A new kind of case chart

Hello everyone,

and welcome to… well… I don’t actually really know how to call it. It’s something really silly, but also really cool.
So… I was working on the article on relative pronouns that I wanted to post this week, when I suddenly ran into a problem.
I could tell you the problem now, but hey, see for yourself…

 

Now you’re like “Okay Emanuel… Case Fidget Spinner… we get it. You’re joking.”
And of course the video was a bit over the top.
But there is a true core to it. I really do hate case tables! They stand for everything that I DON’T like about language learning. And as stupid as this might sound to you, the thought of having one of them in one of my articles made me cringe and I decided I will try to do it differently.

Tables are no doubt the established way of displaying case forms. That’s what everyone does, and that’s how it’s always been.
But it’s not the only way.
If you think about it on an abstract level, case endings/forms are essentially just a bunch of data we need to display. And like with any data, there are various ways to do that. One of those ways is a table. Like a spreadsheet. They’re fine if the purpose is to store the information, so you can look it up. But from a visual standpoint, they’re pretty poor. I mean… in statistics we use all kind of visualizations (pie charts, graphs etc) just to NOT look at a table.
People always say that they’re learning the case tables. What that means is essentially, that they’re a visual image with ALL the details in it. But the tables are not a visual image. I mean, they are, but that’s NOT their nature.

So what I tried to do was to display the information about cases in a way that is based on visual principles rather than a grid of columns and rows.
And I’m pretty satisfied with the result, I have to say.
Here’s the chart for the definite articles:

(click on the image for full size jpg)

And here’s an overview how to read it:

  • The three genders (in nominative) are spaced out, like the corners of a triangle
  • the accusative form is almost identical so that’s right next to them, the only difference is for “der-den”
  • the real changes are in Dative but there we only have two forms. Those are in the center with lines showing you to which article they belong
  • Genitive is also in the center because we also have only two forms, it’s smaller, because it is less important

 

Your initial reaction might be a bit negative and you might be really confused. But as I said… there is no deeper reason to organize the information in a table and the main focus for me was the question: 

is it easy to process on a visual level and maybe nice to look at?

And why? Because I think it’s easier to recall from memory than a table.  If you look at both these pictures for 20 seconds, which one are you more likely to remember better, overall?

Sorry, for making this so small… I was in a hurry. But I hope you get my point. Both charts contain the same information, but they’re completely different on a visual level.
And no, I didn’t pick a particularly bad table. This one is from English Wikipedia, so it’s supposedly one of the “best”.

And the best thing is, that you can use the same template for lots of case-charts.
Here’s one for the indefinite articles (those don’t have a plural)


(click on the image for full size jpg)

And here’s one for  er, sie, es  (I actually forgot the plural, but technically, it’s just one extra ihnen for Dative )


(click on the image for full size jpg)

Again, if you’re used to looking at these tables, then part of you is probably rejecting my charts, but if you can let go of it, I think these charts are really helpful because you can easily remember them visually.

But of course I am not learning German :). So I’m REALLY curious what you think about them? I was really really excited when I got the idea for the layout, but maybe I’m completely off. So please, please let me know in the comments what you think. Do you like them? Do you think, you can recall them in your mind when you need a case form? And what’s your opinion about tables? Did you ever try to actually learn one?
Let me know all your questions and feedback in the comments.
Can’t wait to read it.
Now that I have my chart, I can get back to the article on relative pronouns, so that will be coming up soon :).
Have a great week und bis bald.

 

for members :)

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Elsa
Elsa

Hi, Emanuel,

Proofreading before feedback ;)
– “Tables are no doubt the established way of displaying case-forms” (case forms, no hyphen needed)
– “But from a visual stand point” (standpoint, no space)
– “the Dative is pretty big, because it important and has significant changes to normal form of the article” (“it’s important” and “changes to the normal”)
– “identical with the nominative” (identical to the nominative)
– “put them where-ever we want” (wherever, no hyphen)
An finally for a really picky one:
– “the best thing is, that you can use” (oh, the extra comma, you Germans looooove your commas)

Now the great news:
LOOOOOOOOOOVE these charts! I have actually tried to learn tables, but I find the ones with colours and overlaps especially confusing. I have a photographic memory, which means these ones are excellent for me to learn (I’m going to make flashcards with them as well and the images will defo pop to ming when I think of articles). You do have a knack for visuals, as I also love your drawings for the prefix verbs (still working on feedback on the app, haven’t forgotten).
Thank you for these tables! Do you reckon you can (at some point) do something similar for adjective endings (daunting, I know)?
Bis bald!

