A verb drill method to die for

With practice, you’ll remember verb forms quickly.

One challenge many people have in learning to speak a language fluently is having to pause and remember the correct verb forms. Beginners following the “speak from day one” approach can avoid the problem temporarily by talking like Tarzan (as suggested by Benny Lewis). But most people (myself included) prefer to delay speaking practice–and, in any case, we would like to be good at grammar eventually so we can speak at a high proficiency. Furthermore, many people are in classroom settings and have to take tests which emphasize grammar. 

There are many solutions: lots of writing practice (for example, a daily journal written in your target language), the sentence-forming-aloud method that I use (similar to Michel Thomas’ method), grammar exercises, Audiolingual drills (sometimes masked as communicative activities), sentence copying, memorizing by rote or with flashcards, and probably others that I’ve never heard of. 

One that intrigues me is verb drills. French Today publishes audio verb drills for French that interest me. After I improve my French pronunciation, I’d like to buy them and give them a try–though I’m strong in French grammar already and probably don’t need them. But I’d like to duplicate the same approach in other languages. This gave me a dilemma: What can replace audio verb drills?

Dice came to the rescue. Many board games come with 6-sided dice. There are 6 forms in a typical verb table. Perfect! 

For example, the Spanish verb “ser” (to be) in the present tense has these six forms (though not all forms are used in all Spanish-speaking countries): soy (I am), eres (you are–singular), él/ella es (he/she/it is), somos (we are), sois (you are–plural), son (they are). This is almost always the order you see them in tables (if all six forms are included): I, you–singular, he/she/it, we, you–plural, they. In Spanish, the “es” and “son” forms can also be used for “you are,” but that’s not true for most languages. 

Do you see where I’m going with this? On a die (singular: die; plural: dice–like mouse and mice), the number 1 can represent I, 2 you–singular, 3 he/she/it, 4 we, 5 you–plural, 6–they. Try it out for yourself. If you don’t have a 6-sided die handy, you can use a dice app instead, or use Uno cards or something. Feel free to be creative. 

Pick a language you’re studying that has these forms (Japanese doesn’t), then choose a tense you’re struggling with, and finally select a verb to practice. Look up its verb table online. For example, you can do a web search for Spanish verbs. Or, just to try out the method, use the example above: “ser” (to be) in Spanish. You might want to do the drill with just pronouns the first few times: 

1 – I 

2 – you–singular 

3 – he/she/it 

4 – we 

5 – you–plural 

6 – they 

(I can even do this while I work. I roll a die a few times, go back to work, roll the die a few times a little while later, etc.) 

See if your verbs get easier. 

And if you have to memorize case tables (for a language like Russian or Ancient Greek), there are 8-sided, 10-sided, and 12-sided dice you can use. They are sold in board game/roll playing game stores and online–and are probably in dice apps, too. 

This kind of drill is hard work mentally (which is why it can only be done for a few minutes at a time), but it might remind you of a game more than other kinds of grammar drills. And with practice, you’ll recall the verb forms quickly. Are you struggling with verbs in any of your languages? Give the method a try. 

One thought on “A verb drill method to die for”

  1. Nice idea with the dice. Although I would modify it and use a random number generator instead. There’s one built into Google if you just type it into the search box.
    French Today’s audio verb drills look cool. Even if the price is a little steep for alot of us. Let us know how they work for you 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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