Rliberni's Blog – Radical language

December 21, 2009

Using narrative tenses

This morning I woke up bright and early. The ground was covered in a thick blanket of snow and everything looked so beautiful outside. I pulled on warm clothes and boots and took my two dogs Duffy and Maguire for a  snowy walk.

At the end of our walk I let them off their respective leads and into a small paddock at the side of our house where they could run freely. As I stood looking at the scenery I thought how marvelous it would be to have more students come to stay and study with us in 2010.  In any season the scenery is wonderful, the place welcoming and the opportunity for making excellent improvement in English language skills assured.

As I was thus looking and contemplating, I heard a loud meow and there, atop the gate was our little black cat, Nip (her brother, Tuck,  has gone walkabout again). I called to her and she came bouncing over the snow towards me. All of a sudden Maguire spotted her and leapt across to join us followed, in a flash, by Duffy.  All three animals began gambolling in the snow – it was a lovely scene and I hadn’t a camera!

Leaving the cat and dogs I flew into the house to get the camera. It hadn’t been put back in its usual place so took a while to track down. After a frantic hunt, I rushed back to the paddock camera in hand to find the animals scattered!

The perfect picture of animals having fun in the snow had gone! I did manage a few shots which you can see here but sadly the original masterpiece will remain forever in my head only!!

OK,  let’s get down to the topic. I’ve highlighted my use of tenses in the piece.

Can you identify them all and consider why each one was used?

I wrote the piece ‘off the cuff’ and completely spontaneously so the tense usage is random.

  • Past simple – you will see that this tense is used far more than any other. This makes sense, the incident is in the past and the ‘story’ mostly relates the events that happened in a sequential way.
  • Present perfect – there is only one use here – in a reference to the missing cat. The cat is missing , we only know this – no other information is provided.  He may return. This is a classic Present perfect use. (see posts on Present perfect  and choosing simple or continuous )
  • Present simple –  again one use when describing the scenery. This is a state and unchanging.
  • Past perfect – two occurences; when referring to the whereabouts of the camera – clearly the camera was used by someone else before the events of this story took place and on returning to the paddock – the frolicking of the animals in the snow is now relegated to the past.
  • Future tense – this is the final tense used referring to a missed chance to capture the scene and preserve it for the future.

When relating stories and events we tend to use mostly the past simple,  present perfect and past perfect tenses as a frame work and hang on the other tenses where required. It is important to sequence the events in order to choose the correct tense.

Try this Gapfillers exercise on narrative tense use.

This post is the second of six on English verbs and tenses.

More information on English courses at Fleetham Lodge  and see here on the blog Fleetham Life

December 1, 2009

Create a PLN

You may have come across this acronym which is being talked about a lot at the moment but if not, it stands for Personal Learning Network. This is a group of people with whom you have a connection and from whom you are able to progress your learning.   Many of  these networks are found on social media sites such as twitter but learning networks can effectively be anywhere. Your network might be at school or work or you may find them at a club or social group. You may have several networks all for different aspects of your personal learning development.

Your PLN can even be anonymous!!

I discovered a great new PLN last week ! I live on the outskirts of a small village in North Yorkshire (see my blog Fleetham Life) and last week I took my first ever ride on the local bus to the nearest town about 12 miles away and what a journey it was!!

For the first couple  miles we were just two passengers plus the bus driver.  After getting to the village a few more people boarded and then the information share began!

1.   First on the agenda was an update on the secondary school run and how the children had dressed up and one had left some money on his bus. He knew it was one of two children and had made arrangements for it to be returned by the evening driver!

  • Lots of good examples of conditional sentences here, narrative tenses and some modals too: She must have been worried.  If only I’d seen it before they all left.  The children had been told to dress up,

2. We then moved on to the local weather. Our bus driver/PLN moderator gave us the low-down on which areas had been flooded, which bridges and roads were closed and the local forecast in the coming days.

  • Present continuous for weatherIt’s raining in Thirsk. More modalsRichmond should be clear by this afternoon. FutureThe next few days will be fine.

3.   Next we had a few jokes just to jolly the journey along. These mostly from the driver but one or two ‘regulars’ joined in too! I was a lurker, listening and laughing.

  • Jokes can be very useful listening practice, do you get it? Do you understand the puns (check out Gapfillers joke section)

4.   The next topic of conversation was about a recent large lottery win and this sparked a discussion about ‘What I would do if I won the lottery’ I’m sure you’ve all done this exercise in class at some stage but here it was in real life!

  • Good uses of conditionals!!

5.   The next topic was about the local housing market – which houses had been sold, which were for sale, how much etc…

  • Great use of passive, That cottage was sold last week. Present perfects They have been trying to sell for 6 months.

6.   We just had time to discuss health and fitness before we reached our destination! The driver, it turned out was a bit of a jogger! Other people proffered their own preferred methods of keeping fit.

  • A lot of present perfectI’ve been …. for ….. use of the present simple for routines I run 5 miles every day.

This is all well and good you may say but what is the significance?

For me it was a true PLN giving me all the local news and information that might be important to someone living in the area. It was also a very jolly and enjoyable journey.

For learners – never under-estimate the value of any language experience (this could be on TV or online too). The use of language that you have learned in class in a real context reinforces it and you are also likely to pick up something new!!!

June 29, 2009

Describing the past to present – Present Perfect tense

Mention this tense to any English language learner and they will squirm! Mention it to teachers and there will be much heavy breathing! So, what is the problem?

It is a tense that features heavily in everyday English, it behaves differently in English to other languages (remember the false friends?) and its usage is not always logical! As teachers we know why you need the present perfect but it is sometimes a matter of perception and this is not always obvious to learners.

Even though most advanced learners have the rules nailed down, the ability to use it faultlessly doesn’t always follow so I thought I’d do a little recap of the rules and some tips on usage to act as a reminder and guide.

The Present Perfect

Rule:       auxiliary to have + past participle, simple and continuous forms

Meaning:       actions or states which start in the past but have a link with the present in some way

Used for:     talking about experiences, talking about the recent past, talking about actions with present relevance, talking about ongoing/unfinished states or actions

Some examples:

  • Talking about experience – I’ve worked as a waitress, a postman and a teacher.
  • Talking about the recent past Have you seen Molly? She’s just driven off!
  • Talking about actions with present relevance – What have you done to your arm?
  • Talking about unfinished or ongoing states or actions – They’ve been living in that house for 20 years!

Remember to think of the present perfect as a present tense and not a past tense. We are looking at the past with ‘present eyes’ and whatever we talk about relates to now:

so:

  • I’ve been to Vietnam. really meansI have seen the country and can tell you about it now, when, where, how or why I went and visited are not important it’s my experience of it now which is important.

 

  • You’ve just missed him!  really means – If you’d been here a few minutes earlier you would have seen him. When he went, why and the fact that it happened in the past are irrelevant, coming here now is simply too late!

 

  • You’ve cut your hair! really means – I’ve just seen it now, I don’t really care when, why or how it was done. The impact for me is now.

 

  •  I’ve been studying English for 15 years. really means – It’s been a long time and it may go on, aren’t you impressed – now! or something like that.

You can find more examples in your grammar book or course book. If you need more clarification why not post a questions here and I’ll do my best to answer it.

Tomorrow we’ll look at the differences between the continuous and simple forms of the present perfect tense.

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