I’m definitely a weirdo. I enjoy learning grammar! Declensions, conjugations, possessive pronouns.
I love them all! And there is a good reason for that! They are simply one of the easiest things to learn in most languages!
Of course, let’s be perfectly honest – learning them is easy. However, using them without any hesitation is another story. Here are a few methods you might use tolearn grammar effectively:
The Classical Method
Repeat everything till your eyes and brain start bleeding. Not interested? Read on!
Look For Patterns
Let’s play Sherlock Holmes for one moment. The first thing I do when I learn grammar of some language is establishing some patterns.
For example, take a look at the weak declension of adjectives in German (it is used when there is a preceding definite article (“der-word”).
Can you see it? Rock n roll horns created of “-en”
And the rest of this table is just “e”! Quite simple to remember, isn’t it?
The Four German Cases
Can’t remember the order of German cases? Maybe if I NAG(ge)D you would! 🙂
2. Create Some Stories
This is my absolutely favorite method since you can use it with combination with mnemonics.
It definitely requires some concentration and creativity. It might be difficult at the beginning.
You have to shake up your rusty imagination!
Example 1 – German possessive pronouns.
Here you have a list of German possessive pronouns. It looks pretty random, right? Nope, there is actually some cool story hidden there!
I gave her MINE TIN(y) SIGN – and her EER(ie) UNSER (answer) was really EER(ie). Who knows, maybe it’s too abstract for you. Let’s try something different then. Let’s assume that I(h)R stands for Irina Shayk. Or some sexy pIRate if you’re a woman.
Now our little story can go like this:
MEIN DIME SIGN(s) IR(ina) – my UNSER (answer) is O(h) YEAH! IR(ina) !
As you can see, this method doesn’t always cover the pronunciation in 100%.
But that’s alright. In most cases, your brain is aware of that and can correct these mistakes.
Example 2 – Swedish objective pronouns
What about some (singular) objective pronouns? When I was learning Swedish I memorized them, more or less, like this:
There are so many ways to memorize these conjugations! But of course, they depend on many things – your native tongue, other languages you speak and your entire “database” of different names, notions, etc.
Being Polish, I would choose to memorize the first three endings with a word “OAZA” (eng. oasis). I think that this approximation is good enough. AMOS can be easily (for me!) associated with my beloved artist Tori AMOS who puts AIS on AN(t).
Something To Remember
Treat this method as crutches. It helps you to unburden your memory by memorizing grammar in an effortless way but it’s not a substitute for practice. You need to use the language to automate the use of grammar,
Q: Can you always find some associations? A: Yep. Just use your imagination!
Q: But what if it doesn’t work? A: Then try harder! Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Good luck and let me know what you think about this method!
"...and that's why, children, we use Past Simple to describe finished events in the past"
I started coming back from the mental vortex. I zoned out. Not that it was any surprise. It happened in almost every language lesson at school.
"Let's take a look at the following example", a cold, sharp voice cut through the air, "yesterday Johny went to the shop."
I don't know what she said next. I didn't care. I preferred to concentrate on my physics homework.
"Why do these lessons have to be so boring", I thought, as the frustration started growing inside of me." And who the fu** is Johny?! He's no friend of mine!".
Maybe for you, it wasn't English. Maybe it was German, French or Spanish. But you REMEMBER that soul-tearing boredom of language classes, don't you?
Why Grammar Is So Boring
One of the problems with effective learning, be it languages or anything else, is that we try to learn new material in the exact form we get it. Teachers, authors of grammar books and course creators serve you some definition and expect you to understand it and (ideally) start using it right away.
But truth be told, it doesn't happen often.
You can read a definition of the use of a given tense or grammar construction. But will it really mean anything to you? Will it appeal to you?
Courses and books are full of faceless and meaningless "Johnys'". But you don't care about them. But do you know who your brain cares about? You!
Anything which concerns you immediately becomes ten times more interesting! Why not use it to your advantage to become better at grammar (also check this article to memorize grammar faster)?!
