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I teach English to some Polish people - how to explain them tenses?


Teffle 22 | 1,321
26 Aug 2010  #1
Czesc everyone

Hope someone can help. Informally, I'm teaching English to a couple of Polish people I know.

Can a Pole who is familiar with the present perfect and past perfect tenses in english tell me an easy way to explain these tenses and their use? Is there an equivalent in the Polish language? The problem is, I don't think there is.

It's ironic that one of the easiest things about learning English is how relatively few tenses there are (e.g. no future or conditional as such) but yet the present perfect and past perfect can be problematic.

I can explain them myself no problem if I have to but if it is a usage that is unfamiliar in Polish it can be difficult for the student to easily accept.

It's the type of thing that will come with practice and context but if there was any way, relative to the Polish language that I could explain these tenses it would be great.

Dziekuję
alexw68
26 Aug 2010  #2
IIRC, there used to be a past perfect in Polish - possibly only in literary narrative - which was well on the way out by the beginning of the 20th century.

It was formed like this (grammar terms are mine & may be non-standard for Polish, haven't looked at this stuff in years):

[past participle] [past of verb 'be']+[inflection]
eg
mieszkał był+em -> 'I had lived' - crap example, but illustrates the point.

(PS you are talking about the present perfect/past perfect distinction and not the present perfect/past simple one, right? You're a teacher so you don't need me to remind you how tricky that one is for just about all L2 English speakers irrespective of L1 :) )
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
26 Aug 2010  #3
Thanks - what should I called that construction then, in Polish that is?

Present perfect is probably the more important though. Past perfect is not often used in everyday speech - and is kind of easily explained as "well you know the present perfect? well imagine that for usage in the past and there you go. next!"

Re simple past, I'm treating that as a beginners thing together with present and continous (inc. future usage) and will wait until the simple past has been properly grasped ( including the hilarious amount of irregular verbs) before I move on to the perfect tenses.
alexw68
26 Aug 2010  #4
Perfect past is as good a name as any.

BTW if you're waiting for them to grasp past simple before going on to the perfect tenses, don't hold your breath. I forget the psycholinguistic jargon for this, but there's a well-attested phenomenon whereby the easiest things to explain (eg past simple, 3rd singular 's') cause people trouble in fast, spontaneous speech up to advanced level - the in-brain routing required to get it right takes a long, long time to nail down.
SeanBM 35 | 5,809
26 Aug 2010  #5
It's ironic that one of the easiest things about learning English is how relatively few tenses there are (e.g. no future or conditional as such)

If I find out in the future that Polish has more than the twelve tenses English has, it will surprise me.

you are talking about the present perfect/past perfect distinction and not the present perfect/past simple one, right?

If only my present was perfect and my past perfectly simple...
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
26 Aug 2010  #6
If I find out in the future Poland has more than the twelve tenses that English has, it will surprise me

Well, not really 12 tenses. Strictly speaking, yes, but some of these are merely variants are not actual distinct 'tenses' to be learned as such.

It was my understanding that Polish verbs have more cases in common use and are more irregular. I could be wrong of course.
SeanBM 35 | 5,809
26 Aug 2010  #7
It was my understanding that Polish verbs have more cases in common use and are more irregular.

Yes I think there are about 7 cases in Polish (one is not often used) and in English there are two. I could be wrong anyway.

And they are very irregular in comparison to English but I don't think Polish has as many tenses as English.

How many tenses does Polish have?
5? It's a bit unclear.

IIRC, there used to be a past perfect in Polish - possibly only in literary narrative - which was well on the way out by the beginning of the 20th century.

It was formed like this (grammar terms are mine & may be non-standard for Polish, haven't looked at this stuff in years):

[past participle] [past of verb 'be']+[inflection]

This is the best way to teach Polish people, even though it is not in use people still know it.
scottie1113 7 | 898
26 Aug 2010  #8
Are you familiar with using time lines to illustrate verb tenses? They make things very clear and are easy to understand.
Richfilth 6 | 415
26 Aug 2010  #9
Well, not really 12 tenses. Strictly speaking, yes, but some of these are merely variants are not actual distinct 'tenses' to be learned as such.

Well strictly there's 20* and once you add voices you're in the realm of 30 different tenses (depending on which school of linguistics you subscribe to) so arguing over the 12 isn't a good place to start.

