https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

A technique to memorise vocabulary plus gender.

Hi everyone.

I'm fairly new here, and I love this site, so I'd like to contribute something helpful. A hobby of mine is mnemonic techniques like memory palaces, and sometimes they even come in useful, so here is one for memorising nouns + the gender. This may seem contrived, but in practice the process is organic and natural.

Imagine a town or city that you know well, it's probably the one you live in. Think of the main roads, where you live, where your friends live, landmarks, etc. Really flesh it out in your mind's eye. Imagine flying over it with a bird's eye view, and you can zoom in on specific areas instantly. Now mentally separate this town or city into two halves. North and south, or east and west, whichever seems natural. For me there's a main road right through the middle of my town which cleaves it in two, east and west, but use whatever comes to mind for you. This is how you will memorise the gender of the noun. In my case I think of the west section as masculine and the east as feminine (bear with me). This mental town will be your foreign vocabulary database!

And here's how to store information. Let's take a French word like 'le cochon', which means 'the pig'. Now 'cochon' sounds like the English word 'cushion', and looks a little like it too. So I imagine a pig with the soft, fluffy body of a cushion, and I also imagine climbing into its pen and resting my head on it for a nap as it gently oinks. This associates 'cochon' with 'pig' using a piece of information I already know, 'cushion'. I imagine this taking place in a close friend's backyard in the WEST side of town (the masculine district) so now I know that this noun is masculine too.

Another example, 'la souris' means 'the mouse'. So I imagine bumping into six foot tall mouse on the EAST side of town (as it is feminine, la), specifically my place of work, and it saying 'sorry, sorry, sorry' over and over in a high squeaky voice.

I use the same technique for adjectives, I use the town centre since adjectives have no fixed gender, so it isn't necessary to place this information in the east or west side, and it keeps things nicely organised. 'Sale' means 'dirty' so I imagine a dirty salesman on the highstreet. 'Froid' means cold so I imagine Freud frozen stiff in front of Starbucks.

This technique still requires repetition in order for you to become comfortable with the new information, and thus access and use it instinctively, but it makes the initial 'just learning what the bloody word means and the gender' part much easier. Over time and with practice you will find the images fading like stitches, and all that will be left behind is the information itself.

December 28, 2013

37 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/sarunka

I use similar, maybe simpler technique how to memorize genders as well. When I learn a new word, I imagine it with something super-masculine or super-feminine, the funnier the better. For example die Maus (the mouse, German) - I imagine a big nice mouse with its mouth painted pink with a lipstick, walking on high heels with a handbag etc. Or der Bär (the bear, German), I imagine horrible bear with big teeth, trying to eat me and so on :) Works for me! :)))

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

Hey, sounds like a good technique!

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/CaveatEmptor

And the bear has a knife. Ain't nobody got time for that!

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/Anglea

I learn genders with colour coding. Le pain - the bread - that's a stick of blue French bread to me. Das Brot - that's some green German bread. French milk is blue whereas German milk is pink.

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

Sounds like a good idea. Learning two languages at once must present a host of challenges.

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/Eluminate

As for me, I started writing down everything, including the gender of nouns and so forth in a little notebook. And every night before I sleep, I would recite everything one time and the next morning as I am brushing my teeth I would go through them in my head and be amazed what I can remember.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

I like to review things before sleeping too. I've read that this helps you to retain the information long term. It's also fairly relaxing.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NaeShelle

I use a similar technique - I have a language notebook that I carry everywhere and am always sure to include articles with the vocabulary. Recitation is a powerful tool!

December 31, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/pleiadian_

Very creative idea that stimulates the imagination - thumbs up!

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence

I've struggled with noun genders all my life, but I am beginning to accept the point of view that eventually, you 'just know' which one to use. I like this new development, because I haven't put any particular amount of effort into realising it other than my usual reading and listening. But it hasn't changed my opinion that it's the last thing anyone should worry about. It's about the difference between 'A airplaine' and 'An airplane'. Not only is it superficial, you can't explain the practical reason behind the difference, you just have to see that it rolls of the tongue easier :)

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/smarterGerman

Chilvence, natives need years to get a feeling for the right gender. Adult learners might simply never reach that stage if left alone. Use a technique to learn the gender. Without a technique you are bound to learn them wrong which opposite to what you say in your last sentence matters a lot. You use the wrong article in German-you sound wrong. Of course you could give a damn but why learn a language to sound less intelligent than you actually are?

