How to study grammar efficiently

I am a bit confused of how should i start studying different word forms. For examle in German. Present: ich mache Perfekt: ich habe gemacht Past: ich machte Pluperfect: ich hatte gemacht Do i just make one card with same sentence that kind of represents all of them or do i make a different card for each word form? picture is in here:

* Originally posted by Skyline.

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  • I know this sounds like way more work than what you're planning to do, but I really really really recommend 1) that you make separate cards for each form and 2) that you use example sentences for the front of your card, rather than just the base form of the word.

    I did what you did with Russian. I still regret it to this day. So much wasted time with really frustrating results. It took me a whole year to undo the damage I did, and I still mess stuff up because of this. If you put multiple forms as the answer to your card you'll confuse all of them when you speak, even when you start to get really good at other aspects of the language. So you'll be having an awesome, heated discussion with someone and you'll either make a mistake that makes your sentence completely incomprehensible, or you'll pause for a full minute trying to unscramble the correct form in your brain.

    Plus, you're not just trying to learn forms, you're trying to learn when to use them. If you use example sentences from the beginning, you'll internalize this so much faster.

    So find natural-sounding example sentences (or write some and get them corrected) for machen in its present, perfect, past, and pluperfect forms. Blank out the conjugated form of the verb in the sentence, and put ONLY THE CONJUGATED FORM on the back. Make both front-back and back-front cards. Use a different picture for each one.

    If machen is a regular verb (which it looks like it might be? I don't know German at all), then you don't have to use machen for every form. You can use machen for the present form and spielen, for example, for the perfect form, etc. That can switch it up and make it more interesting, plus it will help show you how one regular conjugation system applies across multiple verbs.

    This will go a lot faster than it seems, and the payoff in time saved later on will be huge. Build your grammar up carefully at the beginning, and you'll zoom past the basic mistakes intermediate traditional classroom learners keep making for years. But if you burn a list of conjugations into your brain with Anki without any context, you'll speak slow and with tons of mistakes for a long time. And you'll end up only looking at the first conjugation on your card anyway after a while, so you'll have to back and make separate cards eventually.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
  • Sorry I just saw that you do have an example sentence (sort of). I really recommend using a full sentence though. Instead of "I make" (what the hell does that mean), use "I make my own breakfast" or "I make model airplanes" or "I do my homework every day". In many languages "do" and "make" are the same word. Is machen like this? If it is, or if it has other quirks, your real example sentences could help you learn this early.

    Also, the first field should also have the example sentence in it, but with the word blanked out. Not just "machen" like you have.

    I pulled an example sentence from wiktionary ("I've made you a pie!") for the Perfekt tense, and filled in the fields the way Gabe meant them to. You just have to add a picture.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
  • @taomustbeturtle just nailed this. I agree entirely. The only thing I'd add is that I wouldn't recommend learning ALL forms at once, unless you already have a pretty solid handle on German, because then the different times you'd use those various verb forms are going to blend together and get confused. Focus on the present for a while, then focus on the past perfect, then add the pluperfect, and then the imperfect past (machte), and take some time with each verb form you add, teaching yourself WHEN you'd use each one. Otherwise it's just abstract grammar rather than useful language.

    * Originally posted by Gabriel Wyner.
  • Thanks a lot for the information. I have been studying for over a year now i am definitely able to handle all the different forms. I also have a book with heavy drills that i did but mostly tend to forget the verb with prefixes.

    May i also ask how did you find that sentence from Wiktionary? Do i have to look myself which sentence belongs to which conjugation? Because i can only see a lot of example sentences but they are all different with different conjucations. And when i search for gemacht, for example it cannot find it in the dictionary. How do you use Wiktionary?

    * Originally posted by Skyline.
  • Sorry for the delayed response. I'd say even if you have a good idea about when to use each tense, you should still use separate example sentences for each form. There are so many subtleties to usage in every language, and the more natural input you give yourself as opposed to lists of abstract grammar the better. I knew all the Russian forms when I started using Anki, but I still regret doing what you did starting as an intermediate speaker because of all the important exceptions and nuances that I glossed over.

    I just looked up "machen", since that's the base form. I saw an example that, from the translation, was obviously present perfect. There's also the conjugation table which you can uncollapse towards the bottom, which will remind you of the forms.

