What's on this page:
- Make a plan, and adjust it as you go!
- Multiple short sessions are MUCH better than one long one
- Form simple sentences
- Make meaningful groups
- Notice cognates
- List of "Cognate Sound Shifts"
- Make silly rhymes in German
- Make fun links to similar sounding English words
- Baroque music??
- Elephants (or Superman), Mice (or Wonder Woman, or a Ballerina), and Babies
- Color Coding
- "Feel" the Gender...
0. Make a plan, and adjust it as you go!
Research has shown that learners who had a definite plan for how they would learn vocabulary learned much more than learners who did not. Having a plan seemed to matter much more than what the plan was. So: read through this page, make a plan, try it out, and then adjust it as you learn more about what works best for you!
1. **Multiple short sessions are MUCH better than one long one**
Let's say your time budget allows you 2 hours to learn a long vocabulary list for a chapter test. You will learn MUCH more if you spend 15 minutes 8 times than if you study the whole list once for 2 hours. You will do much better on the test, and more importantly, you will remember much, much more in the long run. Future vocabulary learning builds on what you know already ==> you will learn exponentially more this way.
- More details: Research on vocabulary learning has shown that it typically takes as many as 5-16 encounters with a word for it to be moved into long term memory, and that this works best if these encounters are distributed over a longer period of time. "Active" encounters with the word (e.g. forming a sentence, or testing yourself on it) are more effective than "passive" encounters (just writing/reading/listening to the word) - but "passive" encounters can be made more effective by consciously "noticing" the word. Frequency matters more than "depth of processing": forming a complex sentence with the word is much less effective than spending the same amount of time doing multiple simple things like forming very simple sentences with it or testing yourself on it repeatedly.
- **Spaced Repetition**: Research has also shown that you learn best by gradually extending the intervals at which you review a word/phrase. Flashcard programs like Anki can generate the ideal intervals for you. An overview is here, or you can check out this longer article, or the Wikipedia page.
- Bottom line: We recommend that you plan at least one 15-minute session per day for studying vocabulary. If you can, plan 2 or even 3 such sessions. Rotate between the current chapter and periodic reviews of earlier chapters.
**Form simple sentences**
We recommend that, as your primary strategy for vocabulary learning, you form as many sentences as you can as quickly as you can with the vocabulary you're trying to learn or review.
- **Ideas for forming simple sentences quickly - Click here!**
- Simple ideas include saying "Ich mag X/Ich mag X nicht" (for nouns:); "Ich [verb] gern/Ich [verb] nicht gern," classifying things into gut/schlecht, groß/klein, ein Ding/eine Idee [X ist...]; forming sentences relating the word to famous people etc.
- The course materials for German 101, 102 and 103 include annotated vocabulary lists with lots of ideas for silly and serious sentences to get you started.
- If you do this, you're simultaneously building fluency by training yourself to come up with German sentences more quickly. You will also automatically review earlier vocabulary by using it in your sentences.
- **Make this fun by creating silly sentences, like "I eat the train station" [Ich esse den Bahnhof] or "I would like to have your pedestrian zone" [Ich möchte deine Fußgängerzone]** With a little practice, you'll be able to form such silly sentences as easily as "regular" ones. Some of these might come back to you whenever you encounter these words. Silly sentences that you can vividly picture will be especially helpful.
- **Combine this with flashcard apps by forming a sentence quickly with each word that comes up on the app**
Electronic flashcards are an ideal way to structure your studying, especially if the flashcard app incorporates spaced repetition (e.g. Anki - see above). You can open the app for planned study sessions (see (1) above), or when you have a few minutes of downtime (e.g. riding a bus or waiting for someone). For wach word that comes up, form a simple sentence (see (2) above). Making your own (electronic) flashcards can be a great way to learn - click here for ideas and options (Anki, Memrise, Quizlet etc.).
- We don't recommend making physical flashcards, as it may take you so long to make them that you won't have much time to use them, and your options for incorporating images, sounds etc. are much more limited. But everyone is different (see (0) above), so they may work for you!
4. Make meaningful groups
Spend some time organizing the vocabulary
into groups that are meaningful to you. Not every word
needs to fit a category. This will make your mind actively
engage with the words and this processing helps you remember.
Ideas for categories: meaning groups (the most obvious);
things you hate vs things you like vs things you are indifferent
about; ugly words vs pretty words; short words vs long
words; easy words vs hard words....
The act of consciously noticing the similarity to English (or other languages you know) may help you recall the word. You will automatically do this for obvious
cognates like "Fisch" or "Banane." It may be especially effective to notice less obvious cogantes like "hoffen" [hope], "denken" [think], "geben" [give], or "Kuchen"
- Click here for a list of "cognate sound shifts," identifying typical patterns (e.g. English "v" becoming German "b"), with examples.
Make silly rhymes in German
learn "zu Fuß" [=on foot]: ich gehe zu Fuß
learn "sparen" [=to save (money, time, etc.)]: Ich spare
Make fun links to similar sounding English words
learn "Freiheit" [=freedom]: beginning sounds a bit like
"Friday" ==> associate Friday and freedom
learn "benutzen" [=use]: middle sounds like "nut" ==>
picture yourself using [benutzen] a nut to crack open a safe or
learn "aussteigen" [=to get out of]: middle sounds like
"sty" [as in "pig sty"] ==> picture yourself or someone
you know getting out of a bus and landing in a pig sty
Not a proven method, but perhaps worth a try: play some slow, relaxing baroque
music in the background while you slowly say the words
(or anything you want to learn!) to yourself. Your
brain will be "in tune" with what you're trying to do, and absorb much more than it normally would. More info is here.
Elephants (or Superman), Mice (or Wonder Woman, or a Ballerina), and Babies
For every masculine word, picture an elephant [DER Elefant] sitting on the object, or Superman or some other male action hero standing on it. For every feminine word, picture a cute little mouse (DIE Maus) nibbling at the object, or Wonder Woman or a ballerina standing on it. For every neuter word, picture a cute little baby (DAS Baby) playing with the object. Works best with concrete nouns, but perhaps with some imagination you can also extend it to abstract ideas. The big advantage of this method is that, besides helping you learn the noun genders, it also helps you get started on learning the meaning of the noun itself, especially if you're a visual person.
code the genders when you write down the words (e.g. if you make flashcards), e.g. every feminine
word is yellow, every masculine word is blue, every neuter
word is green, or whatever colors suit you. To save time, try to just see these colors in your
head each time you see a new word.
"Feel" the Gender...
to train yourself to feel a specific physical sensation
every time you see a certain gender. E.g.: Neuter: feel
nothing. Masculine: feel one end of the temperature scale (cold or hot). Feminine: feel the other end (of the temperature scale).