To the outsider German may appear as an ugly mess of overly complex rules, and indeed it is until you find someone who can break down the grammatical systems to something manageable to auslander brains. For example, German nouns have genders of male, female and neuter for no reason that will ever be adequately explained to me; and an attendant definite, indefinite and plural article. According to one magical tome on my bookshelf there actually an easy way to determine a noun’s gender based on the final syllable of said noun, plus a reasonably manageable list of exceptions to these rules. This is far easier to digest than than “just memorise all the nouns. All of them.”
At a recent lunch with the in-laws, who are downright tickled that I’m finally being forced to learn German, I mentioned the rules for determining noun genders and watched the consideration begin with long lists of nouns discussed among those who knew of such things while I spent the time studying the aged framed photograph of the Nofratete on the wall. I imagine this wasn’t unlike my initial months in Germany where I had to relearn and actually start speaking my native English instead of grunting it. By the end of the day I had the homework assignment of providing my in-laws with a way to watch the NFB’s animated short of Roch Carrier’s “The Sweater,” which they have no hope of understanding without a translation but at least the animation was done entirely by hand and the colours are nice.