Here's a simpler technique than the above -although I am a big fan of memory palaces: Whenever you have to learn a noun and that it is masculine, imagine that word together with Superman. E.g. Superman is holding a giant umbrella with an 'S' on it. The next time you are searching for the article of 'Regenschirm >> umbrella' you will easily remember that it was masculine (represented by Superman).

For feminine nouns take a fairy or the Queen, whatever you prefer. For neuter nouns take a big German baby.

Whatever substitute you choose, it makes sense to stick to three as it makes it easier to remember.

And mnemonics are used to establish a connection between new abstract information and your already existent knowledge. Superman will be gone after a few times and all that's left will be the -now correct- association: Regenschirm >> umbrella >> masculline.

Have a good time Michael

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence

I'm not saying they don't matter. I am saying they are not the priority, and as you said yourself if it takes natives years to learn them, why should non natives be expected to learn them faster and better?

You seem to have a fear that if you don't focus on them, you won't ever learn them. I can say from my experience that eventually the correct article sinks in and you don't even realise that it happened. I tried learning them, it didn't work. Yet somehow, I know it is Die Milch, and I can't explain why, and I have to say I am thrilled to bits that I can't explain why because that is a level of instinct I am comfortable with, rather than having to slow down and think about whether Superman likes milk or not. Plus I get to have my cake and eat it, because I can still think to myself that assigning arbitrary sexual genders to everything is completely daft and quaint.

In the meantime, if people want to think I am less intelligent while I try and learn their language, that's something for them to worry about. I've met far too many speakers of broken English to even consider it a problem, it's insulting to judge someone by their second language skill level. And I benefit far more from learning vast amounts of vocabulary the quick and dirty way than I do from worrying about the finishing touches. You can't paint a house before all the ceilings are plastered, can you?

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/mitshoo

You said what I tried to, but much better.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence

Well, I didn't get a response, so maybe I touched a nerve ;)

December 30, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

That is the end goal, to develop a feel for it and instinctively 'just know'. But I think a mnemonic is a good first step.

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/Isabcomment

I agree. When you stop fighting it, it comes more easily. Also, i have been working on learning the basic rules for determining Gender in German. There are rules, (and exceptions) and a grammar workbook has been very helpful.

December 30, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/JessieKaye

Awesome! I am so gonna use this, Ive had trouble with the masculine and feminine too. That's VERY creative!

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

Cool. I hope it helps you.

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/sgedwards90

I just learn the definite article with the noun. For example, I don't learn that dog = Hund in German, I learn that dog = der Hund.

I don't think of the noun and the article separately. I learn that a dog is actually called a der-Hund, and a cat is called a die-Katze. If you can remember the actual noun, it's not really any more difficult to remember a der, die, or das at the start of it.

Having said that, German does have a few nice hints that you can use to guess the gender, eg. anything that ends in -ung is feminine, most nouns that end in -er are masculine, etc. After awhile I've found that I've been able to guess the gender of a lot of nouns just based on what their endings are.

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/smarterGerman

Indeed, those endings are sweet, but those cover let's say only 50% of the nouns (most of the nouns are feminine, sth around 48% I have read today and the feminine endings are pretty reliable). What do you do with the rest, I mean, HOW do you learn 'der Hund'. Those articles are pretty abstract and illogical (except those preceding an ending)? You must either have a technique or you have an extraordinary memory. Any signs of that? ;)

If you learn the three magic words (read/speak them as if they were actual words together with 'their' article a few times): der ig-ling-or-ismus-er das tum-chen-ma-ment-um-lein die heit-ung-keit-ei-schaft-ion-ie-tät-ik-ur-e

you have covered most of the above mentioned endings. Bonne chance M.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/sgedwards90

You are right that you can't rely on the noun ending to guess the gender of nouns like Hund. What I meant was, if you do encounter a noun for the first time that ends in -chen (for example), and you know that all nouns that end in -chen are neuter, then you can reliably guess that the noun is neuter without having to look it up.

When it comes to actually learning and memorizing nouns, I use Anki. One side of the flashcard gives me a picture of a dog, and I answer 'der Hund'. If I answered 'die Hund' I'd mark the card as incorrect and have to review it again. I'm forcing myself to remember the gender as part of the actual word, not separate to the word.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/Chris123456

That's so helpful. Thank you. I like any form of memory aid, maps, associations, mnemonics, even just rote lists. There are some great ideas expressed on this posting. We all learn differently so some methods work better for some and not for others but it has been particularly useful for me, at this stage of me learning German, to have a brief synopsis of the situation as you have expressed above. Have a few happy lingots!

