I only study German for the articles
March 4, 2023 7:03 PM   Subscribe

A friend is interested in learning German. What are some apps or programs that encourage learning nouns together with their gender? For example, it's my understanding that Duolingo does not do this very well.
posted by jedicus to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Here is my detailed answer from 2020. This is still my answer.

The main app/website I like is Leo. Leo doesn't FORCE you to learn the gender together with the noun, but I would most highly recommend it. In fact, my practice has been to always learn/practice the gender & the plural whenever learning a new noun.

If you learn a new (irregular) verb, then learn the conjugation with it as well.

FWIW before technology my way of doing the same thing was to simply keep lists of new/interesting words I wanted to learn or remember in a small notebook - small enough to keep in a pocket and with me all the time.

Any new word would be added, with English on one side & German (including gender, plural, and/or conjugation as needed, plus a sample sentence or phrase if appropriate) on the other.

Then in any moment of boredom etc you just cover up one side of the sheet and try to reproduce the other side from memory. Sometimes you cover up the English & try to recall English from the German side, sometimes you cover up German and try to recall German (definitely INCLUDING gender, plural and/or conjugation) from the English cues.

Simple, cheap, and really works.

You can reproduce much the same with Leo, and it does have some advantages.
posted by flug at 11:35 PM on March 4, 2023 [2 favorites]

I hope this advice isn't too off topic, but I always picture nouns with eyelashes or thick eyebrows when learning them. It's silly, but helps me remember.
posted by Eyelash at 2:10 AM on March 5, 2023 [3 favorites]

I personally use Anki flashcards, and I always store a noun with its gender, as well as its plural form. If the person is a new learner, I would recommend Goethe institut's A1 word list, which someone has nicely assembled into a set of flashcards already (you can find similar flashcards for all levels, just search e.g., "b1 goethe german flashcards"). I study 10-20 new cards per day, and have a total daily review count of ~200 and so far this seems like an adequate pace. The genders for me are significantly harder to learn than the words themselves, so I take the following approach in anki: if a card asks for a word, and I know the noun but I do not say the correct article, I will sometimes click "Hard," such that it comes up more quickly again in my review, but I won't necessarily always press "again" (which results it in coming up often many times in the same study session). This is because I find if I get down to 10 cards where I'm only focused on the article, it's very hard for me to just study articles. I prefer to learn the article through repeated exposure over a period of days/weeks.

Another approach which apparently works for some people (I found it, if I recall correctly, from an article on language platform called SmarterGerman), is to associate each gender with a certain image. For example, you associate masculine words with superman, feminine words with the queen of england, and neutral words with a baby (which is neutral in German). Then, when you learn a new word, you imagine in your head some association between this symbol and the word (e.g., "Das Auto" -> baby driving a car; such a weird image is supposed to "stick" in your head such that when you want to recall the article you remember the baby and then know it's neuter). I tried this for a while, and personally it took a lot of effort and I didn't remember my associations well.

Non-answer but relevant comments: I live in Germany and speak "acceptable" conversational German (I can make small talk, have discussions about everyday life, but maybe not about complex political topics). I beat myself up for a long time because frankly, I don't have a great memory and learning the correct genders has been a huge struggle for me. While I do the above flash cards every day, and try to expose myself as much as possible to German media, I recognize that learning the articles is a slow and arduous process which will mostly happen naturally over time. Further, if you use German daily but then stop for a few months, I find the articles slip away the quickest (there just isn't much logic to most of them, except those which follow some rough rules, such as these). Not knowing the articles rarely impacts your ability to communicate your idea. Sure, people will know you're not a native speaker, but that's frankly not important in most contexts.
posted by unid41 at 2:36 AM on March 5, 2023 [4 favorites]

I'm a B1/2 speaker living in Berlin.

What really helps me is to pedantically check an offline DE/EN dictionary every time I use a word out in the world, I'm not sure I got the article right, and I don't feel comfortable asking my interlocutor. Then I try to use the word again ASAP. Ultralingua is the app I use. The critical features are availability (no internet/cell signal required) and speed (some form of autocomplete as you type). During the period I was first learning the dative and accusative I combined this with a DIY cheat chart I kept in my pocket, because die->der, der->dem, usw. can be fiendish.

I don't know how much the flashcard apps worked for me. They exposed me to vocabulary but I'm not sure it internalized the articles. For me, the rapid succession can make words blend together.

A broader comment is that I prefer to combine a short list of simple rules (zB an -ung suffix indicating feminine, or most loan words being neuter) with an intuition-first instead of memorization-first approach. For me, the offline dictionary is part of "putting on the suit" of the language, as opposed to treating it analytically.
posted by daveliepmann at 3:48 AM on March 5, 2023

Can confirm that Duolingo is still bewilderingly terrible for this. It marks you down if you get a noun's gender wrong in a translation, but if you tap on a word in the question for a vocab hint, it doesn't include its gender. So it misses an obvious opportunity for teaching and reinforcement.

Worse: at the moment, when you get a noun's gender wrong, if there's a plausible synonym that has the gender you chose, then the correction it offers you uses the synonym. So instead of understanding "oh, wrong gender" you're left wondering if you misunderstood the context in which the noun should be used. Example.

I do have a recommendation. There's a very handy little phone app called Der Die Das, available for both iOS and Android, whose main purpose is to let you type in a German noun and immediately see its gender. It also lets you make a list of words you struggle with, and there's a game mode where it tests you on them. Makes a good complement to Duolingo, and it's a helpful learning tool in its own right.
posted by ManyLeggedCreature at 4:07 AM on March 5, 2023 [7 favorites]

If your friend likes the word-ending method of remembering German, there is actually a whole book about the various rules, which I enjoyed so much that I made myself a stupid game of my own.
posted by dame at 6:13 AM on March 5, 2023 [7 favorites]

Anki is great, and there are a bunch of existing Anki decks with various ways of focusing on grammatical gender: https://ankiweb.net/shared/decks/gender . But unid41's approach to just using Anki with a focus on gender with a regular vocabulary deck is great too.
posted by kristi at 9:19 AM on March 6, 2023

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