Colleen

Hi Emanuael
I haven’t replied to you in a long time, but I love the fact that you put together such wonderful lessons!
In this case (ha! See what I did there?) I think that the more dynamic visual works really, really well. But (!) I would like to see a larger image and “study” it. I mention this, because even though there is text saying that I can click on the image for a larger version, nothing happens when I click :(
If you can fix that, I’d love to print out the new case fidget spinner and give it a spin… :D

Jake
Jake

Adrian!!!

RuthE
RuthE

The video was funny! :D :D

I love these!! I have always done what I could with the usual charts, but they never ‘stuck’. With your charts, the patterns suddenly fell into place, and I’ve been looking these charts up for decades. I can definitely remember yours. Thank you, danke, grazie, merci, gracias!!

I was sad when , as Colleen noted, even though there is text saying that I can click on the image for a larger version, nothing happens when I click.

NN
NN

What have you used for diagram ?
Do you think it scalable enough to be used for Russian ? :)
comment image

P.S.
Technically there is vocatice and locative cases but mentioning them scares even Russian native speakers.

Dastan

I do not find the visualisation easier to understand. Sorry. It is confusing. It will get even more confusing when you add endings of adjectives in different cases.

Ruth
Ruth

Very elegant, Emanuel, and I’m really glad that visual rememberers think it useful. My memory is apparently so non-visual that it never occurred to me to try to memorise the image. I’ve always thought of case, and verb, tables as being for finding info from, like lesson timetables, bus time tables, logarithm and trigonometric tables or tide tables. By repeated use I’d eventually remember all of a lesson timetable and the most used parts of a bus timetable, but not ever by trying to commit the image to memory. A case table would just be used to provide instant info or the sequences ( der, die, das; den, die, das; des, der, des;…..) to learn.
If the fidget spinner could become a sort of grammar slide rule (Are you familiar with such old technology?) I think it might be very useful indeed!

Thanks for the fun video with glimpses of Ljubljana (I suppose).

L D
L D

I’m happy for you Emmanuel that so many people love the chart, and happy for them, too, for having found a useful tool. Unfortunately, it didn’t work for me, mostly because in my mind the order already engraved is “der, die, das + plural” and my mind is trained to read from left to right. I even considered “mirroring” the chart, but then decided to stick to the mnemonic system I had devised, out of despair, when I started studying German, and that has never failed me:
Nominative: RESE; Accusative: NESE; Dative: MRMN (MisterMN;) Genitive: MSMS — you get the gist. I used the same system for ein, eine, ein, (one or two last letters only…) and also the same for the adjetive combinations.). Not a chart, just a simple mnemonic device that may work for other beginners, too.

Avery
Avery

Shouldn’t it be SRSR for Genitive? If I am following the logic correclty. For deS deR deS deR

Tim
Tim

Ich bin aehnlich wie Ruth. Ich finde die Tabellen mehr intuitive, aber ich benutze oft Datentabellen usw bei der Arbeit. Echt gute idee, andere Formate zu haben, fuer Leute mit verschiedenen Lernstilen (ob das ein echtes Wort ist).

Ich bemerkte, dass etwas ein bisschen komisches mit den Farben passiert. Die genitiven Woerter wind manchmal lila, manchmal rosa. Und im ersten Bild ist Dativ rot in der Legende aber orange auf dem Bild.

Glenn
Glenn

Hi Emanuel, I agree with you. The visual stasis of a table’s right angles and perpendiculars make them stupefying boring and hard to remember. I find your use of humor and especially the cartoons addendums great mnemonic aides. Crazy as it seems, looking at the above “case” “displays” I see, “two eyes, nose, mouth” . I suggest getting crazy and trying your hand at one of your entertaining/informative renderings. Playing push the “chart” into your realm.

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Brilliant! Bravo! Why hasn’t anyone thought of this already!

TOTALLY understood it upon first sight – didn’t even need the explaination.

COMPLETELY intuitive. Gefühl. Flow.

Ema outdoes himself yet again!

Amerikanerin
Amerikanerin

Oj, forgot to mention: why does everybody claim that there is no plural indefinate article?

Kein works PERFECTLY as a plural indefinate article. Is it possible tonrequest that ”kein” be added to the indefinate artikle chart as the plural indefinate article?

