Learning semantically related word sets vs thematically related word sets

Hi everyone, I’m a new user and want to discuss the following conundrum for which I have no definite answer.

I learnt my first 625 words of Portuguese some time ago using the Fluent Forever method, making my own flash cards (in Anki). One feature of this method is that that you learn these words in thematically related order (i.e. word sets that relate to one another only as part of a story: e.g. blue, sky, fine, day, pond).

The advantage of this is that you avoid getting words confused. For example if you learn all your colours as a group, it can be easy to get them confused. You might see green but can’t recall if it’s verde or vermelho, because you learnt the words at the same time as a set.

I’m only becoming aware of how effective thematic grouping is (at avoiding word confusion) by using Practice Portuguese. I never confused words using the above method but I’m finding, for instance, that I’m now getting ‘o’ (the) and ‘um’ (a) mixed up because I’m (re)learning this in the context of semantically related words (articles and genders: boy, girl, man, woman). This is very basic stuff of course and it won’t take but a review or two to overcome it, but I found it interesting none the less.

On the other hand, I’m finding the progression of learning semantically related words very useful, based on the fact that I’m learning the most useful stuff first (greetings, nouns, articles, verbs, etc), and despite the risk of word confusion. I feel like I’m learning things that I can go out and use straight away.

Thematically related words is a great way to avoid word confusion, but I think I’d rather learn the useful stuff first and get over any jumbled words later.

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I agree that remembering words thematically as part of a story or sentence makes it easier to recall the words later, and I think PP’s flash cards are great at creating that kind of mini-story to help with the memory.

I’ve recently gone through the unit about colours, and although a bunch of colours are grouped together, the flash cards for the unit makes it quite easy - a banana é amarela and o elefante é cinzento, so when I need the word for yellow I just need to think of a banana.

On the other hand, I’m struggling with numbers at the moment. For there are no themes, it’s “just” a matter of memorising which word corresponds to which number. I find that much harder than the colours. Particularly when a large number is used in a sentence - I find that I need time to break it up into “ah, yes, that was three hundred followed by… uhhmmm… does sessenta mean sixty or seventy, oh yes, I think it is sixty, but sixty-what?” and by then the speaker has long since moved onto to something else.

Wrt being able to use stuff right away, I think that apart from basic greetings and yes/no, we need a certain critical mass of vocabulary to have even the simplest conversations. On their own it’s hard to make use of statements like The man reads the book, I like to write with a pen, You give the orange to the child, She eats an apple, etc. On the other hand, eventually being able to pick separate words and actually string a whole sentence together is fun - as long as the other person doesn’t immediately ask a follow-up question!


You’re right, image-based learning mitigates the problem, except when you come to abstract things such as numbers. Funnily enough, numbers were one of the first things I mastered using thematically based word sets.

While I haven’t had to deal with large numbers yet, being able to hand over my mobile number or listen to how many reps the gym class trainer wanted us to do in Portuguese was my first successful form of communication.

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