Teach English in Dongxin Nongchang - Lianyungang Shi

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There is so much that can be said about tenses in the English language. Looking back on my younger years as a child in school, I can remember hearing some of my classmates speaking in the incorrect tense all of the time, and they were native English speakers! As a school teacher, I often have to correct students, especially children younger than six-years-old and redirect them to use the correct tenses when speaking. Teaching made me realize some things about the English language even as it pertains to native speakers. Even before a person sits down in a classroom setting to be taught grammar rules, they are acquiring the knowledge of grammar and tenses every single day! First and foremost, they need to learn the language itself. I work with children that are ages three to five. They may say something such as “My mommy goed to the store,” or “Daddy buyed me that.” After hearing a statement such as one of these, I have to stop and correct their errors and let them know that ‘goed’ should become ‘went’ and ‘buyed’ should become ‘bought’. Being that they haven’t yet reached elementary school age, they are not at the level to sit down in class with a textbook and attend to a lesson about tenses. They simply learn by being corrected by a teacher and practicing it every day until it becomes apart of their schema. Then when they get to first grade, they can be taught they ‘why’ of how we use tenses in the English language and why their past mistakes were unacceptable and should be avoided. This learning process is somewhat similar for ESL learners, however, it can be even more challenging because not only are they faced with the task of translating from their native language to English, they are also pressured with feelings of not wanting to be judged for their poor English skills. Child learners are much less concerned with these things because they aren’t as self-aware and bashful about making mistakes. Adult learners tend to be a lot more self-aware, self- conscious, and care a great deal about being judged by their peers and even their teachers! In my personal experience teaching English tenses to adults, I have seen adults struggle greatly with the present perfect tense and future perfect tense. I totally understand how these tenses can be confusing because they are confusing to many native speakers. Honestly, I hear native English speakers use the past perfect tense incorrectly at times where they could have simply use the past simple tense. With ESL learners, what they have trouble grasping is the understanding that the present perfect tense has a helping verb in the present tense coupled with a verb referring to the past tense. For example the sentence, ‘I have had a salad before.” This is very confusing to them. They wonder how can ‘have’ and ‘had’ be used together. In the sentence “We have gone to the movies,” they now have to wrap their minds around the past participle coupled with the word ‘have’. It’s a lot to remember the past simple verbs, the past participle verbs, and when to use which. It takes a lot of practice. Some learners informed me that their native language doesn’t even use tenses which is a huge reason why learning English tenses is even more difficult for them! The future perfect tense is even more difficult. Luckily, it isn’t used much in everyday conversation but nonetheless, it is necessary to know. When I am teaching these tenses, I have to refer to many examples of how to use it in our actual conversation in order for the learner to absorb it better. If they don’t practice using the tenses in real life, they often come back needing more lessons and explanations from me about it. Thankfully, I am passionate enough about teaching the Englishlanguage that I truly don’t mind going over it as many times as they need me to. Just to give some insight into how this can be done, I want to give an example of how I approach teaching different tenses. In a situation where I’m teaching the present perfect tense, I may say “We use this tense to refer to something that took place in the past at a time that’s not specific. This is different from the past simple tense which is used to refer to something that occurred at a specific time whether it’s stated or just implied.” I would explain this using more simplistic wording if I’m speaking to a learner who isn’t very advanced. I would give an example such as: “I have/I’ve been to Colombia in the past,” and point out the fact that I didn’t specify when I was there. I’ll also add that I could have chosen to leave off the ‘in the past’ part and the meaning would remain the same because the timeframe isn’t a factor. I’d go further to explain that if I felt the need to mention when I visited Colombia, I would need to go ahead and use the past simple tense and say something such as: “I went to Colombia last year.” I would explain that ‘last year’ is a specific time so it’s appropriate to use the past simple tense. I would also go further to say that I could have also mentioned a date, which is also a specific time in the past. For further explanation, I would show examples of incorrectly used tenses: “I have went to Colombia,” or “We have saw that movie,” versus ”We saw that movie,” to show comparisons. These kinds of examples will likely allow the learner to see the differences and how to use this tense correctly. Roleplaying and discussing an event from one of our lives would be a great real-life way to have them practice this by asking them about places they have gone and sharing some things I have done in the past. When it comes to teaching multiple tenses, I try to avoid teaching two tenses at once that are already confusing on their own! I would never teach the future perfect tense at the same time as the present perfect tense! In fact, I have taught the future perfect tense only after all of the other tenses have been mastered to avoid frustrating the learner. Also, since this tense is rarely used, it just isn’t urgent to rush and teach. To me, it makes more sense to start with the most common tenses and leave the more difficult and less common tenses for later. Teaching the present simple first is obviously the way to go because it’s used to introduce oneself and express many other things. The past simple and present perfect both refer to the past, so it makes sense to teach those beginning with the easier past simple tense. Once the learner has grasped that, they can move on to attack the more challenging present perfect tense which will likely require more time and attention. Since I teach online one-to-one, the student is welcome to take all of the time they need to get where they need to be in the English language. I chose to write about this topic because I truly enjoy teaching tenses! This topic is so important because one cannot speak proper English without using tenses. My ESL learners have really challenged me in this area and made me become a better teacher. One learner, in particular, has asked me so many questions while teaching these tenses and other topics that it made me realize a lot about my native language and have a lot of patience with a person who is trying to acquire it. I have a lot of respect for learners to commit themselves to such a challenging language.