Chris
Chris

Links:

Die, Der, Dascomment image

Er, Sie, Escomment image

Ein, Eine, Eincomment image

Lucius
Lucius

Hello Emmanuel,
Sorry to say that I find the coloured table easier to understand than the diagram.
If you could publish the tables for all diagrams, it would be very nice
thank you

Debra Howard
Debra Howard

Excellent to have a diagram as an alternative to the traditional charts. I always found that copying down things like this, using my own, preferred colours, can help. I learned German up to A level and then continued via the Open University to do their Diploma in German Language and Culture. Sadly, through lack of use, my German language knowledge and skills have dwindled, but I thoroughly enjoy your articles to maintain some interest. I am currently learning Esperanto, which is delightfully simple in comparison to German and any other language that I have encountered. I shall be relocating soon and hope to find a German-speaking group with whom I could practise. In the meantime, “Bravo” for your articles – it is a pleasure to share your experience and enthusiasm.

Paul E Ramoni Jr
Paul E Ramoni Jr

I am also prefer the table, and the table’s overall organization. I find that when texts don’t use the order: masculine, neuter, feminine, plural in the horizontal setting, however, it doesn’t work as well. The table burned itself in my brain and I can visualize it when working out the German meaning.

Hanka
Hanka

First of all, I LOVE the video. Pity that “Eye of the Tiger” is probably off limits due to copyright issues :p

The idea behind your charts is awesome. I like the way you think and it’s definitely super useful to get one’s head out of the box (or table) when learning a language… unfortunately, I can’t tell if they’re better or worse – I’ve been deformed by years (and years AND YEARS) of learning from tables and the ones for German cases have seared into my brain so well that I literally see the table in my head and point my attention to what I need when dealing with cases, and I’ve been conditioned so well that it’s a very quick and visual process, too.

jonasby
jonasby

Who’s the stunt double that does all the exercise? That guy is hot…

/me goes to read the post

SunshineRobz
SunshineRobz

BRILLLIANT!!! BRILLIANT!!!

Gina Langridge
Gina Langridge

I find your diagrams much more intuitive. It’s something about understanding how the cases work for the different genders that just comes across much more easily from your diagrams.

Now I just need to get a bit more solid on my genders, which is the constant ongoing struggle.

Bie Ne Maja
Bie Ne Maja

Ah, I must be one of the minorities for whom this fidget spinner doesn’t work…I actually had to spend decent anount of time decyphering the legend and colors, and sizes…and a couple of things were still left unclear. I’m also not the hugest fan of tables, I prefer infographics and charts but I also don’t study tables. After the initial scrutiny, they are mostly referential for me, that’s why I never had problems with them. I wonder what the divide for like/dislike is between the more lineal (analytical) personalities and creative ones. Kuddos for the efforts to offer us something different though!

Maryn Lyn Hoefer
Maryn Lyn Hoefer

Same for me. Tables are pretty straightforward. Maybe because I am new to all this and nothing really is intuitive yet, but I found it more confusing, not less. Perhaps only because I don’t fully know what the images are showing. And I am not an effective visual learner, in general. On the different topic of learning gender for nouns, someone here had a, for me, truly brilliant idea of locating the gender in different areas of the mouth . . . little piping microbes calling out die! die! die! from the girly front, growly der words deep the back, das words in the middleground . . . this will work! Plurals get located on both sides at once. And perhaps the visual imagery here will work too, once I have a better grasp of cases and endings in general. There are so many kinds. Maybe I can hang them off different teeth. : )

Aimee
Aimee

My gut tells me upon first looking that I’m spending way too much time trying to translate what I’m seeing. BUT, I can see how the shape and use of white space could eventually imprint in my brain and provide a useful memory tool, IF I can commit the meaning behind each location to that memory.

I guess what I’m saying is it doesn’t at a glance seem more or less helpful than a table, but I’m going to print it out and see what happens after I’ve looked at it a lot. Anything to help with those annoying cases! I appreciate the effort! Danke!

Aimee
Aimee

On further contemplation, I do like seeing all the Dies clumped together — in my brain, that automatically makes me think in English: “Die! Die! Die, cases!” Which is a weird way of making me remember things. (Like, I remember “knife” by thinking about how messy it is if you stab someone, ie., Messer. I’m not sure what this says about me…)

(Edit: Oops, replied to myself instead of you. Oh well, it still works.)

Brightstar
Brightstar

Sorry Emanuel,
I find the tables more intuitive.
To add font size Doesn’t help me much.
Perhaps I have been suffering with these tables for too long by now.