Much more gender practice needed in German; also on plurals

As I get into more complex levels of German grammar, I'm finding that more and more depends on really knowing the gender of the nouns.

I'm also finding that I'm fairly weak on the gender and plurals of the nouns I supposedly know. Early on, it seemed like I was getting sufficient practice for the limited number of nouns, but now, not at all!

I've started pulling nouns I'm unsure of into Anki (a flashcard application) but it feels like there's a LOT of ground to make up -- so far I've collected about a hundred nouns, and I'm quite sure there are a lot more still.

IMO, Duo needs to do a MUCH better job of testing to see that we know noun genders and plurals, and giving us practice on it. It would also be nice to be able go through the vocabulary list and check off nouns where I'm unsure of the gender or the plural, and know that Duo will give me extra work on those.

That said, Duo totally rocks.

August 10, 2013


Mayby an additional exercise can be implemented, where you are given a list of nouns and you have to sort them into three boxes for masculine, feminine and neuter. You would see very fast which nouns you can sort easily and which you need to relearn, and you also might find out some rules (like everything on -heit and -keit is feminine).

August 10, 2013

I know a number of those, and there's a good page with a link to a nice exercise here: Too many of those are "usually", though, and this is the sort of thing where automaticity can really help.

And then there are plurals -- which are also "usually" and "sometimes".

August 10, 2013

Hmmm... I'm pretty sure mastery of noun gender / plural will be mine only with the aid of the time honored 3 X 5 index card – I am scribbling index cards when I read TAZ, when I listen to streaming SWR2, and when I do Duo. Whenever there's a spare moment, I review a few cards. For me at least, this ancient study aid has worked exceptionally well and I recommend it.

Relic of the stone age that I am, a computer program to replace the cards never ocurred to me. :-( I'll have to find one for the iPad. Thanks for the tip.

August 10, 2013

Anki is also available for iOS (iPad, iPhone), as well as Android, Windows, Mac, Linux. It seems to be the most popular flashcard app.

August 10, 2013

Vielen Dank cbjj! Looks like Anki is based on the well-regarded work of Piotr Wozniak – that's good enough for me.

August 10, 2013

It can be a bit of a pig to get started with, if you try to do anything at all fancy.

It has a thing called a "note type" that is really the template for the card. "Basic" has two fields, "back" and "front". If you stick with that, life is much easier. You can create a list of cards in a text editor, and separate the fields with semi-colons, like this:

Punkt; der Punkt - die Punkte - the point

Ferien; die Ferien (pl only) - the vacation

Mond; der Mond, die Monde - the moon

If you want to have semi-colons inside your fields, you can separate your fields with a tab instead of a semi-colon.

Save it to a file called, for instance, "german_genders.txt", and then you can import it into anki. You can add more cards directly into Anki, and you can also import more from a file.

Anki can do much fancier things than that, but let's just say the user interface isn't the friendliest.

It will also sync your work very nicely between devices.

August 11, 2013

Aha! Thank you, that's really helpful. With 3 X 5 cards it's awfully hard to get the sequencing right. This should make a huge difference for me.

August 11, 2013

I also use little flash cards. Cut bigger cards into little ones about an inch tall. I have Anki, but don't really use it. Anki is stuck on my computer, and I am not always by my computer. These cards I keep in a little box, which I can take with me, or look through during commercials if I'm watching tv, sitting in a waiting room, whatever. I don't have a fancy phone, mine is old and simple.

I prefer to have something in my hands to play with, though. Something I have to actually move and flip over. On a computer, it is too easy to just quickly look at the words and the answer. I have found I don't really think about the answer as much, while using a real card slows me down.

Mostly, these cards are all nouns, specifically made to help me with genders. I don't have such a problem with other words, even verbs. Not yet, anyway.

The cards with words I know well stay in the bathroom for the occasional review.

August 12, 2013

I had the same problem in French. What I did was: I imagined the feminine words in a pink backround, like die Frau is wearing a pink dress. Der Flughafen is painted in blue. Neutral words could be green or grey or yellow. I know the genders are pretty hard to keep in mind.

August 10, 2013

That's a good idea, I might try that. The scheme I devised goes like this. Der words are reduced to an 'R' which becomes a rabbit, die words to 'E' and become an elephant, das words to an 'S' and hence a snake. You then have to place the animal in the context of the word, e.g. Die Strasse becomes an elephant with a white line painted over it, and der Rock turns into a rabbit wearing a dress etc. A little unwieldy compared to your method but it does sometimes work.

August 14, 2013

I've always made myself learn nouns as one unit with their associated article. That way the gender is fixed firmly in my mind right from the beginning. I note down the article, the noun and the plural (which I look up immediately a new word appears) and that way when, for example, when I come across "bread" I immediately translate it in my mind as "das Brot". I've done the same with French nouns.

August 12, 2013

I don't think I agree with your OP proposal. There are a lot of tedious parts of learning a language, and remembering gender in German is one. I definitely agree that it has to be addressed, but I'm a proponent of learning it along the way, and make grammatical mistakes in the mean time: I'd rather have learned 3 nouns and be at risk of using the wrong gender than only 2 nouns for which i won't make a mistake. Of course this is personal taste, I'm just giving my opinion on this :)

About the rules that, i agree, are mostly true only "usually", well following the same line of thought i think they are great tools to learn gender "along the way". At first, don't bother about the exception so much, but do stick the general rule into your mind. Then as you discover new words, the ones following the rule are just fine, the ones not following the rule will strike you as odd - and to me, at least, this really helps remembering them.

I'm curious: do you use the "lessons practice" feature, timed or not? I would think that to be very useful to see again words that were only quickly mentioned in earlier lessons, and possibly fill your need. But perhaps the stress on gender/plurals is not strong enough there either?

August 12, 2013
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