    Honestly wiktionary's quality (and usefulness for this method) really varies from language to language. The example sentences can be abundant on one page and absent (or strange) on another page. I don't use it for the two languages I study. Usually my first go-to is the caption google image search, which sometimes has amazingly funny and colloquial examples with goofy memes. If I can't find something comprehensible right away I know a few online dictionaries that often have pretty nice examples. You'll just have to find the German dictionary you like the best (which could very well be wiktionary)

    The most effective thing I think I've done was with Spanish grammar. I studied the usage of each tense and then tried to write a story or essay on Lang-8 that used that form as much as humanly possible. So for Present Simple I wrote about what I do every day. For past tense I wrote a story. For future tense I wrote about my summer plans. For Present Perfect I wrote about everything I'd already done to learn Spanish. For subjunctive I wrote about my doubts, fears, and surprises. It was really fun and it gave me corrected, natural, and deeply personal example sentences that resembled ones I'd use in an everyday conversation. But with my vocab I got lazy and went back to Google Images. I'd say personal sentences are the most ideal if you can rally yourself to put in the effort.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
  • This is quite old now, but has been answering some questions I have had recently, though not completely.

    I have been using the Fluent Forever method for a few months now learning Spanish and have just now hit a frustrating point getting my head around learning the verbs and their forms.

    If I am understanding correctly, I should be adding a new card for each and every form of every verb and pronoun modifier? Some irregular verbs could clock over 30 cards each doing this. So I am trying to figure out how to efficiently work through all of the common use ones but am failing to find a way, as mentioned in the above case where there are only 4 forms.

    * Originally posted by Delatoska.
  • Actually. I was just struggling to find patterns with a few irregular verbs and it seemed I was going to be making a card for every form ad infinitum. Found a light at the end of the tunnel, I think.

    * Originally posted by Delatoska.
  • @taomustbeturtle,

    Make both front-back and back-front cards. Use a different picture for each one.

    Do you feel using two different pictures for front-back and back-front combinations is really necessary?

    I'm using @gabriel-wyner's All Purpose structure that provide both cards, but they use the same picture and same example.

    * Originally posted by Arimand.
  • @Arimand,

    No, I use the same picture to test both reception and production for each thing I'm memorizing. Sorry for not making that clearer. I meant use a different picture for each Note, not for each Card. Each grammar form, word, preposition, word order test, etc. should get it's own picture, which can be used for the reception, production, and (if necessary) spelling test cards. If you use Gabe's "All Purpose" card template, then you can put any text into the "Make 2 cards" field and you'll get two cards 1) one for recalling the form, which has the picture on the front, 2) one for recognizing the form, which has the same picture on the back.

    So for example, if I want to memorize that the word "speak" changes to "speaks" in present simple for he/she/it, then I'll make a production card:

    What form goes in the blank?
    My friend ______ Spanish.
    [Picture of my friend]
    (speak - present simple)


    Then, if the the "s" at the end of "speaks" is a new form for me, I'll make a reception card:

    [What does this form mean and when do we use it?]

    My friend ______ Spanish.
    [The SAME picture of my friend]

    But if I want to learn a different form, like the past tense "spoke", I'll use one different picture to make both reception and production cards. Each Note gets a unique picture, but one Note might create a few Cards that use the same picture.

    If I already know the "s" rule for "speaks", but I keep forgetting something, like that the word "who" sometimes requires this form, I might make a card with the sentence "Who here ______ Russian?" and "speaks" on the back. But I WON'T put text in the "Make 2 cards" field, since I don't need a test to see if I recognize the form "speaks", only a test to remind me that we need it in this kind of context.

    Of course there will be more stuff on the cards, like the complete example sentence, extra information, etc., but that's the main idea.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
  • @taomustbeturtle, @gabriel-wyner,

    Oh, gotcha. That's what I've been doing! But I have run into another problem, then.

    I've been doing exactly what you said - making an example for each verb and their pronoun/verb tense combinations.

    But the issue is, I'm learning French, and 47 out of the most 100 common verbs are irregular (2nd and 3rd groups if you've dealt with French).

    So we get in total,

    47 (verbs) * 6 (pronouns) * 6 (just the common verb tenses) = 1692 cards.

    It takes me around 30 minutes to set up examples in Anki for a single verb tense of any given verb.

