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Thursday, April 11, 2013 (read 1916 times)
The secret of the past tenses in Spanishby Lauris
Telling a story in the past
When we teachers enter into a classroom of A2 level students with whom we have been working on the past tenses in Spanish, we usually find a room full of anxious faces desperately searching for the magic recipe to be able to comfortably communicate in Spanish. They want to be able to talk about their memories, to tell a story in the past, and that perhaps a Spanish speaker would be able to understand.
I had said before “estamos trabajando con los pasados del español” (We are working on the past tense in Spanish) but now I think that the sentence doesn’t really do my cause justice. Perhaps it would be better to say “estamos luchando contra los pasados” (we are fighting against the past tenses) or “estamos sufriendo el ataque indiscriminado y masivo de los pasados” (we are suffering an indiscriminate and massive attack of the past tenses). I have to admit that more than once I have fought the urge to put on a helmet to shield me from the shocked, panicked and pale faces (from the terror, or what may be worse, the acceptance of pure defeat and inability to understand it) staring at me with evil eyes.
The Occam’s Knife
Gradually, as the years have gone by and I have accumulated more and more experience in this vast sea of grammar, I have come to the conclusion that we should not forget a rule of physics known as “The Occam’s Knife” or “The Occam’s Razor”, depending on where you look. What it basically means is that among all of the possible solutions, the simplest one that produces the least amount of complications, is normally the correct one.
When we find ourselves in a class with a group of diverse students with different interests we shouldn’t, in my opinion, forget the fact that we are teaching communicative abilities, NOT theoretical grammar, even if a dose or two of grammar is necessary to get the point across. We should be able to put ourselves in the students’ shoes and give explanations using simple, but fair, language. (Can you remember the face of the 50 or-so-year-old Dutch student that works in a bank in Rotterdam as we try to help her understand and accept the pasivas reflejas verb structures in Spanish?)
In the environment I have been working in for almost 30 years now, I can count on one hand the amount of class groups that actually needed to be able to explain the technicalities of grammar.
We are not in the same business as a university or any other type of official education, for us, the goal is different. We are transmitters of a passion for interpersonal and intercultural communication and our goal that our students become self-sufficient and independent speakers in their daily interactions; not that they are able to explain the grammatical technicalities of why or how they do it. So, we should teach them using simple (but not simplistic) but correct explanations.
This is the true challenge.
I leave you now to mull over these ideas. Next week I will leave you with a small example of how, in my opinion, you can help students who are starting to work with the past tenses to get a feel for how it works, even if they aren’t able to explain in an orthodox way for what and how each of the past tenses are used.
Until next week!
Keywords: past in spanish,past tense in spanish,tenses in spanish,spanish grammar