Thunking In English
Thunking In English
Ethnicity mightn`t seem important in terms of language learning, but the absence of bars and alcohol in Arabia is useful in terms of language learning, because the scope of what can be read, or listened to, reflects upon what is spoken and written, that is, linguistic adeptness is restricted to within specific socio-cultural parameters of acceptability, which determine what is useful for students to learn in terms of linguistic expression and, though reductive, that`s helpful in second language acquisition and teaching.
The focus will be on the problems learners have with tense, and specifically the present perfect and past simple; for example, in distinguishing the differences. Meaning, use and forms of these tenses are discussed in relation to non-native speakers of a particular language background. The appropriacy of methods of teaching the present perfect, and past simple tenses for different levels of language learners, is examined, with a view to showing how the teaching of these tenses is important in helping students` productive and receptive recognition.
Form isn`t so much of a problem for students, because grammar structures can always be learned. What is difficult for learners is to think in terms of time, that is, the temporal location of events. Consequently, English language teachers have found that narrative structure is the best means of helping learners to use tense appropriately, because that requires students to think in temporal terms and apply the grammatical structures that they have learned in a communicative context, which is the aim of the productive writer and speaker, after the reading or listening recognition; if they have something of their own to communicate: `In addition to his published writing, Benjamin Zephaniah has produced (1) numerous music recordings, including `Us and `Dem` (1990) and `Belly of de Beast` (1996), and has also appeared as an actor in several television and film productions, including appearing as Moses in the film `Farendj` (1990). His first television play, `Dread Poets Society`, was first screened (2) by the BBC in 1991.` (Parrot, p. 240) The past simple is a `time anchor`, for example, that is, the productive writer/speaker (if the material is couched as audio) is communicating to the recogniiton of the reader and/or listener the information that some, or all of what they`re imparting as a communication, is located temporally in the past.
Simple past is a definite concept, that is, it`s simply what`s past, whereas present perfect is used to describe a completed action in a sequence. In short, in the past form of the verb (ending -ed) `work` becomes `worked`, while an irregular verb `sit` becomes `sat`, and the present perfect employs the present form, have/has, along with the past participle, for example, `I have sat in the theater for two hours ...` The difficulty for students is that the completed action in the past suggests to them an end, rather than a sequential part of a longer narrative, for example, `He has sat in the theater for two hours, because it`s raining.` The narrative sequence of recognition suggests that the completed action is to be followed by a further sequence of activities, which will involve the person leaving the theater, after the rain has stopped, and possibly several more sequential acts before the narrative concludes, which is most helpful for students to practice productively as it inculcates sequential temporal thinking in grammatical terms.
Encouraging students to productively narrate, either written or orally, assists their use of grammatical structure, because they learn through recognition what`s apposite. Although learners avoid using grammar they aren`t confident with, that can benefit a teacher, who can give the simplified rules as a `best guide`, and it doesn`t impair linguistic competence. There are linguistic analysts that would argue that a full grammatic knowledge is consistent with best cognition, but that`s a psychologist`s field of expertise, whereas the English language teaching (ELT) professional is concerned only with linguistic competence. Or, in other words, there are levels of grammatical structure that may be important for first language learners, because it`s a part of their growing cognitive capacity, whereas second language learners already have a developed cognitive awareness, so not all of the grammar needs to be inculcated as essential, but only that which is contributive to productive expression. Rosemary Aitken isolates two main problems with the formation of the present perfect: false patterning; and phonic contractions. Irregularity in terms of pattern, for example, drink/drank/drunk, leads to such constructions as, `I have thunk`, (Aitken, 2002, p. 37), while cognitively unrecognized and so misrepeated phonics, for example, `He`s broken it,` produce `He is broken it.` Phonically the `-ed` ending may not be heard, so not reproduced in speech, that is, `Yesterday he walk to school.’ (Parrot, 2011, p. 245 Consequently, learners need both irregular past and past participle forms as items of vocabulary.
Ethnicity mightn`t seem important in terms of language learning, but the absence of bars and alcohol in Arabia is useful in terms of language learning, because the scope of what can be read, or listened to, reflects upon what is spoken and written, that is, linguistic adeptness is restricted to within specific socio-cultural parameters of acceptability, which determine what is useful for students to learn in terms of linguistic expression and, though reductive, that`s helpful in second language acquisition and teaching. Analogously, if there`s a gas cooker in the kitchen that is redundant because of a microwave, linguistically it isn`t necessary to express it, that is, without bars and alcohol, Moslems in Islam don`t need the linguistic apparatus associated with them, which facilitates second language acquisition in terms of linguistic competence, because it excludes what the culture sees as extraneous to the business of life.