    At this pace we're looking at 282 hours for me to complete all 47 irregular verbs. At 1.5 hours per day, it'll take me around 6 months to put it all on Anki.

    @gabriel-wyner mentioned going through 3000 cards in 3 months at 1 hour per day, so I guess I'm doing something wrong method-wise or I'm not being very efficient in creating Anki cards.

    Maybe you could give me a light of what I'm doing wrong here?


    1) How long does it take for you to put a single verb and its 6 pronoun forms in Anki, for perspective?

    2) Is there a way to make this whole thing faster for French irregular verbs?

    I don't mind put on the hours and I truly believe this is the best method there is, but I want to limit my time creating cards so I can focus on other aspects of French as well.

    * Originally posted by Arimand.
  • It's a great question. I've got three parts to my answer:

    1) You usually don't have to do every pronoun for every irregular verb, because irregular verbs are usually not totally bizarre and different from their regular cousins.

    2) Many irregular verbs follow similar patterns. Gabe explains in his book how to use mnemonics to keep track of those patterns, so you only need to do examples for 6 pronouns MAXIMUM for each pattern - and because of 1) you often can do 2 or three.

    3) You should be able to learn verb tenses and, as you say, other aspects of French at the same time. That is, if your example sentences are good and usually contain new material other than the conjugation you're trying to learn.

    Let's break it down.

    1) Unfortunately, I don't speak French, although I intend to learn it with this method next year. So if you don't mind, I'll use Spanish examples. Let's look at a regular verb "comprender" (to understand) in the simple past or preterite tense:


    The VAST majority of Spanish irregular verbs look very very similar, they just change one or two things. Let's look at the irregular verb "saber" (to know):


    If you look, there's only two differences: a) the -ab- stem is replaced with -up- for every pronoun, and b) the third person singular lacks an "i" and stress mark.

    I didn't make 6 example sentences to learn "saber" in past tense. I used two - one for first person singular and one for third person singular, which covered the two odd things about this word in this tense. I put the full conjugation list for the tense in "extra information" on both Anki Notes. That did the job. I already knew what the standard conjugation for past tense looked like, because I'd made cards for each pronoun for the regular -ar, -er-, and -ir verbs.

    If something is crazy different and bears no resemblance to regular verbs, then an example for each pronoun is a good idea. Like for "ser" (to be)


    That one's all messed up, but most irregular verbs aren't like that at all.

    2) There are tons of patterns to irregular verbs. Making mnemonics will save you a lot of time. For example, many Spanish verbs that end in -er or -ir have a change where an "e" changes to "ie". For example, "entender" also means "to understand", like its fellow -er verb "comprender". But while "comprender" is regular, "saber" is irregular in present tense:



    "Entender" is still a lot like "comprender", but it has this e->ie thing going on for every conjugation except first person plural. There are tons of -er verbs like this, so I made a mnemonic. A bottle of tequila is associated with e->ie verbs. So every time I saw a verb like that I thought about understanding a bottle of tequila or wanting (querer) a bottle of tequila, boiling (hervir) a bottle of tequila... you get the idea. This can save you tons of card making. Look for patterns in your textbook or grammar website. They're often explicitly pointed out.

    3) While I sometimes use an example sentence where only one bit of information, like a verb conjugation, is new for me, usually every sentence has new vocabulary, new word order patterns, preposition requirements I didn't know about, rules about articles, etc. So even if I used 1692 separate examples for every irregular French conjugation for every pronoun - that wouldn't be 1692 Anki notes, it would be between 5,000 and 7,000 card notes, many of which would take care of many words from the 2000 word frequency list as well as other grammar rules.

    For example, if we use my "speak" example, but with a trickier example sentence:

    "My best friend speaks a few languages, including Spanish."

    If I'm a beginner, there's some vocabulary and forms here that I won't know: my (possessive pronoun), best (superlative), friend, few (quantifier), the verb "include". I can make cards for everyone of those that I haven't memorized already. I can also learn the gerund form of "include", which is regular and can save me from making a card for another regular example ever again. "best" comes after "my". I can make a card for that. The article "a" is required for "few" in this case. I can learn that.

