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Perception of English Tenses as a Kaleidoscope

Teachers of a foreign language know that they not only teach another language, they 'mess' with the perception of their students. Probably some students experience difficulties with learning a language only because their perception is fixed and resists that intrusion.

English tenses are certainly one of vivid examples how our perception of the reality is constructed by the language. Just like many other nations, English speaking people discern three types of time: the past, present and future.

But that's not enough for them. They really want to feel more control in order to manage everyday life and have the instruments to change it. How do these changes happen? - Through communication with one another. This is where language is a primary tool.

The abundance of English tenses scares a lot of learners of English language. Why do they need so many? - That's the first question you have to deal with if you are an English teacher. Well, tenses appear to be English speakers' answer how to deal with the constantly changing universe. We're such creatures that need a reference point to express the changes we experience. So we come up with meters and kilograms, miles and pounds, centigrades and Fahrenheit, etc. to ground our fleeting feelings in order to communicate to one another.

If we are talking about the language, then the Simple tense seems like this reference point. It plays the role of the omnipresent God in the universe of our feelings and emotions. It sets the background against which we can describe particular moments in our lives: "Usually I play pool with my friends (Present Simple tense) in a bar, but today I've broken (Present Perfect Simple) my cue, and I'm going (Present Continuous) to replace it." Continuous tenses are probably the closest we can approach the shadow that is cast by the reality. It's fleeting and temporary. This is the frame of mind that most of us (if you are not a Sufi) particularly love or hate depending on the quality of a current moment. Continuous tense is carefree, irresponsible. But you may pretend and try to tame it. And say proudly: "I'm going to replace my cue!" We're trying our best to influence this reality and not ignore Bulgakov's words in "Master and Margarita": “Yes, man is mortal, but that would be only half the trouble. The worst of it is that he's sometimes unexpectedly mortal—there's the trick!”

What is most precious about Continuous is that although it seems futile to pessimists, it's a really powerful tool in the hands of optimists. Sometimes they really fulfill their intentions. Probably they've never heard about Bulgakov or they have read too much of Terry Pratchett :).

Perfect tenses are about framing. Depending on your imagination, it can be a photographer or a judge. It's something that you barely feel in Russian. For example, Present Perfect tense says to you that your time is not over yet. You've done something, probably got too excited and you've broken your cue. You still have to face the reality of a broken cue.

You may almost feel our perception as a kaleidoscope. There is a set number of colorful glass pieces. When you look around through the kaleidoscope, these pieces create multiple combinations. The combinations are always different, but colors stay the same. Just like in life. The circumstances are new each time, but our emotions and thoughts about them stay more or less the same.

So, try to learn another language to add more colors and emotions to your perception of life!

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