Speaking in English is usually harder than writing in English for most learners. When you write, you have time to think and create. You have time to remember all of the grammar rules that live in your mind. But speaking is real-time, so sometimes we make mistakes without even knowing it.
This can happen with the simple past. Oftentimes, even advanced speakers think that they have used the simple past form of a verb, but, in reality, they haven’t. How can you tell if you are consistently remembering to switch verbs into the correct form of the simple past when speaking?
Yes, record yourself on your cell phone.
By recording yourself while telling a story in the past tense, you can listen to yourself objectively to see if perhaps you forget to use the correct form sometimes.
How to Record Yourself While Storytelling
1. Think of an activity or event that happened to you recently - something interesting that you have some emotions about.
2. Go to the “voice memo” function on your phone. I have an iPhone, and it is in the utilities section.
3. Press record, and tell your story. This is the important part; don’t overthink it. Just talk. Talk like you would normally talk in English, and talk for at least 3-5 minutes. This will give you enough data to determine if you are having problems using the correct form of the verb.
4. Listen and analyze. Listen to yourself and note any verb tense mistakes you made during your recording. How consistently did you accurately use a past tense verb to tell your story? Be honest with yourself.
What Did You Discover About Your Past Tense Skills?
Maybe you discovered that your are consistent. That’s great! But perhaps you learned that you hesitate before verbs or that you say the present tense form instead of the past tense form at times.
What Can You Do to Improve Your Past Tense Consistency?
Being aware of your problem is the first step. Now you can improve!
The issue might be one of knowledge. Here are my suggestions:
Review the simple past verb forms, especially for the irregular verbs. The best way to review verbs is to review them by groups. Believe or not, there are patterns to many of the past tense verb forms. English might seem random and crazy, but it’s not always. I promise! Take a look at this verb chart at www.engVid.com.
Don't forget about the regular verbs. I know you might be thinking: Regular verbs are easy. I just add -ed. Yes, but do you always remember to verbalize the -ed? Even fluent ESL speakers accidentally drop the -ed at the end of regular verbs sometimes. You might think that you are saying it, but you’re not. Listen carefully to your recording. How did you do with the -ed ending on regular verbs?
The regular verbs that I hear the most mistakes with are want, need, and start.
So, remember to say:
He wanted to go.
She needed to go.
I started to go.
It sounds so basic, I know. But check yourself to be sure your -ed is there when you speak! It’s a necessary speaking skill if you want to sound like an advanced or native English speaker.
Record yourself, analyze, and improve! If you need help analyzing your recording, please let me know. We can't always hear our own mistakes. You might need an objective person who can point out your trouble areas. I am happy to help!