Other comments about the present perfect/past simple distinction are valid; it still rears its head in Advanced coursebooks. One of the best examples I present to students is "Have you ever visited Venice/ Have you ever been to Paris/ Did you ever see the World Trade Center?" Ask them to work out why the last option is in the Past Simple, not Present Perfect. Then repeat "did you meet my grandfather/ have you met my grandfather?"

Of course, you could just photocopy pages from Murphy and make them do it over and over again, like Polish teachers seem to do.

*12 active, 8 passive
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
26 Aug 2010  #10
Are you familiar with using time lines to illustrate verb tenses? They make things very clear and are easy to understand

Yes I do this and it's usually helpful.

12 active, 8 passive

Hang on, just to be clear, are you making a distinction between e.g. He watched the TV and the TV was watched.... ?

Because although obviously they are different constructions, in terms of teaching, I don't really consider it to be another tense to be learned. It's just a variation on an existing apsect as far as I'm concerned.
Richfilth 6 | 415
26 Aug 2010  #11
It can be extremely useful to keep active and passive tenses apart in TEFL, especially if you're teaching a student with an ergative L1 (which isn't the case in Poland, or anywhere in Europe as far as I remember.) Treating them as just an aspect can cause problems further down the line for a lot of learners.
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
26 Aug 2010  #12
Yeah, fair enough, you're probably right but it's not really critical to me or my students.

It's a pretty informal set up and right now, most will be content just to have enough English to "get by" as they say. I don't think they would thank me for introducing the passive right now as they are frustrated enough as it is with, amongst other unanticipated obstacles, phrasal verbs. Which IMO, are arguably more important than some of the more obscure voices/tenses - at least for the moment.

In fact, education about cultural aspects of life here (Ireland) is proving to be almost as important as the language!
Richfilth 6 | 415
26 Aug 2010  #13
Introducing the passive at this early stage has to be done, for no other reason than for saying "I was born..." Otherwise they'll be saying "I borned" for the rest of their lives and no other teacher will be able to correct them.

Still, grab yourself a decent course book; the English File series had some decent stuff on showing the difference between Present Perfect and Past Simple, and they should be able to get to grips with that if they're really low level.

What sort of English teaching quals/experience have you got, if you don't mind me asking?
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
26 Aug 2010  #14
Introducing the passive at this early stage has to be done, for no other reason than for saying "I was born..." Otherwise they'll be saying "I borned" for the rest of their lives and no other teacher will be able to correct them

Yeah, there are probably quite a few other obvious uses too. You're right.

What sort of English teaching quals/experience have you got, if you don't mind me asking

No experience at all - other than what I'm currently doing. Have been doing this for about 5 years now - just the odd evening. Previous students had a fairly advanced level of English and were familiar with perfect tenses but just recently I have started teaching two new people who are more or less beginners.

I have an internationally recognised TEFL qualification but TBH I can't remember what it's called - got it 10 years ago. I'll check out the details over the next few days if you are interested.

One of the reference books I'm using was regarded as something of a bible when I did the course: A Practical English Grammar by Thomson & Martinet. Don't know how it's regarded these days. I also have one of the Cambridge practical exercise books which is pretty handy. Together with a bit of reading & chatting, the rest I make up as I go along really.
cinek 2 | 336
27 Aug 2010  #15
Can a Pole who is familiar with the present perfect and past perfect tenses in english tell me an easy way to explain these tenses and their use?

There's one way that may work for you. In colloqual Polish (at least in my area) people sometimes use construction like: 'Mam coś zrobione' (which is probably a borrowing from German - Ich habe gemacht). I noticed that this works much like English present perfect for transitive verbs e.g.:

I have done it yet = Mam to już zrobione. (in standard Polish it'd be 'Zrobiłem to już')
I have done it since yesterday = Mam to już zrobione od wczoraj. (st. P. Zrobiłem to wczoraj)
Have you done your homework? = Masz już odrobione lekcje? (st.P. Odrobiłeś lekcje?)

It works with some other transitive verbs too:

Have you cleaned up your room? = Czy masz już posprzątany pokój?
Yes. I have cleaned it up for an hour. = Tak, mam już posprzątane od godziny.
I have eaten everything yet. = Mam już wszystko zjedzone.
I have finished my work. = Mam już skończoną pracę.
etc.

