If you speak English, there’s going to be a time when you misunderstand something.
I misunderstand, you misunderstand, she misunderstands, we all just misunderstand.
It happens, not a big deal.
However, German turns this into a nightmare.
I missverstehe, but you missverstehst.
He missversteht, but they missverstehen—there are so many possible misunderstandings, and that’s just a regular verb in present tense.
What the heck, German? Why can’t you let it stay the same?
Welcome to the world of German verb conjugation. Anyone who has ever learned the language knows about it, and your students will dread it. Because as small as the differences seem to be, using the wrong verb conjugation can have quite the impact.
Make sure your students are never misunderstood again by teaching them the importance of German verb conjugation. Read on to learn how.
Teaching German Verb Conjugation? Turn It into Funjugation!
“I will learn German tomorrow” and “Ich will morgen Deutsch lernen” look similar, but mean completely different things.
The German “will” is the conjugation of “wollen” (to want), while the English “will” would be “werde” in German. The English speaker will learn German the next day while the German speaker merely wants to. And it only gets worse from here.
Find a German sentence which doesn’t require conjugating a verb, and you have found a very rare thing indeed. In almost all cases, German verbs are conjugated depending on the subject (three persons, two numbers), the six tenses and the four moods—and they are all different.
With a number of regular and a great variety of irregular verb forms, there is no shortcut for learning or teaching conjugations. Your students have to sit down and learn them, verb by verb, tense by tense, mood by mood. Just like the gender of words, mastering conjugations is a matter of memorizing them: the more and the sooner, the better.
Simply put, without a large mental database of verbs and the ability to conjugate them, your students will never be able to write and speak the German language fluently.
So how do you handle teaching something that’s essential and frustrating in equal measure?
How do you get your students to see conjugation tables not as a chore and necessary evil, but instead as a pleasant activity that might even be fun?
By coming up with a creative German verb lesson students enjoy, of course! And that starts with good resources.
Building the Basics: Cool Resources for Teaching German Verb Conjugation
There are many great guides on learning verb conjugation in German, but very little on teaching it.
There are many activities you can use to teach German verb conjugation, but before we get to them, here are the most useful, must-have resources to build upon.
Prepare your sessions the right way and maybe enhance them with technology, and your activities will almost run themselves and hold greater appeal for your students.
- Handy Lists and Verb Tables: As always, the internet can be a great resource and save you a lot of work. You just have to find the useful information you need—and we already did most of the work for you. Go online and you can find sites with conjugations and declinations for over 16,000 German words, from comprehensive conjugation tables to conjugation charts.
- Worksheets: To give your students an opportunity to practice, and yourself an opportunity to evaluate their progress, how about a good old-fashioned fill-in-the-blanks worksheet? Two of the most important verbs in German are “Sein” and “Haben,” and you can find a number of worksheets for them on Pinterest.
- Online Conjugation Tools: If your students need a quick and reliable method to look up conjugations, why not point them to a handy online conjugator? Put in a verb, and the software will present you with the full range of conjugations.
For a fun exercise, conjugate some made-up words and see what the conjugator makes of them. You can start with some non-German verbs in widespread use (twittern, googeln), then move on to some purely imaginary ones (for example handgarken, velltanzen, festklattern).
Those words might not mean anything, but they can still teach your students a little about conjugation.
You can even make a competition out of it and task your students to come up with the funniest, craziest or longest made-up verb, either individually or in groups. Have them conjugate their result in front of the class and then discuss why they choose this conjugation.
4 Great Activities That Make German Verb Conjugation Fun
We have said it before and we will say it again: just because conjugating verbs requires some mechanical memorization, it doesn’t need to be boring.
There is no rule that requires you to have your students sit down and silently memorize for an hour. Why not have some fun together with them and try more creative ways of learning conjugations? Here’s how you can turn a regular old German verb lesson into an unforgettable experience.
1. Play Conjugation Games
One of the most obvious ways to have fun is turning conjugation into a game. You can either do it yourself, or use pre-existing games found online. Keep in mind that the games are a means to an end, however. While the goal is for your students to have fun, it is also for them to learn conjugations—and there are a lot of conjugations to learn.
Sprinkle your lessons with short games to break them up, but don’t lose sight of the conjugations that you want them to learn and the number of verbs they need to master for each given lesson. Here are some game ideas to get you started:
- Make Your Own Games: You don’t really need technology or much preparation to play a conjugation game with your students. There are plenty of easy ways to start one up, like a conjugation bee or Zip zap zop.
- Find Conjugation Games Online: If you want your students to do some gaming on your own while you watch, try a ready-made conjugation game instead. There is Frogverb, which has students playing a frog and catching correct conjugations with their tongue, or Hotel Bingo, where you give them a set of hotel-related bingo cards and the caller goes through them in different tenses.
Memory is a game that you could easily make yourself or find online; this version has a built-in timer that allows your students to either race against the clock or just record their time while they try to match cards with verbs and their conjugated forms.
2. Give Conjugation Quizzes
Sure, most students do not like quizzes. But sometimes, they are necessary—at least make them enjoyable!
The popular German newspaper, Bento, offers a fun verb conjugation quiz filled with various images. Your students will probably appreciate its creative approach. But if you are looking for more traditional quizzes, you can find a wide variety online to get your students started.
3. Musical Conjugation
“Without music, life would be a mistake,” as Friedrich Nietzsche said. We don’t have to go quite as far in regard to conjugation, but music can definitely be a powerful helper when it comes to memorizing verb forms.
To bring the magic of music into your classroom, play songs to conjugate basic verbs like “Sein” or “Haben” and go through their lyrics with your students. The music will help with memorization, and once it has wormed its way into their ears, they will never get it out of there.
Which is, of course, exactly what you want.
You could also use this German song to introduce regular present tense verb endings, or this one to conjugate ten useful verbs in the present tense.
4. Compare German and Non-German Verbs
And finally, put German verb conjugation into perspective and have a look at how other languages handle their conjugations. Tagalog and Korean are notorious for their complex conjugations. Have your students glimpse at their tables, and they might be happy they are “only” learning German.
Closer to home, you could look at languages related to German. For example, this site has side-by-side conjugation tables for German, Dutch and Afrikaans.
Don’t overdo it with this kind of comparison and confuse your students, but if you bring it up once or twice, it can make for a refreshing excursion.
German verb conjugation doesn’t have to be a chore! With exciting activities and creative resources, it will enrich your classroom and become something your students actually look forward to.
Whether it’s games, quizzes, music or thinking outside the box, there are many methods and tools to teach your students conjugation and make them feel at home in the world of regular and irregular German verbs. Let’s get started!