that go with that definition.

So Torah is LIT-C: law, instruction, teaching, custom. More controversially, Nephesh (I’m told there’s no equivalent sense of this word in English) is Slipknot: soul, life, person, neck, throat.

Does anyone have any tips for learning the vocabulary of a new language, or am I doing everything right?

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  1. When I was learning French (most of which I have now forgotten), I used to keep an address book style notebook. I’d write definitions in the correct spot and cross reference to the English words so that I could find what I was looking for.

    But the big change in my learning came when I started speaking it. We need to forge new neural pathways for a new language to connect in our mind, and I think speaking it pushes our brains to make new connections. Any opportunities to speak out loud will help.

  2. Thanks Gavin!

    The drawback with studying a biblical language is that the focus is on reading what’s already written, not on being able to use it to communicate. Once we have enough parts of speech to form sentences, I’ll give that a go. So far we’ve only covered nouns, so it might be a few more weeks!

  3. I think this is called ‘semantic range’. I’d stick with the the most useful/commonly used meaning for now and then add to the others as you get a feel for the language. You’ll pick this up as you translate something and then check it against an English translation. That’s when you’ll see the other words that are in the semantic range for the word.

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