The key here is the use of 'mam' (I have) which is in present (not past) tense. So they'll never say anything like 'I have done it yesterday' because it's also wrong in Polish 'Mam to zrobione wczoraj' (should be 'Mam to zrobione od (since) wczoraj'.

The intransitive verbs may be more problematic though. There's nothing in Polish like 'He has gone' or 'I have been here for a minute'. However, once understood for transitives, it may be easier to to grasp for intransitives too.

It worked for me when I was learning the basics of English, but I live in the former German-Polish borderland, and that 'Mam zrobione' construction is in common use here and well understood. I don't know if it's so in the other parts of Poland, but you can try it.

Cinek
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
27 Aug 2010  #16
Thanks Cinek - probably helps.
Trevek 26 | 1,703
27 Aug 2010  #17
I have done it yet = Mam to już zrobione. (in standard Polish it'd be 'Zrobiłem to już')

Sorry, wouldn't that sound better as "I haven't done it yet" or "I've just done it"?

I had presperf explained simply as "past tense without a past time reference".

I prefer "when the action has finished but the time hasn't"

So: "Someone has broken the window" the breaking part is finished but the window is still broken.

"Someone broke the window". The window is repaired

Obviously, this is when the time reference isn't used.

"I've written this today" today hasn't finished.

"I wrote this this morning" today is still valid but 'this morning' has finished.
cinek 2 | 336
27 Aug 2010  #18
I had presperf explained simply as "past tense without a past time reference".

I prefer "when the action has finished but the time hasn't"

Yes, your explanation is good, but belive me, it's not easy to grasp for someone who doesn't have it in their language (compare the prefective/imperfective verbs in Polish and all the questions people are asking on PF again and again).

I think that showing a similarity to something one already knows is much better than explaining a completely new term (at least for me :-) )

Cinek
Trevek 26 | 1,703
27 Aug 2010  #19
but belive me, it's not easy to grasp for someone who doesn't have it in their language

Oh, believe me, I know! I have a large inflatable hammer which is used to try and beat the explanation into their heads occasionally.
Richfilth 6 | 415
27 Aug 2010  #20
I have done it yet = Mam to już zrobione. (in standard Polish it'd be 'Zrobiłem to już')
I have done it since yesterday = Mam to już zrobione od wczoraj. (st. P. Zrobiłem to wczoraj)

Yes. I have cleaned it up for an hour. = Tak, mam już posprzątane od godziny.
I have eaten everything yet. = Mam już wszystko zjedzone.

Not sure what you're trying to say; none of those English examples are correct, and my Polish isn't good enough to work out exactly what you mean, as they could be interpreted in more than one way.

Perfect tenses do a number of jobs in English; for use with "yet" they only work in the negative ("I haven't done it yet").
kondzior 8 | 948
27 Aug 2010  #21
I do speak English, for good or bad, twenty years now, and I still don't quite understand English past tenses. Yeah, I know the definitions, and if I ponder about what I am about to write/tell, I can use it correctly, but it still don't make any sence. WHAT SANE PERSON NEEDS TWO DIFFERENT PAST TENSES?? If it was in the past, it was in the past! Period. Say about silly English fads...
Trevek 26 | 1,703
27 Aug 2010  #22
WHAT SANE PERSON NEEDS TWO DIFFERENT PAST TENSES?? If it was in the past, it was in the past! Period. Say about silly English fads...

I once had a Chinese guy ask me why English had past tenses. "Why you say, 'I went to shop yesterday'?"

I couldn't understand what he wanted to know. He repeated, "Why you say, 'I WENT to shop YESTERDAY'?"

"Why, what would you say in Chinese?"

"I go to shop... I go to shop today, I go to shop tomorrow, I go to shop yesterday".
Richfilth 6 | 415
27 Aug 2010  #23
WHAT SANE PERSON NEEDS TWO DIFFERENT PAST TENSES?

I drank some vodka. I crashed my car. Two actions, both in the past. If you trust the sequence, I abused alcohol and then illegally took control of a vehicle. Or maybe I drank on Monday and crashed on Tuesday, and there's no connection. Or maybe I told you I drank the vodka first because I couldn't remember all the details of my story, or for dramatic effect. I drank BECAUSE I crashed my car.

