What's the best way to learn idiomatic phrases?

When starting a new language, you're often learning some basic phrases, such as "good morning," "thank you," and "I'm sorry." More complex idiomatic phrases are common, too, such as "How cool!" or "What's up?". And it gets more complicated when you start trying to translate certain phrases like this. Even when they're a single word. "Cool!" becomes "Genial!" in some dialects of French and Spanish. It's "Legal!" in Brazil or "Fixe!" in Portugal. But in no case is it easy to illustrate this in an unambiguous way in a photograph. And doing them with Cloze cards doesn't seem ideal, because I'll either have to write an entire story... "Bob: What did you think of the movie last night? Alice: I thought it was [...]!" It gets harder with longer, more idiomatic, and more abstract phases, like "Qu'est-ce qu'il y a?" What I've done so far is use the Basic words card format, with a photo, *and* an English translation. I don't think this is ideal. What are others doing? Is there a best practice?

* Originally posted by flimzy.

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6 comments

  • a lot of these phrases arise in social situations. A book called lexicarry has drawings for many of these (and their website has translations for many languages). You could scan the pictures and use them on cards.

    * Originally posted by James.
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  • I have cards for a few different words that could be translated as "cool" or "awesome". A dog with sunglasses worked pretty well for me. Your example phrase: "cool dog". Or your favorite actor staring into a sunset: "cool actor". Also, do you know the word for "good" in your target language? Most of these words can be given the simple definition in your target language: good (informal). Awesome = good (informal). Cool = good (informal). "Informal" is a cognate in the Romance languages you're talking about, so you don't even need to learn that word to do this.

    Remember, you're not trying to explain these concepts to a Martian. It's just for you and your weird brain. You've already learned the word. You're just creating a reminder in the form of a picture or two and a maybe few other things. I know my dog in sunglasses is for "cool" and not "dog" or "sunglasses". Because I made the card. For another word that sort of means "awesome" I have a cake shaped like a thumbs up. I always remember what it means because I made it.

    I really really recommend taking the English off your cards right away. Believe me, you don't want to be taking 5 seconds to remember words like "cool" or take long to recognize them when you hear them. If you burn these translations into your brain, you'll also be confused when you learn that sometimes these words are used differently than the English versions. You really don't need translation for any of these, and you might already be doing damage to your ability to remember these words in a useful way.

    For longer phrases use Gabe's All-purpose card and make "cloze" type tests for each word in the phrase, each with a picture. Then make cards for the whole phrase. Don't use the built-in cloze cards for Anki. They don't allow for reception tests and that will cause you problems.

    I hope that helps!

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
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  • Thanks to both of you for the tips.

    taomustbeturtle: What do you mean that the built-in Anki cloze cards don't support "reception tests"?

    * Originally posted by flimzy.
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  • Production test: Picture of a dog - What's the word for this? Answer: "dog"
    Reception test: "dog" - What does this word mean? Answer: picture of a dog

    Like Gabe, I only did Production tests for a while and really regretted it. Now I always have both a production and a reception card for words that I don't know.

    When you're learning grammar and phrases, there might be some words where you only want production (if you already know the Spanish words "por" and "para", for example, but are just training to know when to use which one, or if you know a word, but want to memorize a phrase that contains that word). But whenever there's a word that you might not recognize, it's a really good idea to make a reception card. I even do it for conjugations of irregular verbs now.

    Gabe's All-Purpose card makes it easy to turn reception cards on and off - you put a letter in the "Make 2 cards?" field or you leave it blank.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
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  • Ahh, thanks for the explanation. Yes, I've been doing that, but using different terminology.

    * Originally posted by flimzy.
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  • This may be a little bit difficult for someone who is starting a language from scratch, but I sometimes write little descriptions or explanations. For example:

    • "Me mola" es una manera guay de decir "me gusta" (en español de España).


    For any non-Spanish-speakers, this just means " 'Me mola' is a cool way of saying 'me gusta' (in Spanish as spoken in Spain)."

    Obviously, you need to get these checked on lang-8 or something like that.

    * Originally posted by sf.
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