Memorizing synonyms in Anki

This topic has been discussed many times but I haven’t found a good solution, so here I’m giving my ideas.

I’m learning a language and the more words I add to Anki, the more synonyms I accumulate. For example,

spinal column, spine, backbone > позвоночник, позвоночный столб, хребет

Here I have 3 English synonyms and 3 Russian synonyms which all mean the same. Please don’t discuss these words because they are just an example. I understand that some synonyms may have a little different meanings. This post is not about these words but about an approach for memorizing synonyms.

Until now I tried to remember all synonyms as a list, so when Anki shows to me

spinal column, spine, backbone

I tried to remember all 3 synonyms in Russian:

позвоночник, позвоночный столб, хребет

If I could not remember even one of them, I rated my answer as wrong.

As a result, memorizing many such cards with lists of synonyms has become difficult and boring. Even if I remember a list of synonyms, I quickly forget it. So, my interval for such cards increases slowly and often returns to zero. I also cannot rate my answer as a good one if I remember only 1 of synonyms, because it will mean that I memorize only some of the words and will not be able to recognize other synonyms when I encounter them in text or speech.

Now I want to change my approach. I will determine main synonyms:

main: spinal column, other: spine, backbone

main: позвоночник, other: позвоночный столб, хребет

Then I will have separate cards for each synonym in each language in order to remember them all and be able to recognize them in the future:

spinal column > позвоночник

spine > позвоночник

backbone > позвоночник

позвоночник > spinal column

позвоночный столб > spinal column

хребет > spinal column

As you can see, defining main synonyms simplifies memorization because I will need to recollect only 1 word instead of 3.

The question is: How do I input synonyms in Anki and how do I design cards?

Can I keep all synonyms in one field as a list:

spinal column, spine, backbone

and then create a card type which will extract 3 parts of that field content one by one to generate three cards?

If yes, maybe I can use some separators to instruct how I want the list to be split into cards. For instance, I could use semicolons to separate synonyms and the 1st synonym in the list will be the main synonym:

spinal column; spine; backbone

Normally when you design a card in Anki, it extracts all content from a field. Is it possible to extract only a part of content of a field? If it’s not possible now, maybe somebody can make an add-on?

If it’s still impossible, it seems I will have to create many extra fields for synonyms and create many card types for all those fields. Then I will need to separate the list into several fields:

English main synonym: spinal column

English synonym 2: spine

English synonym 3: backbone

English synonym 4: (reserved for potential synonym)

English synonym 5: (reserved for potential synonym)

Russian main synonym: позвоночник

Russian synonym 2: позвоночный столб

Russian synonym 3: хребет

Russian synonym 4: (reserved for potential synonym)

Russian synonym 5: (reserved for potential synonym)

In this example, where I assume that each concept can have up to 5 synonyms, I will have 10 fields for 2 languages and 10 card types. So many fields will not be convenient and will not look nice in card browser, editor and Add dialog screens. Therefore, I would prefer to record synonyms in one field as a list and use separators between them.

Any ideas?

PS: I first posted this in reddit, but reddit does not even have Subscribe feature, so this forum is better. I will delete this post in reddit.

The way I do it, is I make a note for each word in my target language (Korean).
Each note always has only 1 Korean word, but it could have several English translations.

To solve the synonym issue, I added a hint field to my cards. In that field, I write down: “not (synonym)”. The hint field is displayed on the front of my English → Korean card. This way I know I need to look for the other synonym.

That method has worked pretty well for me so far! It’s not exactly what you’re asking for but thought it might be of help.

Maybe this can be accomplished using JavaScript on card types.
What code should I write on the front side of English-to-Russian card type to extract the 1st (main) synonym from “English” field?
Here is content of “English” field: spinal column; spine; backbone
The front side of English-to-Russian card type should be something like:
{{Rus}} with completely transparent font, then JavaScript code to extract from it the part before the first semicolon
What code should I use for another card type to extract the part of English field between the 1st semicolon and the 2nd semicolon (spine)?

In my opinion, your approach combines two very inefficient strategies for language learning: studying isolated, descontextualized words, and studying lists.

My recommendation would be to completely change your technique:
A) Learn vocabulary in context, study phrases instead of single words. Isolated word are easily forgotten, but when your learn that word in the context of a phrase, you’'ll have a much better ability to remember that word in the future, and your fluency will improve.
B) Don’t worry to much about memorizing synonyms, when you’re speaking a foreign language you don’t need really that . Maybe you can add them as an extra field as a reference, but knowledge of synonyms will simply come with time.

I still want to record synonyms and memorize them because I need to be able to recognize each English or Russian synonym in a text or in speech and know the equivalent word in the other language.

After starting this thread I wanted to keep one field listing all English synonyms instead of creating multiple separate fields for all synonyms. So I started creating card types that would extract a part of English field content (for instance, only the 1st synonym or only the 2nd synonym ) using JavaScript, but then realized that this will not work. If I decide to have 5 English>Russian card types to accommodate 5 English synonyms, but a note has only 1 word without synonyms, Anki will still create 5 English>Russian cards for this note, one with that one word and the rest 4 with empty front sides. Cards with empty front sides will be created because there is some text in the English field.

It seems I will have to create multiple fields for English synonyms and multiple fields for Russian synonyms, e.g. 10+10 and create many card types (20). Anki will generate cards only if the field mentioned on the front template has some text in it. For instance, if a note has no synonyms (1 English word, 1 Russian word), only 2 cards will be generated.