Thursday, January 17, 2008

Um, huh?

The other day, one of my students asked me what the difference is between past simple and present perfect. I had no idea. Luckily, it was at the end of our hour together so I said that we'd continue this next week...giving me time to research what the heck present perfect is. Is it all English speaking nations or the US or just me that doesn't remember tenses quite like the French do? I just don't think our English classes hammered the tenses into our head like they did in France. Or maybe this is just another class I slept through (History was the other one). Of course, I use present perfect when speaking, but I could not have told you that what I just said was, in fact, present perfect. I am amazed when one of my students can quickly tell me what tense we're talking about when I clearly could not. After meeting with the student, Darin and I tried to figure it out so that I could easily explain the difference to the student...in French. Who was able to clearly explain the difference to me? My French tutor.

7 comments:

Cedar said...

I have the same problem...I have been learning Spanish, and I can't for the life of me remember the names of word terms...there are just too many, and I don't remember learning about them in school!

Samantha said...

It goes both ways though - they spend so much time focusing on grammar that they can all conjugate verbs perfectly, but none of them can actually speak worth a damn. Personally, I'd wish they'd focus a little bit less on that and more on the communication side. Because knowing the present perfect isn't going to be of any use while traveling or at work if you can't actually make a useful sentence with it.

Jennifer said...

Classic! Sometimes I wish Americans were more knowledgable about the language they speak. (But then I remember that I don't know it all either.) Taking Latin helped me better understand English language, but man - use it or lose it. Actually I think communication skills need to be taught in school. Hm.

Texas Espresso said...

Oh my gosh - i feel the same way! I am the worst about mixing my tenses. I know I do it but couldn't tell you what tenses I use. My Italian husband has to help me at times. I've thought about teaching english if we move to Italy and those kind of questions freak me out.LOL

need to study...

The Late Bloomer said...

Emily, I know exactly what you mean by this! And I run into similar situations quite often myself, when tutoring students... I don't do it as much these days, but I still see a gal in high school and three smaller children as well. When they have specific questions about grammar like that, or need detailed explanations, sometimes I'm at a loss as to how to make things clear to them, and specifically WHY we say one thing rather than another. And then there are the differences with UK English... Which add another wrench to the mechanism!

I think that, in fact, when studying a foreign language, we are all taught to learn the grammar and to follow the rules to the letter, on the whole. It's funny, because I think I can better explain the grammar rules of FRENCH more so than ENGLISH, which is my native language! But that's basically because we learn to speak the language as we're growing up, and of course we learn a certain amount of grammar in school, but we learn it differently. I think those who have actually studied pedagogy or who have taken courses on "teaching English" learn to better explain these rules. I had a colleague a few years back who was really good at that, and I would always ask her advice for explaining grammatical rules.

But today, man, I find myself at a loss and sometimes I end up saying things like, "You just need to practice, and gradually it makes sense!" or "You just need to memorize the rule!" Which of course doesn't necessarily help... It can be so frustrating, because as the teachers of our native language we're expected to EXPLAIN everything, but in fact it just comes naturally to us! My boyfriend is ALWAYS asking me why we're supposed to say one thing rather than another, and half the time I can't even really answer him. It drives me crazy!

screamish said...

Yep- I had NO idea. I hadnt even heard of it, hardly knew what a verb was.

"Practical English Usage" by SWAN is now my bible....I'm pretty good now but it took me a year.

If I was using a method like HEADWAY I'd do all the lessons first so I was ready to explain it.

We never did grammar at school...at all. Thank god I liked reading, or i'd be semi-illiterate by now...

Leah said...

I honestly don't think I learned the names of tenses and certain grammar terms in English until I started learning French&Spanish. It seems like a natural way of learning how to speak rather than being all about the rules, though(like Sam was saying.)

Oh, and I have too have looked preeeetty dumb in front of students when I don't know a certain tense and have to go research it. Oops, oh well!

Thank you French&Spanish for helping me learn about my own language!(Insert cheesy sitcom song here) :-D