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How to teach the present perfect without tears

When I told my colleague Jim I was writing about how to teach the present perfect, he compared teaching the present perfect to climbing up a hill backwards in flippers: time-consuming, frustrating and difficult. Looking back, the present perfect would have to win the prize for the grammar point over which the most metaphorical tears have been shed in my classroom- and not only by the participants!

The majority of the people I have presented the present perfect to have been German speakers, for whom it often proves extremely challenging. One of the greatest obstacles to understanding appears to be the fact that in German the combination of have with a verb form which signifies the past is used to convey finished time. The same issue can also arise with French speakers for the same reason. In Arabic too, a difference in grammatical assumptions may lead to confusion. Some Arabic speakers would find that it makes more sense to use their equivalent of the present simple to convey a situation which began in the past and continues into the present, for example.

The bottom line is that it can be tough to implement a linguistic concept in a foreign language when it doesn´t exist in your first language. Fortunately, the concept of the perfect does exist in Spanish, where it is also formed using the verb have, and in Portuguese, so, in theory at least, learners who speak these languages should have fewer difficulties with the English present perfect.

You´ll notice that I use the word concept, rather than tense, since I believe that seeing the present perfect in this light is a step towards making it easier to grasp for our learners.

In the lesson plan, I have focused on introducing learners to the present perfect for the first time (or perhaps, re-introducing them to it after a twenty year hiatus during which they have had no or very little contact with English).  My approach definitely pushes function to the forefront and focuses on strategies learners can employ in order to be able to use the present perfect effectively.

Download the lesson plan here. If you try this approach out in your classroom, please leave me a comment below because I´d love to hear how you got on with it.

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