Encoding - involves initial processing of information which leads to construction of its mental representation in memory
Storage - is the retention of encoded information in the short-term or long-term memory
Recall - is retrieval of stored information from memory
As you can see from the model above, in order to maximize your chances of storing and retrieving information, you have to encode it.
Ok, let's try to encode some grammar construction by personalizing it. I can't promise that my examples will appeal to you. But I hope they will give you some idea of how to do it.
Example no 1 - French verbs with "être"
In French, the auxiliary verb is either avoiror être. French verbs are classified by which auxiliary verb they take, and they use the same auxiliary verb in all compound tenses.
Most French verbs use avoir. However, there are 16 sneaky verbs which require être.
I will list only half of them.
The usual strategy is to repeat such list until you "get it". Or until you lose the will to live. Whichever comes first.
But we will try to encode it with help of some nice and personalized story.
Let's say that you're an adventurer and together with your friend you're hunting the mythical "Fluffy Monster".
I have come there – to the cave of a fluffy monster (Je suis venu ici– à la grotte d’un monstre en peluche). I have wanted to do this since I was born (Je voulais faire cela depuis que je suis né). My friend has also arrived – he didn’t stay at home (Mon ami est aussi arrivé– il n'est pas resté à la maison).
We have climbed the stairs and entered the gate (nous avons monté les escaliers et sommes entrés par la porte). We have killed the monster, reentered the gate and returnedhome (Nous avons tué le monstre et nous sommes rerentrés par la porte et sommes retournés à la maison).
The story is definitely silly but I dare you to forget it!
Example no 2 - When to use the Present Continuous tense in English
English tenses are notoriously difficult for non-native speakers.
things that are happening at the moment of speaking
temporary situations, when we feel something won't continue for a long time
annoying habits, when we want to show that something happens too often, and we don't like it. In this case, we usually use an adverb like 'always', 'forever' or 'constantly'
definite future arrangements (with a future time word)
situations which are changing (i.e. is dynamic)
But if you have a spouse, maybe you will find the following monologue more appealing and memorable.
"Recently I'm working too much (2) . Am I turning into a workaholic (5)? Maybe. But I'm meeting my boss on Friday (4) and I have to have something to show for it. Now when I am thinking about it (1), it's all because of my wife ! She is always nagging me (3) - "do this", "do that" !
Example no 3 - When to use the subjunctive mood in Spanish
The subjunctive mood is used to express everything except certainty and objectivity: things like doubt, uncertainty, subjectivity, etc.
One of the best ways to get accustomed to using it is to learn a list of clauses commonly associated with the use of the subjunctive. It is quite long, so I will take the liberty of using just three of them in my example.
en caso de que ...
en cuanto ...
es aconsejable que ...
in case ...
as soon as ...
it's advisable that ...
To remember them, try to imagine that your friend turns to you with a problem - his feet hurt. He is in a lot of pain. Luckily, you know the remedy. You look him straight in the eye and say:
It's advisable that you lick your toes as soon as you come home - in case you feel lonely (es aconsejable que lamas tus dedos del pie en cuanto lleges a casa - en caso de que te sientas solo)
Give It A Try
As with everything - you will never know if something works until you try it yourself. So go ahead! Infuse some life into your learning. Make it absurd, funny and personal,
Make it MEMORABLE!
Question for you: Is there any grammar construction you have trouble remembering? How can you personalize it?
Done reading? Time to learn!
Reading articles online is a great way to expand your knowledge. However, the sad thing is that after barely 1 day, we tend to forget most of the things we have read.
I am on the mission to change it. I have created over 7 flashcards that you can download to truly learn information from this article. It’s enough to download ANKI, and you’re good to go. This way, you will be able to speed up your learning in a more impactful way.
I have the greatest pleasure to introduce my friend and ex-student – Mariusz who I had the honor to teach (Swedish) not so long ago.
Mariusz started his journey with Swedish in March and thanks to the super effective mix of grit, right methods and mnemonics got to (almost) B2 level at Swedish. The level was assessed by one of the language schools in our hometown at the beginning of October.