    You can just grab a different picture for each of these new concepts and make dozens of cards just from one sentence. I think Gabe says he averages 1 minute per card when he's milking a sentence for all it's worth like this. I think my average is about the same, as long as the sentences have more new stuff than just the conjugation I'm trying to learn.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
  • Thank you so much for your rich response. This method is indeed very powerful.

    Let me see if I got the gist of it: instead of memorizing all 1692 examples, I'd divide them in as much patterns I can find and memorize the patterns through one or two examples (for each pattern) and then use mnemonics to link verbs that follow the same pattern to my examples, right?

    I will try to sumarize everything in a more detailed post to see if I understood correctly - but before that, let me ask you this:

    After doing this for a long while, do you find yourself as readily able to recall a verb conjugation you know only the infinitive form on-the-fly by memorizing just the pattern as you would if you memorized the conjugated form directly in the first place?

    What I'm trying to ask is: how fast can you conjugate unknown forms on-the-fly compared to learning the conjugated form directly after you get the pattern ingrained on your brain after following this method for 3-6 months?

    * Originally posted by Arimand.
  • Yes, I think you've got the idea. For example if there's a group of 10 irregular verbs that follow the same pattern, you could make six example sentences, each of which features a different verb using a different pronoun. You can also make a mnemonic card that reminds you that this group is associated with...say Daniel Day Lewis. Then when these cards come up you can briefly visualize that actor performing the action, and whatever ridiculous method acting would ensue, helping you remember what pattern these verbs follow. 4 verbs would go unstudied at the beginning, but if they're common they'll be in the first 2000 words, they may come up in a sentence where you're studying something else, or you can deliberately work them into your writing when you start focusing on the four skills. So when they eventually come up you can apply the mnemonic, which should make them less of a problem.

    A few things to keep in mind:
    1) It's a good idea to go tense by tense, starting with REGULAR verbs, so you know what's normal, then moving on to irregular forms for that tense like we've been discussing. Then the next tense's regular forms, etc.

    2) Any time you make an Anki note for the conjugation of a word you don't know, make an additional note to test the infinitive form. Ex. If I'm learning the irregular form "drove", then I'll have something like:

    I _____ for a long time yesterday (drive)
    Back: drove

    And then another note using the same sentence to test the infinitive:

    I _____ for a long time yesterday (infinitive)
    Back: drive

    3) You might want to include simple definitions in French if the verb is abstract. 9 months from now you might be a little fuzzy on the exact meaning of words like "manage", "obey", "accuse", etc.

    To answer your question, mostly yes, but it depends. If I try to conjugate a new verb and can tell from the infinitive that it's regular or belongs to an irregular group that I've studied, usually I can conjugate on the fly with minimum difficulty. Some irregular verbs don't give themselves away as such in their infinitive form, so I might not recognize them and mistakenly use regular conjugations. In any case, the fact that I've studied all the irregular patterns means that if I make a mistake and get corrected or encounter a conjugation that's surprising, the surprise will almost always be immediately followed by an "oh yeah" moment that usually means I'll never make the mistake or get confused with that verb again.

    The good news is this should be minimal with French like it is for me and Spanish, because there are relatively few irregular forms. Russian is a nightmare. It has tons of irregular verbs as well as irregular nouns that need to be declined into 6 cases. I've been studying Russian for much longer, but only recently got a handle on the irregulars, partly because I didn't start with this method and partly because Russian is a little bit insane. A little extra work with French and irregular verbs will not be a problem 90% of the time.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.
  • Sorry I didn't reply earlier. I couldn't log in for the life of me so I just created a new account.

    So before I do my summary of French, I ran into another problem (that you more or less anticipated):

    When dissecting each example for more information, do you use the same example for multiple things?

    E.g., I ran into the following example phrase while looking for conjugated verbs (in French): "I still didn't eat."

    Now, I wanted to learn "still" in French as well, but I could see it mixing up with "didn't eat" after a while. Or maybe it'd help me as an additional reference point. I don't know.

    Do you separate other information from your "main" example or you found out they don't interfere that much between themselves?

    * Originally posted by arimandtwo.
  • I absolutely use the example sentence to learn multiple things. It saves a ton of time, and helps you tie everything together. Use a different picture for each grammar point or vocabulary word and make sure it's clear on the front of the card what task you're supposed to perform.

    * Originally posted by taomustbeturtle.

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