If you’ve learned or are learning a language, I am sure you will remember the moment when you realised that not only do you have to learn the French word for asparagus and mushrooms (for when you visit in that little boutique restaurant in Paris that you’ve been dreaming about), but you also have to learn the gender.*
Arghhh, that’s two things to remember!! For every noun I learn! How frustrating! Especially if, like me, your native language does not have genders – it can feel even more frustrating.
If you’re learning something like French, Spanish or German, count yourself lucky – Zulu has 14 genders (blimey!).
However, there are a few things that can really help…
- One of the most important things to remember whenever you are learning a language (or anything really), is that you need to be in a good mood, so it is better to find this funny, rather than annoying! If you want your brain to remember anything you are learning, then smile!! Otherwise your brain will file the activity, and all your efforts, under “stuff I hate and would rather forget” – this part of your brain is sweet-natured but rather simple – it is trying to protect you from painful experiences, but has not taken into account the fact that if you don’t remember these words (& their genders) tomorrow then you are going to have to learn them again.
- Grammatical gender, despite often including both masculine and feminine has NOTHING to do with genders (boys & girls). In fact the German word for girl ‘Mädchen‘ is neutre, and Irish ‘cailín‘ masculine. It’s worth knowing that etymology of the word ‘gender’ (in this context) is actually ‘genre’ meaning kind, sort or class, commonly use to define a type of book or movie, or a style of music. And if you’re interested, has it roots in the Latin ‘genus’ meaning race, stock, family, kind, species.
- Look for the patterns! In every language where there are genders, there are patterns. You can think of them as gender rules – identify and learn these rules and you can use them to get up to 75% of your genders correct (without having to learn the gender of every noun you learn, ~400 at A1, another ~500 at A2 and so on). Sadly, this is still not commonly taught, in fact many students are told there is no solution to the challenge of learning genders, you just have to learn them along with the noun. Certainly, it’s important to include gender when you are learning a list of nouns, however just imagine how your exam grades might be affected if you learned a few gender rules, or how your confidence might grow if you could check the gender of a few key nouns in that email you are sending for work.
Wishing you all Happy Learning!
* As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that if you do get the genders wrong when you order your asparagus and mushrooms in that little boutique restaurant in Paris then the waiter will still understand you, however being Parisian there is a chance he will spit in your soup ;0)