How fast is that? Pretty damn fast if you ask me! Especially since he had only a 1,5 h lesson once per week for just 4 months!
Warning: if you’re new to the world of mnemonics, please do not think that we’re having a really bad, acid-induced trip. Instead click hereto hop on the list and get your own 7-part mnemonics course.
Without further ado – enter Mariusz!
How to memorize grammatical genders with use of mnemonics
Come along for a stroll! How I memorized Swedish A1 level ett-gender nouns. It is known that there are only two grammatic genders in Swedish and they are described with their proper indefinite articles – ‘en‘ or ‘ett‘.
The first one covers, depending on sources, about 75% of all the nouns, while the other the remaining 25%. It was obvious, that with the aim to pick always the correct one, it’s sufficient to memorize the smaller group of nouns. So I made use of mnemonics.
I’m not certain why but from the very beginning I have already imagined the en-nouns as green and the ett-nouns as light blue, particularly while revising vocab with Anki, and I colored at least the ‘ett’ ones.
As I was wading through, at first, quite big amounts of upcoming words and the number of the blue ones began to grow, I felt the need to arrange them, preferably into one vast made-up Loci. Then I created a picture of a seaside in my memory.
The sea (ett hav) seemed to fit my needs the best because the only bigger blue objects that I came up with were the sky or the planet Earth, too vast to take up a virtual walk along. So I landed by the Baltic Sea on a beach I am familiar with because I’ve spent my holidays there many times, taking long runs in the sand in early mornings.
Having appeared there once again, I saw in front of me the extensive mass of water reaching up to the horizon on my left and right. Although the sand was yellowish, I realized that after every step I took left a footstep (ett spår) illuminating with bluish light (ett ljus). Cool, isn’t it? I looked around hastily and to my surprise, I spotted even more phantom-like bluish objects.
The nearest one was a table (ett bord ) with my Swedish grammar book, opened on a site with a test (ett test). I always feel pain (ett ont) when I make a mistake (ett fel). I left it as I found it and continued to explore the surroundings to find something more inspirational.
Not too far away, more or less halfway of the left-side shore, there was a stage on which a music band played a sort of heavy metal, sounding similar to the Polish metal band… oh, I forgot, what was its name (ett namn)?
Seepsteen (Sias van Schalkwyk)
Oh yes, the name was Vader. Maybe to spice up the atmosphere of the heavy and furious songs, the weather (ett väder) at the venue was about to get bad (such a shame!), as I saw a big grey-blue cloud (ett moln) thereover.I gave the gig a better look.
Seemingly, the frontman had a sibling (ett syskon) in the same band, but the difference between them was that, unlike his brother, he wore a weird blue beard (ett skägg).
Maybe that’s because he’d always had a big ego (ett stort ego) and wanted to show off? Or simply got crazy on drugs (ett knark). Apart from that, whenever he didn’t sing he sipped his beer (ett öl). And…
If you would like to know how my short story continues, I can only say, that on the right side of the beach one can see a big company (ett företag) which processes the water (ett vatten) to make it clear again before letting it into the sea.
Not to mention other countless objects. If one day there’s no more place available at the seaside, I’ll certainly check what’s behind the distant tip of land so that I could go on with my travel. And you’re invited too!
Let’s take a look
That’s not a place to sugarcoat anything so let’s get straight to the meat of the matter.
Have you noticed how static Mariusz’s picture is? There is very little action and far too few emotions. If you see a book which reminds of your mistakes you should punch it time and time again! Guys on the stage should go crazy since they are likely to be stoned!
Action and emotions are the mortar of your associations. If used appropriately, they can increase your recall manyfold.
too few distinctive places
I don’t know exactly how the said beach looks like. But the thing about beaches is that there are not many distinctive places there to place many pictures. It might work assuming that we don’t flood such a scene with too many associations but in the long run it’s not good enough.
