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The key to understanding English tenses!

29 Jan 2013

Every language has some difficult bit.

It's that one aspect of the language that you'll be working on over and over again the whole time that you're learning it.

For English, it's verb tenses.

Counting the way the teachers usually do, English has 14-16 tenses. (There's many ways to count them!)

No matter what the exact number - the point is that English has a very complex verb system. I get TONS of questions from English learners about which tense is correct in a particular sentence.

A couple weeks ago, during one of our English lessons over voice chat, a learner (Hi Marcin!) asked me:

Why did you say: "I was using it as an example?" Why not: "I used it as an example?" You weren't talking about it very long - shouldn't it be past simple instead of past continuous?

The answer is actually quite simple. And it ISN'T a grammar explanation. ;-) Really! I won't need to draw a picture or show you a chart.

In fact, all this confusion comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about English tenses, which itself stems from years and years of teachers explaining the tenses in a particular way.

Today, I'm finally going to clear up this misunderstanding!

Read more to learn the key to understanding English tenses!

What is grammar good for?

31 Aug 2011
Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker singing "e;War!"e; in the film Rush Hour
Just ask Jackie Chan! "Grammar. Huh, yeah. What is it good for? Absolutely nothing!"

Occasionally I write articles about grammar (like I did last week). I always feel a little weird writing about grammar, because, in general, I don't advocate studying grammar, particularly not in the beginning.

However, studying some grammar when you've already got some fundamentals in the language can be helpful!

Read more to find out how!

The first grammar you should learn in Polish

23 Aug 2011
Model of a teacher and two students in a school house
"It's time to learn Polish grammar, children!" Photo by F Delventhal.

As I've written before, learning Polish shouldn't start with grammar. You should start by doing a lot of listening, learning vocabulary and maybe some speaking (possibly shadowing).

While using these techniques, it's often helpful to have a basic understanding of Polish grammar, so you know what patterns to look for. (See my overview of Polish grammar.)

But, before you focus on grammar, you should first understand some fundamentals of the language. This way, the grammar will make more sense and actually mean something to you.

So now you've reach that point. Congratulations! It's time to start studying Polish grammar. :-)

But there's so much to learn - what should you start with?

Read more for my advice!

Polish Grammar Overview for Complete Beginners

24 Nov 2010
Girl with inquisitive look
I wonder about Polish grammar? Photo by caryatidxx on Flickr.

A big part of language learning is paying attention to patterns. But when first starting a language, everything is so new, it's hard to even know what you are looking for!

I don't advocate starting to learn Polish by studying the grammar. But having a general idea of what the grammar is about, can help you recognize patterns and pick up some of the grammar naturally, just from exposure to the language.

What follows is a brief overview of Polish grammar. None of the actual grammar rules are given! Just a quick description of what you can expect to find in Polish, intended for the complete beginner.

Don't Start Learning Polish with the Grammar!

5 Nov 2010
Adult students in a Spanish language classroom
Adult students in a Spanish language classroom. Photo by joeshlabotnik on Flickr.

When we were in Kraków, Poland, I met a lot of foreigners just starting to learn Polish. One of the main complaints was that Polish grammar is so complicated. Most Polish language courses, textbooks and teachers start by saying, "Learn all the grammar rules first and then we can continue."

This can kill your motovation and won't really get you any closer to your goal: to speak and understand Polish!