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Wednesday, December 24, 2014 (read 1392 times)

Teaching the Spanish Past Tenses - Part One

by Lauris

Using the Past Tense in Spanish - A Challenge for A2 Level Students: Presentation

Studying a language means plunging head first into the murky depths of uncharted waters, a place where linguistic sea monsters lurking in the shadows lock their icy grip upon the shoulders of unsuspecting students who must face something different, very different.

Beginning the journey into Spanish and all its secrets, students at just barely the A2 level must not only explore grammatical structures and irregular verb conjugations, they’ll also quickly find themselves in need of understanding and using the past tense.

Some time ago we spoke about a more or less visual presentation you could do to help present the past tenses as a group (the pluscuamperfecto of course, while not a real problem in itself, is usually taught much later, given its relative infrequency and the possibility of substituting it for the perfecto simple [or indefinido for those who prefer that term]) accompanied by an adverb of time like “antes”.  Take a look at the diagram of the past tenses here.

Start with the perfecto simple and then the perfecto compuesto, which establishes the opposition between actions completed within the same unit of time as that in which they are being described and actions that have just been completed. At this point, it’s important to review with your students the time connectors related to each one of these tenses. What I like to do, and it usually works well, is make a list of expressions on the board before getting all philosophical about the past tenses, and then I ask my students to try to figure out what each one of the two groups I’ve written have in common (one corresponds with the perfecto simple and the other with the compuesto). The idea is to try to get them to see the difference on their own so that these “rules” aren’t just handed to them by their teacher but rather the product of their own reasoning.

I usually do an introduction with the imperfecto where I ask students to consider whether the present tense is used in the same situations in their native language as it is in Spanish (it often is, which is a fantastic advantage). In Spanish the present is used to: describe something or someone (Marta es rubia y alta), to talk about a habitual action (Marta trabaja –not necessarily at this moment, which would be “está trabajando” –de profesora de español en Málaga) and to talk about an action that’s continuously repeated without establishing the amount of times it’s repeated (Los lunes, Marta acude a la Cruz Roja malagueña para ayudar con los niños de los inmigrantes que tienen problemas). These are three fundamental cases in which the present tense is used. Next, I put the following idea out there: “If you want to offer the same information, but in the past, use the imperfecto”. Then, we look at the examples again and transform the verbs accordingly.

I am aware that there are many definitions, rules and ideas that don’t have an exact equivalent in their language or ones that can easily get lost during the learning process. That’s why I came up with a little trick to help. It’s not at all orthodox (then again, neither am I) but it works. We’ll take a look at it next week.

Keywords: spanish teacher,teaching spanish,teach spanish,spanish pluscuamperfecto,spanish teaching,spanish imperfecto,spanish past tenses,past tenses in spanish


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« Next Article: Teaching the Spanish Past Tenses - Part Two

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