IGCSE French and Spanish: 2: Conquering conjugation; how to learn verbs and tenses properly.

In the second in our blog series on language learning, an Oxford Home Schooling tutor gives advice on ways to learn French and Spanish verbs.

Conquering conjugation; how to learn verbs and tenses properly.

Verbs can be the bane of every language student’s life, but unfortunately are an essential part of speaking and writing accurately. There is no escaping the fact that they have to be learnt, as without them you will be unable to use the language ‘in the real world’ which means without the use of your reference books or the internet, but instead only relying on the best resource of all – your memory!

As uninspiring as verb learning can sound, there are actually some fun ways to do it, and the good news is that if you put in the groundwork at the start, this will pay great dividends as you become more fluent, and you should also find that the more verbs/tenses you learn the better you’ll be at remembering them, as your understanding will improve. What follows are some tried and tested methods – pick and choose what suits you best. Use just one, a few, or all of them.

  • Make sure you understand the concept of verb conjugation before you start, and what is meant by the terms ‘verb’ ‘infinitive’ ‘conjugation’ ‘stem’ ‘ending’ ‘first, second, third person singular and plural’ ‘present tense’ ‘past tense’ ‘future tense’ etc. Use the internet to search for a fully conjugated English verb such as ‘to buy’ if you are not sure what is meant by a conjugated verb. A lack of knowledge of English grammar can sometimes cause problems, but it need not if approached in the right way. If you find these terms confusing, find out their definitions and make yourself some good reference notes on them for revision purposes.
  • Draw yourself up a schedule of which verbs/tenses you are going to learn and when. Do this learning little and often and never try to learn too many verbs at once. I suggest no more than 2 a day and certainly do not try to learn more than 1 tense in a week, as it usually ends up being too confusing.
  • Once you have learnt the correct conjugation for a certain type of verb (for example a regular ER verb) write a list of useful verbs that follow the same conjugation pattern and file it next to an example of that pattern to use as a quick reference tool.
  • If you are a visual learner, create a poster with the 6 parts of a verb written into memorable images. This may be a flower with 6 petals, with a different part on each petal and the infinitive on the stem for example, or a face with each different part of the verb written onto the eyes/nose/mouth/ears etc. respectively.
  • For any musicians out there, set the sounds of your conjugated verb to your favourite tune and practice by singing it to yourself as you go about your daily routine.
  • Equip yourself with a decent book of verb tables and have it to hand to CHECK the accuracy of the verbs you use in written/speaking work. Warning: do not become dependent on it for finding verb conjugations or you will end up not ever learning them yourself!
  • Alternatively use a designated verb conjugation site on the internet, there are several that are quick and easy to use and you can access the entire conjugation of a verb just by typing in the ‘infinitive’ of your chosen verb.
  • Practice on a regular basis and never underestimate the value of this. Sporadically test your memory by writing out entire verbs in as many tenses as you can, or stick to one tense and write out as many verbs as you can. Also make use of the interactive grammar websites on the internet, many are free to use and will provide you with stimulating ways to practice and improve your knowledge of verb conjugation. Ask your tutor for more details.
  • Finally, challenge yourself to re-use as many of your learnt verbs as possible. Don’t just stick to the first persons (I/we) all the time, but ask questions using the second persons (you singular/you plural) and describe people in the third persons (he/she/they), in a variety of tenses. This will not only help you conquer your conjugation quicker but will undoubtedly earn you more marks in your TMAs and exams too!

Good Luck!

Chloe Bullock


To find out more about studying French or Spanish visit the Oxford Open Learning webiste, or contact a Student Adviser for more details.

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