Variations of this method
You might say that the example used in this article was pretty useless, after all, there were only two articles. What about German where there are 3 of them?! Or about Russian where the grammatical gender is not even specified by an article?!
Well, the main principle doesn’t change – we just need two distinctive locations to memorize the grammatical gender. Logically, the nouns which don’t appear in any of the stories placed in these locations must fall into the third gender category – piece of cake!
That’s it, have fun and let me know if you decide to use this method (or have used it already!).
Can you feel it? We're going on an adventure! By now, you should have everything we need to start learning.
If you've read the first part of this guide you should have some grammars book. Internet sources are also acceptable but book is always more reliable.
But before we start, just a small disclaimer.
THE SMALL DISCLAIMER
The process which I'm about to present work like a charm for me. But we're all different, so remember that your approach might vary from mine. That's why you should consider tweaking them a little bit so they're more tailored for your needs.
This part of the guide will seriously get you started but of course, it's not possible to cover all complexities of particular languages. I'm selective.
I don't give a damn about being 100% correct at the beginning because nobody cares. You know what is really tiring? Stuttering with perfect grammar every second word.
Sure, you'll make mistakes but it rarely happens that they are serious.
- "I really do love rapes officer!" - "Pardon me? You are a sick and twisted person! Oh, wait! Did you mean grapes?" - "Oh yeah, me thanks and love you long time!"
You see? At least you're politely making a conversation.
TWO MAIN BRICKS OF YOUR LEARNING FOUNDATION
There are two things which you should know before learning anything - your baseline and general outline of the subject you're about to learn.
So what's baseline?
This is the manner in which you can refer what you already know to the material you want to acquire. It's possible most of the time. However, sometimes you have to be really creative!
When you learn a new language, you can, of course, compare it to the ones you already know.
If yours is only to read or write - it's still the approach I would choose as it helps you to build a grammatical scaffolding where you can later set vocabulary.
Grammatical correctness usually follows quickly once you start speaking. To depict the said process, I'll use Esperanto as an example.
It's much easier than most languages and that's precisely why it is perfect. Just like scientists who use simple organisms to understand more complex ones. I'll use an easy language as an example so you can later transfer this knowledge to more complex ones.
HOW TO USE THIS PART OF THE GUIDE?
I suggest the following - go through it (more or less) step by step. It'll set you on the right path.
But the most important advice which I can give you is - ignore ALL the other things from further steps until you cover the ones you're actually trying to learn. It takes the burden of overthinking off of you.
When should you move to the next step?
Once you can use the structures from the current one with confidence. Of course, feel free to change the order of these steps and adjust them to you if you feel it suits you better.
FIRST BABY STEP- Personal Pronouns
The first question which we have to ask ourselves is: what elements of language are the most important? The answer is - the ones which you can't substitute with anything else.
That's why I always start with personal pronouns (subject pronouns). For the sake of brevity, I'll limit my examples to a singular form.
Step 2 - PRESENT TENSE
Once we get a grasp of subject pronouns we can move to present tense. This choice begs the same question as before.
Why present and not past or future tense? Assuming that we have really little time at our disposal, we can always say something like:
"I eat dinner yesterday" "she goes there in 3 days"
Sounds terrible - I'm pretty sure we all agree here BUT It helps you to get your message across! If there are more than 1 present tense in your target language, it's better to choose the one which's used for general events
Step 3 - CONJUGATION
Esperanto makes everything simple. All verbs in present tense have endings -AS.
Obviously, in a language of your choice, you'll face more conjugations. And the great thing is that you know how many because you learned beforehand what the grammar outline of your target language looks like. (You READ it, right?)
Now we have to learn how to construct:
Questions are least important as you can always ask one using an affirmative sentence and changing your tone of voice.
AFFIRMATIVE SENTENCE (in present tense)
POSSIBLE TRAPS: In many languages the order of the sentence is fixed - e.g. The conjugated verb is always the second sentence element in German.
Be aware of it.
Let's select some verbs, so we can start creating sentences.
