Friday, March 22, 2013

There Is No Past. There Is No Future. But I'm Putting It on the Test Anyway.

We have seasons, and a new one just began. But in my beginning ESL class, it's past tense season. Past tense in English is no walk in the park. There are dozens of irregular verbs, and they're among the most-used verbs in our language. We went to the park, saw the ducks on the pond, ate a pretzel, and drank some water.

On the positive side, you don't need to conjugate past tense in English. That is, I, you, he, she, they, we and it all had a nice day. There is no annoying s to place at the end of the verb, and you don't need to wonder whether it's s or es, unless you're Dan Quayle correcting a young student's correct spelling of potato.

On the other hand, while I went to the movies, I didn't go to the restaurant. Did you go to the park? Why, after I spent all that time and energy memorizing went, is that pain in the neck English teacher making me say go again in negative and interrogative sentences? Didn't I learn that earlier in the year when we were doing simple present? Didn't he torture me, feigning heart attacks every time I said, "He go to school," instead of "He goes to school."? And now he wants me to put up with this nonsense?

At least one of my students has had enough. He said, "Mr. Educator, why are you living in the past? What about the present?"

"We did the present last month."

"What about the future?"

"We're going to do that pretty soon."

"But we already did going to."

"OK. We will do that pretty soon."


"In the future. Can't you just concentrate on now?"


"Because now we are in the past."

"That doesn't make any sense at all, Mr. Educator."

"Many things do not make sense, grasshopper."

"What's a grasshopper?"

"That's a question for the future. But we have to get through the past before we can do the future."

There are difference between will and going to, actually, but I don't usually teach them at this level. I kind of like that my student will force me to at some point. It shows that he's thinking. And dangerous though that may be, I'm pretty glad of it.
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