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Language learning myths 1

November 02, 2008

Hello again,

A student made me laugh last week as we revised the uses of the present simple tense. “Why do you call it simple? It’s really confusing.” And I can understand...

...his frustration.
I think it was Krashen who discovered that all learners, no matter what their mother tongue, find the third person singular –s very hard to remember. And then there are the many different ways in which we use it. In many respects this is a tense that refers to time that is anything but present. We use the present simple tense with stative verbs to indicate states, feelings, situations and beliefs that do not change and with dynamic verbs to indicate that the situation is currently static. Another use of the present simple tense is to indicate routines and habits. The present simple tense is also used to speak about a future action if that action is part of a prearranged timetable or schedule. Only people such as sports’ commentators sometimes use the present simple tense to describe actions as they actually happen.
Poor students: they see the innocent-sounding description of this tense and immediately believe they can use it to talk about what they are doing now. And then there are all the complications with auxiliaries for questions and negatives, not to mention the added problems when a question begins with “who”.
It makes me wonder whether we should abandon the conventional descriptions of the tenses and find some less confusing way of naming them.

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  1. Drew Ward Says:

    Hi Brenda,

    Good Post. I've also encountered similar questions regarding this. The terms simple, progressive, and perfect and such have very valid sources of course linguistically. These terms are usually too much for the average student.

    In my classes I've found it useful to get the students thinking in terms of their function rather than their structure or terminology with terms like informational(simple) and activity (progressive).

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