Although that may seem overly Spartan to Westerners,1 it does make the business of ELT easier, because there`s greater focus on linguistic competence, rather than those aspects of recognitive social interaction that, for Middle Easterners, haven`t legitimate relevance; for example, `Ere, doll! You want some bacon puttin` in yer sandwich; to go with that pint yer sittin` wiv?` Obviously, the pint she`s sitting with is being accused of being a few drops short of a drink, but it`s not of any socio-linguistic relevance to Middle Easterners, who`re thankfully bereft of such alcohol fueled interactions, and so more open to the inculcating of linguistic competence from the English language teaching profession. As a consequence, some few grammatical forms, usages, and meanings can be dispensed with, because ease, usefulness, and frequency of apposite applicability are of more importance than difficulty, for example, `He has got a car.` Though used in America as standard English usage, simplified English is easier with elementary students, `He has a car.` What the Americans mean is, `He has bought a car.` Or `He has brought a car.` Its linguisitc laziness and neither the students` recognition nor productivity, is helped with that as an explanation. Consequently, have/has got shouldn`t be taught in English English as the Americans teach it, that is, as a separate recognitive grammar structure, and probably not as a form of the present perfect until pre-intermediate level, where it`s used, but not so ubiquitously as an indication of possession, for example, `He has got married.`
When teaching grammar to non-native speakers, it isn`t recognitively advisable to teach them that they`re inaccurate, because of their native language, for example, in German `harben` is `have`, but Germans use present simple, where English uses present perfect: `Ich wohne seit 1970 in Wien.` The literal translation from German into English is: `I live since 1970 in Vienna.` The usage of `since` indicates completion after 1970, whereas `for` indicates completion during a defined period (Cowan, p. 367): `Ich wohne seit 25 Jahren in Wien.` In English the literal translation is: `I live for 25 years in Vienna.` Knowing why the mistake is made in German, that is, defining the period of time without indicating completion, leads to explanations using the mistake to indicate what not to do, whereas it`s more useful in terms of productivity to avoid teaching an lementary student their mistakes, and the ELT professional`s knowledge of the non-native speakers` language mightn`t suffice. So, although there`s a temptation after the beginner and elementary levels to communicate in the learners` language, it`s better that pre-intermediate, intermediate, and upper-intermediate students correct their mistakes before the advanced levels through learning only correct grammar, that is, completion is after 1970, so: `I have lived in Vienna since 1970.` Or alternatively, when teaching to any non-native speaker the correct grammar of the past perfect in which a finished event is described as having occurred during a defined period of time, and where completion occurs during the period described: `I have lived in Vienna for 25 years.`
The observation that the present perfect is used to describe actions that will be repeated depend on a supposed `sixth sense`, which isn`t actualy present in the recognitive sense of the grammatical structure, for example, `Your wife has rung.` (Parrot, p. 242) Consequently, the common perception that there`s a difference with achieved completion is mystical: `I`ve finished painting the room.` (Parrot, p. 242) I might paint the room again, and my wife mightn`t ring again. The notion that the present perfect indicates probable recurrence depends on common perception arrived at through usage as to what is likely to transpire, which of course produces more elaborately productive sentence structure in terms of clarification, but recurrence isn`t an integral part of the grammar, for example, `Your wife has rung twice, so I expect she`ll ring again later.` It`s not a part of the grammar that the completion implies recurrence, but rather of the language used. Consequently, recognitive grammar tables are most useful in inculcating correct usage with elementary students, because structure is clear for the learner and productive mistakes are explicable as error (Aitken, p. 22).
A further straightforward recognitive method is to use a board pin, a board, and a piece of elastic, which works with pre-intermediate refresher students and higher. The board pin represents the past, which is anchored, and the stretching of the elastic backwards from the pin is used to indicate what has transpired since/for a period of time before `now` (Aitken, 25), which is a point somewhere ahead of the anchoring board pin. Similarly, less and more complicated narrative structures using pictures can be used recognitively to elicit a productive narrative description from elementary and intermediate students in terms of what`s `now`; the past time anchor, and what transpired before then. The teacher explains and elicits by moving the elastic backwards from the past time anchor to indicate what`s transpired before that completion and forward from the anchoring board pin to indicate `now`, for example, 1970 is back in the 20th century which isn`t now.
Although the student didn`t specify whether they were a non-native or a native speaker, this request for clarification on a present perfect issue, which appeared on the internet`s English Language Learners Stack Exchange (Dant, October 17, 22: 53) is illuminative of problems learners have: "I failed to understand the difference between the two sentences mentioned below a) `My father has worked at this company for 35 years` and b) `My father worked at this company for 35 years`" The respondent, P. E. Dant, explicated: "`My father has worked at this company for 35 years` suggests the work started 35 years ago, and continues to the present, whereas `My father worked at this company for 35 years` tells us nothing about when the work began, but suggests it`s completed.`" Dant`s best advice is: `Don’t use the perfect unless you need it.` From a student`s point of view, it`s important to use the target language accurately, whereas nuance is fascinating to native speakers, which is the central problem for learners. Unnecessary overcomplication leads to obfuscation, confusion, and inability, that is, as the Americans colloquially say, `If it ain`t broke, don`t fix it.` (Lance) If students speak gramatically well, and use accurate grammatical structures productively, overelaboration based on fascination with nuance is recognitively counterproductive.
1 Slaves in warlike Sparta were killed en masse if their presence was deemed extraneous to Spartan necessity, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sparta .
Aitken, Rosemary Teaching Tenses, 2002, pp. 22-27.
Parrot, Martin `Present Perfect` in Grammar For English Language Teachers, Cambridge, Second Edition, Chapter 16, pp. 235-45.
Cowan, Ron `Tense And Aspect` in The Teacher`s Grammar Of English: Course Book and Reference Guide, Chapter 16, pp. 367-91.
Dant, P. E. `Problem With Present Perfect and Simple Past`, English Language Learners Stack Exchange, October 17, 22:53, https://ell.stackexchange.com/questions/106765/problem-with-present-perfect-and-simple-past .
Lance, Thomas Bertram, Director of President James Carter`s Office of Management and Budget, in the US Chamber of Commerce`s newsletter, Nation`s Business, May 1977, https://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/if-it-aint-broke-dont-fix-it.html .