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As we know, many languages have grammatical gender for every noun, and the gender of a noun requires agreement from adjectives and sometimes verbs and requires the use of the correct pronoun for its gender.

I don't have any trouble simply learning the gender of words, and if I took a test on the gender I wouldn't have a problem answering correctly, but when I'm in the middle of speaking I tend to inadvertently switch to the default form for inanimate nouns (normally masculine or neuter), especially for pronouns, which often occur in a different sentence from the original noun. So is there a way to internalize the gender of nouns so as to more naturally use the correct forms?

As an example of how gender is internalized for native speakers, from what I understand when native speakers of languages with grammatical gender personify inanimate ideas, they tend to use the gender of the noun in question for the gender of the personification. As a hypothetical example, if they wanted to talk about the best, highest quality type of honey, a French speaker might talk about the "king of honey" (because "miel" is masculine in French), while a Spanish speaker might talk about the "queen of honey" (because "miel" is feminine in Spanish).

Likewise, a French speaker would probably personify the sea as a woman ("la mer"), but an Italian speaker would personify it as a man ("il mare").

How could I learn to internalize the gender of nouns so that it would be natural to see abstract and inanimate nouns as having the correct gender, in the same way that native speakers do?

What if I'm learning several languages, where some words have different genders in different languages? How do native bilingual speakers conceive of abstract or inanimate nouns when the gender of the nouns is different in their native languages?

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I'm not sure to understand what you mean by "internalize the gender". Do you mean assimilate it to use the correct gender naturally without thinking about it?

This is done using the words again and again in different contexts. It will come naturally with time.

As you remarked with the sea and the honey, it can be different for similar words in different languages. There are many other example. There is no logic. By the way the sea in French is la mer with E and not A.

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I have learned 2 languages that use gender.

First, let me say that native speakers are remarkably patient to non-native speakers for making gender errors. So relax, they will not view you in a bad light for doing so. In fact, they will be pleased that you are making the effort to learn their language.

For my first language, when inflecting the word for masculine/feminine, I created word pictures with either my father or my mother in the picture. This helped cement the proper gender to the inflection until it became natural.

With the 2nd language, I did the same thing but with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Meryl Streep instead of my parents. This helped differentiate the genders in the 2nd language from the first language.

I hope this helps.

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First of all, I want to know which language you are currently learning and there are a host of exercises you can do to achieve your "internalization" process of grammatical gender and if it is a Romance language it is quite known that it contains widely applicable rules such as "-o" for male nouns and "-a" for female nouns with their exceptions to remember. I would like to recommend not to focus on the rules of them and start conversing or reading without particular consideration what endings come at which place, with time you will have internalized the sounds and combinations to fluently use them. For a start try saying "el gato" for about 20 times and the next time you want to convey the meaning of a cat that combination of "el" with "-o" will suddenly pop up in your mind(same goes for an exception like "la mano"- an exception where la comes with o, I am talking about Spanish)

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  • for insight into evolution of gender refer to : jstor.org/stable/pdf/27699089.pdf – Roger Smith Dec 9 '20 at 21:08
  • Right now I'm learning German, but I've studied a lot of languages in the past, including Russian, French, Spanish, Italian, and Greek. As I said in the original question, the problem isn't remembering the gender, for example if you asked me about it directly, as I don't find that particularly difficult, but rather remembering to think of it as a feminine noun and thus to use feminine pronouns and agreement in places that are far removed from the original use of the noun. – sagittarian Dec 12 '20 at 10:38

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