The present perfect tense is the bane of many an Italian striving to learn the English language. Us teachers say things like: ‘The present perfect connects the past to now’ or ‘The present perfect is the present result of a past action’ and whilst our honest intention is to help our charges understand how to use this tense, generally our straight from a grammar book explanations achieve a strike rate of about 1 in 100, or something like that. So, what to do? Well, I came up with an alternative approach to teaching this tense. I think my approach is original, but I apologise to anyone who may have already come up with it for my possible theft of an idea.
Anyway, what I do is explain that the present perfect quite simply summarises things. Example (which I often use): ‘I spent 10 Euros on Monday, 20 Euros on Tuesday and 10 Euros today. Summarize the total amount I have spent this week (Yes, I know I say ‘have spent’, but very few actually cotton on to this) .’ Generally, mathematical errors aside, I get an answer which employs the dear old present perfect. Lights begin to shine and some people start to understand how this tense works. Then I apply the same theory to experiences, which usually, can be counted, and people start saying ‘I’ve been to university’, ‘I’ve studied law’, etc etc and the light starts to become brighter, leading to more people attempting to use this formerly mysterious tense.
The present perfect is tantalisingly similar to the Italian passato prossimo. This similarity just tends to add to the confusion, unless you happen to be from Southern Italy, where a distinction between the passato prossimo and a tense resembling the present simple is made.
Sometimes, approaching problems from a different angle can lead to their elimination. I have spoken. Ho parlato (Ho = have, parlato = spoken, the subject is implied by the ‘ho’, pronounced ‘o’ as in ‘oat’, unless you are from Tuscany, but that is another story…)
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