They say that the best way to learn something is to teach it, and I have really come to know the true meaning of this expression in the past few months. Though I am an English as a Foreign Language teacher, I am not necessarily an expert on all things English grammar. I am a native speaker, so beyond comma and semicolon usage, I was never explicitly taught many of the rules. In my primary job as an English interventionist in several elementary schools, we don’t spend much time on grammar. The students learn how to use vocabulary in context (I am 10. I have two sisters. Can you swim?) but that’s about as complex as it gets.
Recently, however, I’ve begun privately tutoring two new students- an 8th grader and a senior in high school. At first, tutoring really intimidated me. One-on-one lessons are a completely different beast from lessons with a class of 30 second graders who take 10 minutes just to write their name on a paper. Some days the hour ticks by sooooooo slowly and I leave feeling like I don’t know anything about teaching or speaking English or especially teaching someone how to speak English. Other days, I accidentally stay 15 minutes extra because we’re having such a great time talking and learning!
Little by little it’s become more of a fun challenge, and I’m learning a lot about some grammar minutiae which is a huge plus for a word nerd like me. Just today, I gave myself AND my student a surprise crash course in the very verb tense for which my blog is named!
When we met last week, she mentioned that she was having trouble with verbs tenses that are formed using the infinitive + -ing. I went home and planned a great lesson on the present progressive (I am sitting on the couch. He is watching TV. We are eating dinner.) So imagine the panic on my face when she asked for help explaining some incorrect answers on a recent quiz… on the present perfect*!
I struggled for a bit to explain the concept. “In this sentence it’s just a general idea, so you use present simple. But here it’s during a period of time, so you use the present progressive…but um, here it’s present perfect ’cause….um…”
But, after reading a few more examples and practicing forming sentences in this complicated tense (I have been writing all day. She has been playing piano for 3 years.) I not only succeeded at perceiving the difference myself, but also at explaining the nuances to my student!
I certainly don’t wish for many more of these improvised grammar lessons, but in the moment, I felt like I’d unlocked a new secret to the English language! How crazy to think that in just 60 minutes I learned and taught about a concept that 3 months ago, I was not even able to name! ❂
Slice of Life is a daily writing challenge during the month of March hosted by Two Writing Teachers. Visit their blog for more information about the challenge and for advice and ideas about how to participate.
*technically, it was the present perfect progressive, but I didn’t want to confuse the poor girl!!
Present Perfect Progressive
Past Perfect Progressive