How do you learn words that don't have translations into your language? Obviously start by reading the definition in PIV and other dictionaries to understand what it means. If I read the definition and can't put an English word to it, it doesn't really enter my vocabulary. I have passive knowledge of it. I'll get it if someone else uses it or I read it but I just don't end up using it. Recently on my flash cards I started putting what the word means and not just the translation and I think that helps, what else can you do?

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    Do you have an example?
    – Lumo5
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 14:30
  • Eventuala has always escaped me for some reason. I read the definition but every time I read it I just feel unsure about it. My guess about it is basically "able to happen in some situations, but exactly in which situations is unknown." What kinda confused me is in one dictionary I saw the translation was "contingent." I didn't think they matched at all. Isn't contingent like, "if this thing happens than this other thing will happen? Like my going to the party is contingent on the weather.
    – Airvian
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 23:01

3 Answers 3


In my AnkiDroid I usually try to put pictures if possible because I find them easier to remember. You can just search for a suitable image on Google and copy it in. If the word is abstract, sometimes it can be useful to draw a diagram.

Another good tactic is to put the word in a few example sentences. It’s usually easier to remember a phrase than just a dry definition. If you are using AnkiDroid you can make a “Cloze” card where you blank out part of the example phrase and then on the “back” of the card it will be revealed.

Personally I tend to avoid using translations in flash cards even if the word does have a clear translation to English, because I think it helps to immerse yourself a little more and to get out of the mindset of constantly translating when you speak.

  • I've never tried pictures before. Pictures with an accompanying sentence would probably work. Thank you.
    – Airvian
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 14:20

I question some of the premises in the question. Words don't "have translations" in other languages. Words express meaning, and people render these meanings into different languages. If we grant (as I do) that all languages are fully expressive, then it should be possible to express ideas equally into all languages. Therefore, in trivial sense, all words do "have translations" in other language.

There are lots of words that I know in Esperanto that actually do "have" straightforward translations (at least according to bilingual dictionaries), and yet I sometimes have trouble translating them simple because I did not learn this word by reading a translation. (In some cases, it's possible I did, but that it's been years since I've thought about this.)

A recent example of this is from my video "Kampara Mensogo" in which I used the word konsterniĝi. I used it correctly. I knew what it meant. It made sense in the context. But when making the English subtitles, I found myself stuck on what word to use.

There will (or there should) come a time in your Esperanto learning where you learn new words the same way you learn new words in your native language - by seeing them in different contexts, asking people to explain them to you, and by looking in a monolingual dictionary -- but mostly by seeing them in different contexts. Advancing in a language is not a process of becoming a better translator, but of being exposed to as much good Esperanto as possible and immersing yourself that way.

The more good Esperanto you put in, the more good Esperanto will come out.

  • The more I think about it the more I think the problem is that there's only a couple really good dictionaries that I've found that have the definitions and aren't EN-EO. If I wanted to know how to use an English word I could just google "____in a sentence and I'd probably get more than I need for any given word. In Esperanto... seeing the word only a couple times isn't enough for me and besides asking people all the time, sometimes there isn't anything I can do then.
    – Airvian
    Commented Mar 12, 2017 at 22:13
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    Since you mentioned eventuala - the gloss I found for this back in the day was "which might occur" and eventuale is "if need be." I don't remember where I learned this, but I'm sure it was a basic two-way dictionary and/or gloss in an intermediate reader. They're almost literal translations of the definitions in PIV and ReVo. There are hundreds of examples of usage in the Tekstaro. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:10
  • I understand that it's not that important to be able to translate unless that's what you're doing. Something else to point out is that often I feel like the translations given for a word in an EO-EN dictionary doesn't really match the description in PIV. Maybe I'm just being too literal. Yesterday I was looking at ĉagreni, from the dictionary it seemed like "to get in the way of what someone wants and causing displeasure. The translation given by lernu is "annoy, grieve, vex." None of those really seem like the definition. I even read them in an English dictionary.
    – Airvian
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:12
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    I think that one's a case of dictionary writers not wanting to use a word in its own definition. ĉagreni - to cause someone displeasure by getting in the way of what they want). Vex makes sense because it's kind not just feeling annoyed, but also frustrated -- which in turn means to get in the way of something someone is trying to do. Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:21
  • In my English dictionary on my phone there's a tab for learners and there's super easy explainations like, to envy-If you envy someone, you wish that you had the same things or qualities that they have. Rather than what the regular part of the dictionary says: to regard someone with envy. And then under envy-a feeling of discontent or covetousness with regard to another's advantages, success, possessions etc. The first way was so much easier and clearer. That's what I need. Do you know if there's anything like that for Esperanto?
    – Airvian
    Commented Mar 13, 2017 at 0:52

Learning isolated words is almost never the best way to learn them. Memorise phrases, or even whole sentences, and, eventuale, write them on your flashcards, with or without pictures. Even in the simplest cases, when a perfect translation exists, it is easier and functionally more useful to remember la libro estas sur la tablo than the pairs libro ⟷ book, tablo ⟷ table and the very dubious pair sur ⟷ on.

There is an ongoing debate in the relevant forums about how effective “cloze” cards really are, but nobody doubts the effectiveness of learning words in their proper context.

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