English Tenses (Compared to Other Languages)

Clark   Tuesday, September 23, 2003, 23:03 GMT
I have been meaning to make a thread having to do with English tenses for some time now, but I have never got round to it.

After learning about several languages, I have found that one of the hardest parts for me, a native English-speaker, are the verb tenses.

For example, when I asked my French professor, "vous avez parlé français ou espagnol chez vous quand vous étiez jeune ?" (did you speak French or Spanish at home when you were young?). He corrected me buy saying that I should have used the imperfect tense of the verb "parler" (vous parliez = you were speaking) because one does not speak just one time in the past, but many times; and you keep speaking until the present time.

So with French, the imperfect tense throws me off balance, and then when I switch over to German, the quivalent to the past tense and the imperfect tense throw me off. I still am not sure how to use the euivalent to the imperfect tense in German.

For example, "Ich machte mein Haus wann du hast geheisst" (I was making my home when you called*). As opposed to "Ich habe mein Haus gemacht" (I made my home).

And then even in the English language, without having learned about other languages, there are pecularities. For example, "I was born" or "I had been orn." To me, after studying French, "I was born" starts to sound a bit funny because it sort of means I was being born for a long, continuous time in the past, as opposed to "I had been born" which sounds to me like, "I came out of my mother once, and that was that."

And then comes the subjunctive (cringe). This tense is not very present in the English language tense system. Out of all of the French tenses that I have learned, this one is the hardest by far. When one says, "I might go" in French, they really use the conditional, which is the equivalent to "I would go."

Well, this is just what I think, and maybe some of you can share your thoughts about the English tenses. If you are a non-native English-speaker, maybe you can share if you had much difficulty learning how to use English tenses. Or if you are a native English-speaker, maybe you can share your thoughts about trying tolearn tenses in a foreign language.

* = Sorry to all of the Standard German-speakers out there. My German has been corrupted by Pennsylvania German to the point of no return.
wassabi   Tuesday, September 23, 2003, 23:33 GMT
that was long
Boy   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 00:11 GMT

I wish you could add one more language in your learning list and that's my native language (urdu). Aleast, once you learn it, you can get alot of advantages. For instance, you can watch all Bollywood (Indian) movies easily. You won't have no problems at all. You'll find them equally intriguing and thrilling than like any other movies. You are able to enjoy theme songs of the movies. Above all, you can understand what your Pakistani and Indian friends are talking each other and you can move easily to India as well as Pakistan. You can see right from Taj Mahal to Badshai Mosque.
It'll be an intriguing experience. On a serious note, I haven't seen any Americans learning this language except a newyorker who used to live in Pakistan for over 12 years. His pronunciation sounds really good. He got married with an eastern girl, so basically his small daugthers are able to speak urdu clearly because they are studying there and they're more exposed to it. He was telling about their urdu on Tv like this:

Papa, Papa, the food was Zabardast (Fantastic)! By the way, we speak the langauge this way too much, mingling English words with Urdu structures.

Basically, he is a guitarist of a popular international band from my country.

No offened. If he has a newyorker accent, then it is not really comfortable to me as a learner. I do really need to give more concentration at his words.
A little bit heavy touch.

<<<, "I was born" starts to sound a bit funny because it sort of means I was being born for a long, continuous time in the past, as opposed to "I had been born" which sounds to me like, "I came out of my mother once, and that was that.">>>>

I speak the same way in my own native langauge like you speak in Engliah. Past tense sounds ok in my language and but "past perfect" sounds too awkward. If I said "I was born" in the past perfect sense, I'd be called the most uneducated person of the language at the planet.

When I say "I was born", even everybody will understand me easily because they know that people have only one life and they even know that how one comes here on this planet. You don't really need to teach them that I came out of my mother once and that was that.

When you say "I had been born" it would sound like, you came out here on this planet unwillingly. It would sound like you just came here by chance nobody planned you to have. I guess, parents do plan when they want to have a children. Structurally, the aforementioned sentence, was very unsound.
Clark   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 00:24 GMT
My interest in language has always been with European languages. However, I find the Mongolian culture and language fascinating. But my main interest now with language is French and then applying language-learning to genealogy (I have English, Danish, French, Scottish and German ancestors [as well as Canadian, but they all originated in England]).
Boy   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 00:42 GMT
Sounds like you care your long heritage. Just two quick questions because I don't want to act as a thorn in your informative and interesting post.

a)Which ancestor do you feel like to be more closer?
b) How have you traced your all mixed ancestors?
Clark   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 01:08 GMT
Well, I guess I feel closest to my living relatives. Since I do not really know any of the history of my ancestors other than two or thre of them, this is hard to say. I guess I would feel closest to either my French ancestors in America, or my Loyalist American ancestors who fled to Canada at the end of the American Revolutionary War.

I have traced about 2/3 of my ancestors back to Europe; and the remaining 1/3 I have not been able to find ANY information on (which frustrates me a little bit).
wingyellow   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 02:24 GMT
I don't know why. But I think European languages are easier to learn. Maybe because they have more materials.
Clark   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 02:55 GMT
My guess would be because they are generally phonetic. I think that this has a large impact on the difficulty level of languages.
Antonio   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 12:24 GMT
I must disagree Clark. They are less phonetic than, say, Chinese or Japanese, and have more rules and grammar than any other family of languages. I believe we simply have more material and are far more studied.
wingyellow   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 12:52 GMT
How can Chinese be phonetic? Japanese and Korean are the most phonetic languages which directly indicate the pronunciations. Imagine you write English in phonetic symbols.
Candice   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 14:39 GMT
Most of the Chinese are different forms of written character. I actually agree English tense is one hard part to me when I learn grammar. When I can recite and remember those rules such as the present perfect (progressing) or past perfect (progressing), I try to use those rules in my daily conversation. But, I still make mistake. I can get A in the tense quiz, but I speak wrong tense in the dialogue.
Clark   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 16:04 GMT
Antonio, I do not really see how standard Chinese is very phonetic. I think that European and African languages are generally more phonetic than most languages, and of course, there is so much information about European languages. I mean, try finding stuff about the Fang language of Africa, and the Gaelic language of Scotland; see which language has more literature in books and on the internet.
Antonio   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 18:01 GMT
we seem to agree on one point at least.
chantal   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 19:42 GMT
French have difficulites with English tenses notably with present perfect (progressing) or past perfect (progressing). For example, They translate : "Je suis allé(e) au Japan en 1995" by :
"I've been to Japan in 1995." instead of "I was in Japan in 1995."
Clark   Wednesday, September 24, 2003, 20:09 GMT
Yeah, I did not even think about that, but I am rather proud of myself when you said that because that is what I would say in French (je suis allé...).

I have a German friend who always says, "I was here for two years" refering to her stay in California. What the people do not reaile is that she was not here for two years, but for three months. What she wants to say is, "I was here two years ago."