28 November, 2014

Feeling tense?

I'd always thought tenses were fairly easy to learn in English, because the other languages I'd studied were all western European and had tense systems that weren't too far removed from English. Then I started working with students whose first language was Indonesian or Chinese and I realised that not all languages work the same way as French, Spanish or German. In fact, they may not have changing verb endings at all. That makes English tenses really difficult for speakers of many other languages.

We introduce our English for Uni video 'You've Got Talent' with an opening scene in which an Indonesian student
is asking for help with English verb tenses because she is writing an essay about talent contests. By chance, both she and Ms Parrot had attended a talent contest the week before. We then have a flashback to the talent contest, followed by an explanation of the use of different tenses in English academic writing.

You'll notice that one tense I've used twice in the paragraphs above is the past perfect: I'd thought, I'd studied. This is a tense that's really hard to use and to explain. I would describe it as an action that happens before another action in the past. However, everything in the past happens before another action in the past!

That's where the idea of aspect is useful. Celce-Murcia and Larsen-Freeman, in The Grammar Book, divide the conventional twelve tenses in English into combinations of tense and aspect, and suggest four different aspects in English: simple, continuous/progressive, perfect and perfect continuous/progressive. That means we can have present, past and future simple (e.g. I work, I worked, I will work); present, past and future perfect (e.g. I have worked, I had worked, I will have worked); present, past and future continuous/progressive (e.g. I am working, I was working, I will be working); and present, past and future perfect continuous/progressive (e.g. I have been working, I had been working, I will have been working).

Aspect describes how we see an action, whereas tense relates to the time the action occurrs. The perfect aspect means that a verb using this aspect is connected to another point in time. e.g. I had thought tenses were easy . . . until I knew more about them. In this case, I am looking back from one point in the past to a point further back in the past.
We have put a bit more information on this on the English for Uni website in the section called 'Aspect - for advanced grammar lovers'.

If these ideas make you feel more tense, watching the You've Got Talent competition will help you to relax!

Celce-Murcia, M & Larsen-Freeman, D 1999, The grammar book (2nd edn), Heinle Cengage Learning, Boston, MA.

12 November, 2014

New videos

We're finally there. The new videos are ready and we have uploaded all our new materials to the website. We've also made a DVD. Here is the cover, filmed in a carriage at the National Railway Museum in Port Adelaide. Our new materials cover conditionals, prepositions and tenses.

The conditionals materials are based on the Chinese dating show Fei Cheng Wu Rao, known in English as "If You Are the One". In our version, we have one male contestant and three lovely ladies. The script uses all the different types of conditional forms in English and includes other types of conditional words, such as 'otherwise' and 'provided that'.

The materials for tenses in academic writing are based around a student writing an essay about talent contests. She has trouble with her verb tenses and consults Ms Parrot for help. Funnily enough, she and Ms Parrot had both been to a talent contest the week before.


Ms Parrot played in the Really Really Terrible Quartet (so terrible that there were only three players). 

After the quartet's dreadful performance it was no surprise that the show was won by Prince Wolfgang and the Medics.

The last of our new resources is based on the difficult area of prepositions. All the materials are based on words from Averil Coxhead's Academic Word List. The video story this time is a murder mystery. Watch it and find out what happens to the famous chef Harumi Kaga.

We hope you'll enjoy using the new resources. Whatever you think, please complete the short evaluation survey on the website to give us some feedback, as we really want to keep improving the site. You might even a $100 voucher for taking part in the survey!