Short list of the most useful verbs:
an = povi must / have to = devi should = devi might / may = povi have = havi be = esti get = ricevi give = doni take = preni want - voli need = bezoni buy = aĉeti sell = vendi go = iri come = veni
and 3 nouns
money= mono time= tempo book = libro
Now the best part - building sentences:
mi prenas libro = I take a book ŝi vendas mono= she sells money vi havas tempo= you have time
Please note that these sentences are incorrect (we should add -n to nouns in this case) - I'm trying to show the process of grammar acquisition as precisely as it is only possible.
As for now, we know nothing about declension. Nevertheless, such sentences can be understood without any problem.
Typically, we can negate either a verb or a noun. The most important for us is how to negate verbs. In English, we use the adverb "not" to do so. In Esperanto, we can do it using "ne" before verbs.
Mi ne havas mono = I don't have money ŝi ne vendas mono = she doesn't sell money vi ne havas tempo = you don't have time
Some most popular ways to form a yes-no (i.e. close-ended) question in many languages is to use intonation, inversion (present in English), inflection, auxiliary verbs (do, have, etc. in English) or a grammatical particle.
The latter is true in, among others, Polish, Esperanto and French. In Esperanto, we use the particle "ĉu".
love = ami Do you love money?= ĉu vi amas mono ? Do you have a book?= ĉu vi havas libro?
If we want to learn some more details, it's great to know the most popular interrogative words:
List of interrogative words
which what whose who whom where when how (much, many, often) why
Who = kiu, what = kio Who do you love? = Kiu vi amas? What does he want?= Kio li volas?
Step 4 - OTHER USEFUL PRONOUNS
The final step to make our sentences clearer and fancier is to learn some more personal pronouns
POSSIBLE TRAPS: You have to be aware that in some languages you can encounter many categories of pronouns depending on the case.
my - mia your - via his - lia her - ŝia
Let's add two adjectives to spruce things up a bit:
big - granda* cheap - malmultekosta*
* All adjectives in Esperanto end with -A
My book isn't big - Mia libro ne estas granda His time isn't cheap - Lia tempo estas malmultekosta
me - min you - vin him - lin her - ŝin
She loves you (yeah, yeah, yeah) - ŝi amas vin Do I need her? - ĉu mi bezonas ŝin?
Why are they so great?
Because you can simply learn them, point at some object and grunt:
"This!" "Not this, that!"
this - (ĉi) tiu that - tiu these - (ĉi) tiuj those - tiuj
This person is stupid - Tiu persono estas stulta He gives that money - Li donas tiu mono*
* I still make mistakes on purpose. It should read "li donas tiun monon".
List of indefinite pronouns:
enough little less much more most several few fewer many more most no one nobody neither none everybody everyone all both someone something some anyone anything either any
Someone = iu, everything = ĉio She knows everything = ŝi scias ĉio Someone wants you = iu volas vin
after although as as far as as if as long as as soon as as though because before even if even though every time if in order that since so so that than though unless until when whenever where whereas wherever while and nor but or yet otherwise so either...or not only...but (also) neither...nor both...and
The ones that are the most important to me at the beginning are: because, and, but, or, after, before, that, that's why, to, although, if, until, since, although, otherwise
Conjunctions give us this nice feeling of confidence when we speak. They combine two or more sentences and add a great touch of logic and cohesion to them.
because = ĉar I love you because you're pretty = Mi amas vin ĉar vi estas bela
understand = kompreni I understand that's why I sell = Mi komprenas tial mi vendas
That's it when it comes to grammar basics. More to come!
You can create your own context and the world within a language. You'll have time to adjust the accuracy later.
As long as use logic and try to avoid any idiomatic expressions you should be understood.
Know the general outline of grammar before you start
Learn grammar step by step, once you feel quite comfortable within some grammar structure - move on
If you want to start speaking as fast as possible, learn the thing which can't be substituted with anything else first
Your brain craves sense and meaning - create your own context, have fun, start saying some silly stuff!
Embrace imperfection, we all have to start somewhere