Why is die Hände the plural of die Hand, but der Regenschirm becomes die Regenschirme and das Bett becomes die Betten?
What is going on with these mysterious German plural words? Sometimes umlauts are added, sometimes letters are added, and sometimes nothing happens at all! In English, we can usually create the plural form of a noun by simply adding an “s” to the end of a word. For example, hand becomes hands, umbrella becomes umbrellas, and bed becomes beds. There are many exceptions to this, but it’s a pretty good general rule of thumb.
German isn’t so easy. There are 7 possible endings to the plural form of a German noun: -n/-en; -e; -r/-er; -s; No change. There are some patterns where certain word endings usually have certain changes, but there are many exceptions and it’s somewhat complicated to memorize all of them.
In my opinion, you should probably try learning the plural form at the same time you learn the singular version. You will forget a lot of them - this is almost a requirement for learning new things - but the frequently used ones that you need to know will show up again and again, and eventually you will learn them. The good news is that if you don’t know exactly what the plural form is, you will probably still be understood, so get out there and practice!
“What’s this hippy nonsense? Just do it and eventually I’ll learn it? I have a test in one week!”
You probably know everything for your exam about noun genders right? Read about German noun genders: their importance and how to learn them.
Unfortunately, if you are a member of one of the world’s many terrible education systems, you might be faced with the unpleasant task of memorizing German plurals, noun genders, and declension tables. If this is you, I’m terribly sorry, but hopefully I can offer some help in the following section.
First, I suppose it’s important to think about the time frame we have to prepare for the exam. Our strategy will certainly be different depending on whether we have one week, three months, or an entire year (or more) to prepare.
If you have one week to study for an exam, that’s hopefully because you just received the news about your exam this morning. If you heard about it three months ago, then you will certainly have more to learn, but I suppose the same principles will apply.
Exactly what you should do, of course, depends on exactly what you will be tested on, but the vast majority of tests require a large amount of rote memorization. How can you memorize things more easily? Read about Anki and Spaced Repetition | Flashcards to Learn German.
With only one week to prepare, I would probably use a spaced repetition/flashcard based system to memorize bits of information (vocabulary, plurals, whatever I need to know specifically for the exam). In my spare time, I would read a lot: Best German Reading Resources (A1-C1) and listen a lot: German Youtube Channels | Beginner to Intermediate. If speaking is part of your exam, I guess you have to fit some speaking practice in too! Italki is great for that. Last but not least, get a good night of sleep the night before!
Now you actually have a decent chunk of time to dedicate towards your test. You should certainly use the aforementioned resources to help prepare, but what should we change with the 3 month time frame? Surprisingly, I think the answer might be that you should just do a slightly adjusted version of the 1 week approach.
If you need to memorize specific words/things, try Anki (described in the article above). Listen to a lot of material in your target language. Here are some Beginner Podcasts for Learning German. And of course, you have enough time now to read a lot - which will certainly boost your vocabulary and improve your German!
The big difference between 1 week and 3 months is the amount of time you have to prepare (duh), but this actually changes something in our approach. Because we have more time, we need to carefully adapt the difficulty level of the material we are reading and listening to.
This doesn’t matter as much with the 1 week approach because unless you are an absolute beginner, it will be difficult to make weekly progress in the level of content (A1, A2, B1, B2 usw.) you can comfortably consume.
With three months to prepare though, your optimal learning material will change. Try to find things that aren’t so hard that they’re discouraging and not so easy that they’re boring - ganz einfach, oder? Check out the free resources linked above if you are struggling to find interesting material at your level!
See the paragraph above. Do more of that! Now you’re in it for the long haul though, so how do you stay motivated to keep learning a language? That’s an article for another time. For now, why don’t you learn some German noun genders!