Question about Definitions

Is it possible to ignore the definition entered for a word in favor of my own definition? A great example of this need would be for "seltsam," which until yesterday was defined with adjectives like "strange" and "odd." Now it's defined as "rare," which doesn't appear in any of the dictionary definitions I can find for "seltsam." (It is, however, the definition for "selten.")

Similarly, the definition for a word like "gewaltig" is more than merely "enormous" and "lassen" doesn't simply mean "to leave." I would love to be able to see multiple definitions of words, because it would give me a much clearer sense of how the word is used and what it means.

Memrise has been a really powerful tool in growing my German vocabulary (thank you!) but I also fear that its limited definitions could lead to either bad habits or misuse of words.

Posted by carriertone 7/6/12 , last update 7/7/12 (3 years ago)
  • I'm sorry that you have run into this issue. There are a couple of possible things to do:

    • if the definition of a word has been changed and no comment has been left explaining why it was changed, I would change it back and leave a comment saying that you have changed it and why. The curators can then see that and accept the change or explain why not; but in this case it sounds like it will be accepted.

    • you should be able to see lots more definitions by clicking "see more". Does that help? Or is it during testing that you would like to see the extra definitions? If extra definitions are needed for clarity, then they can be added to the primary definition, separated by commas, but this practice varies between the wikis. The number of different definitions given in the main definition field should ideally be kept to one or two, because long lists of definitions become difficult to read and hard to learn. But some words - eg prepositions - require more than one english word to translate them meaningfully.

    Does that help?

    best wishes


    Posted by BenWhately Staff   7/6/12 (3 years ago)
  • Thanks for responding to my comment so quickly. That does and doesn't help, but I also understand the predicament / limitations to strictly learning vocabulary in a somewhat removed context.

    I'll certainly make the change to the Memrise dictionary, although I've tried to make similar changes on other words (for example, if you look up "abseits" in the Memrise German dictionary, the entry includes some unnecessary text following the actual word), which were never accepted. I simply removed the extraneous text, so I thought that change would have been accepted.

    Re: extra definitions While learning new vocabulary on Memrise, I generally don't look at the dictionary entries for each word, so the definition I'm learning is the one that appears in practice. Therefore I would personally find it more helpful if the definition could express more of the facets of a word, although I also realize that there has to be a limit to that.

    My experience is that I learn new vocabulary and then I practice it with fluent German speakers I know. I'm discovering certain subtleties aren't (and possibly can't) be communicated on a flashcard. For example, one wouldn't refer to the living room as "der Raum," but rather as "das Zimmer," although both words are defined as "room" on Memrise. And "das Volk" is the nation, but it's especially in reference to the people of the nation. "Das Volk" is not the same as "die Nation," "das Land" or "der Staat."

    In the case of "das Volk," I think the definition could easily say "the nation, the populace" or something to that effect. Perhaps with verbs like "lassen," it would be more difficult to communicate the meanings, although I think it is misleading for the definition to simply be "to leave." One wouldn't use "lassen" to express leaving for Germany next month, for example.

    Posted by carriertone 7/6/12 (3 years ago)
  • Hi Carriertone, I left a message for you on seltsam.

    If you see words that you think don't have sufficient (or correct) definitions then comment on it. I'm constantly correcting entries to try a give a few more meanings. We really try to keep the main definition to only 1 or 2 for the reasons that Ben said, but there is also the "Alternative English" section where we put less common, antiquated, regional and synonymical meanings.

    Eventually they will add sentence testing where you have to use the word in the context of a sentence. Hopefully this will come sooner rather than later fingers crossed.

    I will go edit lassen and gewaltig now. Lassen is tricky because it has over a dozen meaning. I think that "to let" would be the best option because all the other definitions are able to be thought about as figurative/alternative ways of "to let". The meaning "to leave" is only used as in "to let something stay somewhere".

    Posted by Robodl95 7/6/12 (3 years ago)
  • At the moment the Patrol has got some bugs that are stopping curators from seeing all the changes so easily, so when you make an edit it is best to also leave a comment saying what change you suggested. Then I will get them to have a look at the word. If you could make a comment on those words now then I will get that reviewed ASAP.

    You don't need to look at the actual dictionary entry for the word to see the extra definition - you just need to click "see more" on the learning screen. This does need to be improved and made so that you can "see more " by default.

    You are exactly right about those kinds of subtleties - that is why we have been working hard to get the sentence testing tools finished. Because really, using words in the context of a sentence is the best way to test the real usage of a word.

    That is our preferred way to address this issue, rather than by adding lots of extra words to the main definition, build up sample sentences for large number of words that can then test you on the multiple different ways that the words is used. Having the different definitions added separately as "alternatives" helps to make this a bit easier.

    I hope that is a bit more helpful than before!

    Best wishes


    Posted by BenWhately Staff   7/6/12 (3 years ago)
  • Thank you both for addressing this. I really appreciate those changes, as well as the effort that's invested in the website. Memrise has made a significant (and positive) difference in my vocabulary and I've heaped so much praise on it that a German professor I work with is planning to mention it as an extracurricular tool to her students. So great job!

    @Robodl95 I didn't leave a comment after doing so, but I did suggest a change to the definition of "der Strauß" since ostrich and bouquet are two very different things.

    @benwhately I definitely agree that adding 20 synonyms (an extreme example perhaps) to a word detracts from learning, but especially when there are unrelated meanings (as in my above example), I think it would be useful for them to be listed prominently, not simply as alternative definitions.

    In my experience, the definition of the word is reinforced and really takes its hold through repeated practice and those alternative definitions don't show up when I'm watering my longterm memory.

    Alternatively, is there a way to display (some of) the alternative definitions during practice? (Considering how pared down the practice screen has recently become, I'm guessing that would be a distraction for many users.) This kind of circles back to my initial question about suppressing or emphasizing certain users based on individual preference. (But as someone involved in software development, I also realize how complicated that would be.)

    Thanks again!

    Posted by carriertone 7/6/12 (3 years ago)
  • I think this touches on some of the problems I've been having with the merged words as of late. Since so many synonyms exist in German, having the extra definitions is sometimes needed to help me distinguish the words.

    If you're learning basic German (maybe your first 4,000 words or so), having very basic definitions might be okay, but after a certain point I think the extra info really becomes a boon to learning and mastering the language. The finer points of a word are really what I need to know sometimes and losing that can be really upsetting.

    Also, I know Memrise and the conventions don't really support the use of disambiguating letters following the definition, but for me they can be a real help sometimes and without them I can feel a bit lost. I also have a lot of words listed with their German synonyms after them. I find this to be really beneficial for remembering the words whose meanings overlap. When these words are changed, my garden becomes much harder to use and generally less helpful in learning.

    Posted by Trux 7/7/12 (3 years ago)
  • Just an extra example: German has four words for burial or funeral. All four begin with "B". For me, it's important to know all four, which means that I need a way of keeping them separate and distinct. However, for any beginner or intermediate learner, there's probably really no point in learning that there are an additional three words meaning burial / funeral. German is rife with words of closely overlapping meaning, whose meaning one or two words definitions can't always capture.

    Posted by Trux 7/7/12 (3 years ago)
  • The problem is also aggravated by the fact that it's almost impossible to find the problem words and pull them out of my word list with the current editing process. I have to go through all of the words in my word list to find it and pull it out. With the former editing process it was possible to type in a word that already existed in the list and it would take you directly to that word in the list. I really miss this feature.

    Posted by Trux 7/7/12 (3 years ago)

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