One of the hardest steps to learn English is learning the verbal tenses. These many times get confusing even because of their names, since some have “present” in their names but talk about the past, making learning more complex. And that is why we are here to give some tips to make learning easier.
TIP 1: Practice tenses, use them and get feedback
Although the grammar explanations in books are welcome, just like those coming from teachers, real understanding comes from using them in writing and speaking and getting feedback from people. The theory by itself doesn’t work when you learn a foreign language.
This doesn’t mean grammar explanations are useless. In some cases they are essential. However, what matters the most is the way you use them. Read explanations that are brief, clear and concise and use them as a reference.
Once you have the basic knowledge of the tense, try practicing it, as much as possible, be that in conversation (you can have a partner for that) or writing. So, get feedback and try to understand what you got wrong. Use these comments to understand how the verbal tense works and read the grammar explanations again after a while.
Read the explanation of a simple grammar > Practice the structure > Read again and reinforce the grammar structure.
A practical tool that helps you learn fast and intuitively the mechanism behind verbal tenses are the visual aids known as timelines. A visual timeline is a very simple manner to show how to develop or interact with each other talking about a period of time.
Timelines are used with frequency when verbal tenses are discussed, and you can find many online, or even draw your own! Check some examples:
“I’ve been traveling for two months”
You can see this with a simple timeline like this:
This timeline shows the action (trip) started two months ago and it is still happening.
“I had been traveling for two months when I got the news about my friend”.
This timeline shows that the trips were happening two months before another event happens (news about my friend). Using the timeline we can also tell that all the events happened in the past, but we can’t be sure of how much time before.
Just like these examples try to align the sentences, you can have a clearer idea of which tense is necessary to use.