December 30, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/mitshoo

Yeah this is how I do it too. I think it is the most natural way. You said what I was trying to say much better than I did.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/seelian

I also got problem to differentiate the genders if the words not ending with alphabet o or a, but is seen like i can try your method whether it suit me a not.

For me to recognize the meaning of words is still easy because certain spanish words still similar to english with linking to the spelling or pronounciation.

For example: limón = lemon, león = lion, elefante = elephant, jugo = juice, lee = read, azúcar = sugar, hola = hello, menú = menu.

But some other words i will use ASSOCIATION METHOD. For examples:

LIBRO spelling is similar to LIBRARY and what major items have in the LIBRARY? it is BOOK. so Libro = Book!!

DIARIO spelling similar to DIARY, and what item will be produce every day? is NEWSPAPER. so Diario = Newspaper!!

ESCRIBE similar to SCRIPT and what need to form a SCRIPT? is WRITING! so Escribe = Write!!

TIENE we can imagine split it into THEY NEED. Why do they need it? because they wan to HAVE it! so Tiene = Have!

CEBOLLA pronounce for me is sound like a ROUND SHAPE things. ONION is quite a round shape. so Cebolla = Onion!!

PATO pronounce similar cantonese dialect PAK TO which is mean dating, and chinese got a kind MANDARIN DUCK which are always appear in pair. so Pato = Duck!!

ROPA spelling similar to ROPE. when the ROPE string join together will become CLOTHES! so Ropa = Clothes!!

ELLA is a singer name of a taiwanese singers team. ELLA is a female. so Ella = She. Therefore easy to me link with Ellas = They (f), Ellos = They (m)

But not all the words able to use the association method. So i was force self to memorise it with mind telling self its easy and i could remember it. I also force self to repeats the lesson for those which i feel i not familiar. But this system also quite good which let us select answer refer to picture which is help us to memorise.

Beside i got a habit that i must finish those lesson with FULL HEARTS at least once then only go further the lesson.

At last hope my method useful for others also.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence

Libro and library aren't just similar. The word library comes from it (or at least from the latin root). Same with diario/diary and yes, even (e)scribe. English has a very strong French and Latin influence, and we benefit from the method you use as well! I like your one for 'Pato' by the way...

December 30, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/seelian

ya, may be for you they're not similar, and for me it is not exactly follow the real fact where the words come from, just this is my own imagination way in linking those word. associate them and strengthen it for me to memorise it. xD

December 31, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence

I... don't understand... I was actually agreeing with you...

I do actually really like your association for pato! Now whenever I think of ducks, they will always be in pairs :)

Sorry, if I sounded sarcastic or something. That wasn't my intention. Dui bu qi ;)

December 31, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/seelian

哦哦哦,现在看回去你回复我好像get错你一些意思。没什么的。我以为你说Libro和library是不一样的,我get错你的意思了。嘿嘿嘿~ xD

December 31, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/chilvence

Umm... mei guan xi :) I was just trying to confirm you have a good stategy, and I use it as well, I was only trying to add some detail, because libro 和 library 是一样的 .. sort of ;)

December 31, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/AlmogL

Well, I'm going to try this and see if it works for me! :-) I just need to find where to put the neuters. Maybe on the main road... ;-) Thanks for the idea!

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/CuriousAtanaa

You could always split your town into three districts ;)

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/Cinns

thanks to you, when learning a new language, my brain goes gooey and I feel like I have nothing to hold onto, like all these new words are floating around, this at least lets me ground the information somewhere :) I will try it

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/Gia99

great idea! I was finding it really difficult to learn genders! Merci :-)

December 28, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/blucamels

I like the idea of the town, I use a note book and write feminine words on the right side, because women are always right ;-), so the east side works for me too!

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/KathrynLY

OK. Sounds plausible. I shall give it a go!

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/carolasimo

I think it depends on your native language, for me many French words have the same gender than in Spanish wich is my own language, but there are some exceptions, so I pay more attention to those words. Both languages come from the same root: Latin so they have similar rules. I guess it may happen the same with Italian and Portuguese.

December 29, 2013

https://www.duolingo.com/NotGoodAtFrench

I want to learn Spanish too. I'm happy to hear many of the genders match.

December 29, 2013
Learn a language in just 5 minutes a day. For free.