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GÄVLE, Sweden
I am an English/Spanish language trainer who thinks communication is a key issue in human interaction. Good sensible communication is needed whatever the language. On the personal side I strive for happiness by keeping love, respect and honesty as main ingredients. Last but not least, my smile is my trademark :O)

27 de enero de 2011

VERB TENSES vs. TIME REFERENCE

The other day when teaching the present tenses (present simple vs. present continuous) to my new students I approached this subject from a different perspective. I avoided focusing on the usual way, i.e. explaining form and uses, then do some practice through exercises, and aimed to widen my students' scope in the understanding of verb tenses. I focused on building up a communicative frame in their minds which would help them use the present tenses in a more effective way when communicating.

So, instead of starting by explaining form and uses I drew up a timeline on the board and tried to place them into the three time slots -if I may call them like this-: PAST, PRESENT= NOW , FUTURE. I went on saying that time isn't conveyed simply by a verb tense but that there are other words that can convey time. Here are a few examples to illustrate what I'm saying:

I can go with you tomorrow.
John isn't coming to the party on Friday.
I'll send it to you now.
If I *were you I wouldn't do it.

In the first two sentences above we have a time expression -tomorrow, on Friday- to express future but both verbs are present tenses; the verb in the third sentence is a future tense but we're referring to ¨right away¨, or just immediately after I've uttered this statement. Finally, the last example expresses a hypothesis by means of a past verb tense.

* Regarding this example, I'd like to draw your attention to the fact that the use of the past tense in English places ourselves in the unreal time. The English verb system lacks subjunctive so there are other ways to express this mode. But this is ¨food¨ for a future entry.

Then, after explaining the uses of both verb tenses in English, I started giving them some situations so that they could respond in a pseudo-communicative way by using the right verb tense. I also introduced the use of the future will for some instances in order to expand their understanding and to avoid restricting to one or another

I went round the class addressing different students with situations like the following:
  • The door bell rings and you're sitting in the living-room with your mum. Offer to open the door. I'll open the door.
  • You need to know what time the next train is. What do you say to the booking clerk? What time does the next train leave?
  • Tell your friend about your plans this weekend. I'm having a haircut on Saturday morning.

Therefore, when we teach verb tenses to our students it's important to draw up this connection between verb form and real time. We can't encapsule a language into pills (let's say ¨labelled formulas¨) and expect that students alone will manage to draw up the connections. We must provide those connections, or a means for them, so that they manage to build up an internal system, which hopefully and gradually, will render accuracy in their fluency.

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