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Grammar Challenge


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This week's programme focussed on short forms of the past perfect, e.g. 'she'd gone' instead of 'she had gone'.

Do you sometimes find it hard to hear short forms? Do you use short forms much when you are speaking? Do you have any advice for other students about how to hear or use these forms?

We'll publish our favourite five entries.

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Alex Wang, Canada
I wish it wasn't so hard to hear those short forms. I wish I could try my best to use short forms as much as I can from now on. As to how to hear the short forms, we can always judge if the verb is in its past participle form. If it is, then the the part of the sentence is in the form of the past perfect. I hope you guys and I myself will be very good at written and oral English one day.

Catherine says:
Thanks for your comment, Alex!

Your tip about listening for the past participle form is a good one, Alex. For a verb like 'speak', this is relatively easy, because the past participle form - 'spoken' is different from the past simple form - 'spoke'. But if the past simple and past participle forms are the same - for example with the verb 'say' - where the past simple and past participle forms are both 'said' - you have to listen carefully for 'had' or 'hadn't', and listen to the rest of the context too, to work out if the speaker's regret is concerned with the past or the present.

Thanks again, Alex, and keep practising your English!

Arshad Ali Sakhi, Hunza, Pakistan
As English is my 3rd language... its very hard to learn when you did't get the enviroment to speak improving listening skills is very important. As far as short forms of past perfect are concerned from now on I will strive to use and practice short forms. Tell us how difficult an English speaker finds, when a foreigner speaks it in its own accent.

Catherine says:
Hi Arshad! Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. Most non-native speakers of English have a foreign accent - it's completely normal, and something to be quite proud of, in my opinion!

Remember that most English speakers are used to hearing English being spoken with a foreign accent, so they don't usually have problems coping with accents and even a few pronunciation errors. If your grammar and vocabulary are fairly accurate, and your basic pronunciation is ok, and you don't speak too quickly, you shouldn't have too many problems being understood.

One way to work on your accent is to listen to a short recording of a native speaker, and then record yourself saying the same words. You can then compare the native speaker's pronunciation with your own. If you focus on one or two specific sounds, for example /e/ and /i/, you can re-record yourself until you sound more like the native speaker. Most of the programmes in our
Watch and Listen area have downloadable audio and transcripts, so you can read and listen to the audio very easily.

So speak clearly, not too quickly, and don't worry about your accent, Arshad!

Oki Nandoko, Indonesia
For me as many Indonesian people, listening to English short form is very very hard. To understand what it is saying, we have to understand also the context. It will give us the meaning when we are lost in hearing.

Catherine says:
Your advice is similar to Vinicus's suggestion, Oki Nandoko, and you are both absolutely right: context is really important to understanding, both of individual sounds and of a speakers overall meaning.

Sometimes it is possible to improve your contextual knowledge by preparing for listening. For example, if you are going to see an English movie you can read about its story and characters before you go. If you are a student, you can prepare for a lecture by reading about the topic beforehand, and if you want to listen to the news on the radio, try reading a newspaper first. Some people might say this is 'cheating' - but the smart student knows the value of preparation!

Keep practising your listening, Oki Nandoko!

Vinicius, Brazil
I don`t use the short form of past perfect very often, and to hear that take sometimes more practice. My advice is to pay attention at the context of the chat...The real dificulty on this is that the big part of the English students don`t use the past perfect and even the present perfect in the major circunstances.

Catherine says:
You have made some very interesting points here, Vinicus.

Your advice about listening to context is very helpful. It's much easier to work out what tense is being used when you have an idea of the situation that surrounds what is being said.

It's also true to say that the past perfect is probably less frequently used than some other tenses, but it really does depend on the situation - in some contexts it may be used a great deal, and it is important to be able to hear it!

On the other hand, the present perfect is very common in English, and while English students sometimes try to avoid using it, it's important to build up your confidence so you can use it when you need to. Lots of listening practice can help here, and you can also try looking at our
Learn It section for more advice.

Thanks again for your comment, Vinicus!

Raju, Bangladesh
phonics related, Is English completely phonetical?

Catherine says:
That's an interesting question, Raju, and the short answer is no, English isn't completely phonetical. Sometimes we pronounce words exactly as they are written, for example, 'w' - 'e' - 't' gives us 'wet', but some letters can be prounced in more than one way, such as the 'c' in 'piece' and 'cake'. This can be true of combinations of letters too. For example, the 'ough' in 'rough', 'cough' and 'dough' are all pronounced differently.

These features of sounds and spellings in English can cause difficulties in listening, speaking and spelling, so it's important to spend some time exploring spelling and pronunciation. Have a look at our
pronunciation area to help you get started. A few minutes practice every day can make a big difference!

Thanks again, Raju!

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