Friday 16 May 2008

Grammar Tips: Present Perfect

Teaching the present perfect tense in Mexico is a little difficult, as it is not used extensively in Spanish here, and there are many other ways of expressing the same concept using different tenses. What we have to do is teach the idea it represents at the same time as we teach the structure. I see the present perfect as a tense which bridges the gap between the past and the present, and I think we usually see it that way when we begin teaching it.

The present perfect can be broken down into three areas: experience, a change in circumstances and duration. Here are three examples to help illustrate this:

  • I've never been to Cancun. (experience)
  • He's lost his job. (a change in circumstances)
  • We've celebrated Independence Day since 1810. (duration)

As you can see, all of these examples involve some connection between the past and the present. The first connects the speaker's entire life with this moment, the second involves a change in the past which affects present circumstances, and the third shows us a tradition which began in the past and is still in effect. If you can keep the concept of this tense clear when teaching it, it should be easier for students to understand it and use it.

Monday 5 May 2008

Pronunciation Tips: B and V

One of the most common mistakes in terms of pronunciation for Mexican students is the difference between B and V. These sounds are not distinct in Latin American Spanish, and so the hardest task is distinguishing the two sounds to begin with. There are two things to teach here: position and voicing.

Basically, B is in the same position as P and V is in the same position as F. So, we really have to teach the difference between B/P, and F/V. This is where voicing is important. B and V are voiced sounds, and P and F are unvoiced. I think the trick is to build up to this with minimal pairs. Try 'ban' and 'pan' to get a feel for the difference between the voiced B and unvoiced P. Next, try 'van' and 'fan' for V and F.

This can take a while, and it helps a lot if you've already introduced the idea of voiced and unvoiced sounds. However, it is possible to teach the difference, and I believe that breaking down the problem in this way makes it easier to conceptualise. Remember, our first goal is to make sure our students can distinguish different sounds before they are able to produce them. If they can't hear the difference, they won't be able to pronounce it.