No tables, no lists

I cannot say it often enough: studying tables and lists is a waste of your time. There is another way to study the content of tables and lists, it will only take a bit longer but it will lead you straight to the results that you are looking for – no detour, no un-learning and re-learning.

Let’s take verb conjugation as an example for a list. The verb bleiben (to stay) is conjugated like this: ich bleibe, du bleibst, er/sie/es bleibt, wir bleiben, ihr bleibt, sie bleiben. Students often study that exact list of a verb in that same order. Once a student of mine wanted to make a sentence that included ihr and the verb bleiben. She paused and whispered to herself: ich bleibe, du bleibst, er/sie/es bleibt, wir bleiben, ihr bleibt… And then she said:  Ihr bleibt! Bleibt ihr zu Hause? 

You would probably agree that this is not a very efficient way to get from bleiben to bleibt ihr, but you might also think that this is something that is helpful in the beginning and later the student won’t need that bridge anymore. Only the thing is, you don’t need that bridge in the beginning either. You can just skip it, and with it the time and effort invested in studying it.

First of all, what is happening here, why do I study a list, and then have to go through the list to get to information at the bottom of it?

What happens is that the brain links the information to other information on that list. You start with ich bleibe and that becomes the trigger of du bleibst, which becomes the trigger of er/sie/es bleibt and so on. None of the information stands for itself. When we speak, we need each subject and conjugation by itself though, independently from other subjects and conjugations.

What do I need to study to get that singular information?

You need to study the singular information. Study sentences that include the conjugation. Here is one example for an automatization chunk:

Sie bleibt zu Hause. Heute bleibt sie zu Hause.  Sie bleibt nicht lange. (She is staying at home. Today she is staying at home. She won’t stay long.)

You can make the same sentences for all the other persons but you need to study each chunk individually so you won’t start linking the persons to one another. You don’t want ich, du, er/sie/es, wir, ihr, sie stuck like a mantra in your head. One morning you study the sentences with sie, then in the evening ihr, the next morning ich.

Why is this better?

First of all, you are using a different trigger here: a specific situation, in this case staying in a place. The advantage is that this enables you to use the subject and the verb quicker in the given situation. This is the whole point of speaking. You want to say things that apply to certain situations. Additionally it’s a specific person in a specific situation. When you study like this, you cannot not think about a female person at home (for the ecample above). You are tying the grammatical person to an actual person and the action to a place where it commonly happens. The correct conjugation is a positive side effect.

Secondly, you automatically study other vocabulary and the word order in sentences without additional effort.

Lists and tables still have a purpose, of course. They display all the necessary information at once, you can use them to check sentences you are formulating for your practice chunks, and you can also use them for correction work.