Having met many people who have tried to learn a second language, the one skill they always struggle with is gender designation. As native English speakers, gender designation is unheard of. Things are just that, things. They don't have a gender. (When I try to explain this to my 9-year-old, he bursts out in laughter.) But in many other languages, nouns have a specific gender. Of course, this then affects all other parts of grammar such as verb conjugation and pronouns, but that is a topic for a different blog.
I remember starting college and wanting to learn a new language. I have to admit I went down the easy route. As a native Spanish speaker, I knew Italian would be relatively easy. They are both latin-based languages. They have similar words with only a few letters changing (for example, agua in Spanish and aqua in Italian.) After three years, I felt I could take on a third language and I gave myself a challenge: GERMAN!
Needless to say, it was a big difference and the only reason I passed the two classes I took was because my friend had taken it for the three previous years! German gender is a thousand times more difficult than Spanish or Italian gender! It never made sense to me and they were changing everything I knew from birth. Things were either backwards or neutral. I never understood it and I found myself in the same position as Spanish students who didn't understand Spanish gender.
The only method that worked for me was learning the nouns with their article. When I got a list of vocabulary words, I would make index cards with the articles in them, one side in German and one side in English. I would read the index cards in between classes. I would write them in lists that I wouldn't necessarily keep. You see, I am a repetition learner. If I hear it, write it, or read it often enough, it will stick in my head. But I know others aren't like that.
Language learning systems often integrate visual triggers to facilitate learning language genders. For example, www.200words-a-day.com writes masculine words in blue and feminine words in red (similarly, neutral words in German are written in yellow). In auditory systems, masculine words are spoken by men and feminine words by women. If I had known this, I would have adjusted my learning style in college to include these methods. Perhaps then I would have remembered more German!
Great ways to incorporate these into your learning systems is as students, you can write up your index cards in color codes. You can also sort out words from a vocabulary list into genders, one column for masculine words and another for feminine. For tutors or teachers looking to practice the spoken form, a great game to practice with is that great story game where each person adds an element to the story by adding one line to the story. One rule can be that only males add sentences in masculine form and vice versa. You can switch up the genders the next time you play.
I am looking forward to reading more about other tactics you use!