Once you introduce perfect tenses, you create a sequence.

I drank some vodka. I HAD crashed my car.

Now there's no ambiguity; you know which one happened first, even though I said it second. And you also know that the first one had an effect on the second one. I loved that old girl, all the high-speed chases and break-downs we'd been through; I'm drinking vodka because now I have to look for another old jalopy on Allegro....

THAT'S why we have perfect tenses. Otherwise you have to throw in all the time clauses and sequencers (yesterday, last week, before that, afterwards) which makes things all messy and childish.
Lyzko
27 Aug 2010  #24
Tenses for Poles are much like aspects for us; natural application thought contextualized practice is truly the only way to make them a reality for learners, otherwise, they'll likely remain a sort of hopeless morass. The problem for Poles and other Slavic native speakers is that they instinctively think in terms of repeated duration of action rather than of time elapse as in English. The latter simply needs to be drilled!

Eng. I WROTE the letter. (action completed within time frame, mission
accomplished)
I HAVE WRITTEN the letter. (action completed, but in an inspecific time
in the past)
I WAS WRITING the letter. (action incomplete, still in progress pending
completion!)

Pol. PISA£EM list. (action either finished or in the midst of completion, but
over a period of time)

NAPISA£EM list. (action completed one time only!)
Trevek 26 | 1,703
27 Aug 2010  #25
WHAT SANE PERSON NEEDS TWO DIFFERENT PAST TENSES??

Or had you finished the action at the time?

I was drinking vodka when I fell over. I drank the vodka when i fell over. I had drunk the vodka when I fell over.
natasia 3 | 368
27 Aug 2010  #26
one of the easiest things about learning English is how relatively few tenses there are (e.g. no future or conditional as such)

Sorry, but are we talking about the same 'English' here?! Our perception, and hence verbalization, of time is one of the most difficult things for foreign learners, and especially for Poles ... we have (arguably):

present simple / continuous
past simple / continuous
present perfect simple / continuous
past perfect simple / continuous
five ways of referring to future time (future with 'will', present simple for timetables, present continuous for arrangements, 'going to' for plans)
future perfect simple/continuous
future continuous
genuine conditionals (would, etc.)
modal verbs
subjunctives (effectively)

and all the above also active and passive ...

? How is that easy, and in what way do we have relatively few tenses? We have more tenses that a lot of languages, and make distinctions of time/perspective that other languages don't (which is the difficulty in explaining/learning).

Ok ... sorry ... small rant over ... but just don't want you to think our tense system is 'easy', as it is (notoriously) not so.

As for how to explain the present perfect ; ) ... think of the actual words you use.

I have been.

ie, I possess that action. It is mine. I present it to you. The significance of it is that I own it - I have experienced it. And I am still here, holding it, showing it to you.

Try to feel what it really means. Then it will be easier to communicate.
OP Teffle 22 | 1,321
28 Aug 2010  #27
Ok, a few comments: the way you lay it out yes, it's daunting. In reality though there is alot of crossover.

Future is easy. All forms - the verb forms are the same as those that will have been learned* already. Continuous? C'mon - you just add "ing" in all cases. Done.

I'm not saying it's all easy as such and maybe technically my reference to tenses was inaccurate - what I was getting at I suppose was verb forms/cases and irregularities. In this sense we (arguably) don't have a future in English and no conditional either - this alone is a big difference in comparison with most European languages.

But present/past perfect, yes, it's unusual and tricky.

*Now there's a construction! ;)
Lyzko
28 Aug 2010  #28
Furthermore, what's doubly confusing in English for many foreigners is the 'ing' as a progressive or continuous form, e.g. "I am running" vs. "I run" etc.. as well as a gerund, for instance "the running dog" or " Walking to the store one day, he saw....." for which there is hardly a common equivalent in Polish! As we know 'ący' (e, a) doesn't always correspond to English 'ing'-:)
Seanus 15 | 19,716
28 Aug 2010  #29
Wracając is returning :)

Biegając is running :)

Chodząc is walking :)

They are the present participles, i.e imiesłów

There is sth similar but not like we use the present progressive.

Chodząc do sklepu....:)
scottie1113 7 | 898
29 Aug 2010  #30
a gerund, for instance "the running dog"

In this case, running isn't a gerund. It's an adjective. But "running with my dog" makes it a gerund.


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