Know What Time It Is! (An awareness of verb tense can take your English to new heights)

As a non-native speaker of English you have more control of a conversation in English than you think

As an artist, I am fond of using music analogies so thanks in advance for indulging.

Knowing what time it is in “urban communities” throughout the United States has always met knowing when it’s time to speak while also understanding when it is better to simply listen and observe. To artists, in urban communities, knowing what time it is also means having an understanding of rhythm and speed; especially of a song that the one is collaborating on. At Lucky Mushroom the term is used in reference to understanding verb tense and knowing which to choose in a conversation.

In this post, I would like to give you a brief introduction to the Lucky Mushroom “Know what time it is” concept and hopefully you will have an idea of what time it is after reading. Let’s get into it!

When starting a conversation in English choose a verb tense at the start and *run with it! When starting a conversation about the past, don’t be afraid to put ALL the verbs in your story in the past. Don’t worry about making mistakes or making the wrong vocabulary choices. Your English-speaking partner will know that you are referring to past events and will help you navigate your own story by asking questions. This is especially sure to happen if you digress or the listener feels lost at any point in time during your story. The same is true of the present and future tenses; take your partner thereby choosing the right tense! Once you become confident with your choice of verb tense, the rest will fall into place. Allow me to demonstrate.

Imagine that you would like to tell an English-speaking friend or colleague about an event that you had recently attended. View it as your “solo” and in a solo performance, other band members cannot simply decide to play their instruments. Sorry I just love the music analogy. What I mean to say is that the floor is yours. No one will interrupt. You simply open the conversation by placing the event clearly in the past e.g. last night, yesterday, Saturday night etc… Then follow that up immediately by mentioning yourself and an appropriate verb of your choice in the simple past; I went, I had, I made, I took, I visited, etc… Finally, go into your song. You do accomplish that by putting all the verbs that come after this point in the simple past. If you *lose the listener, she will interrupt with a question in the past! The question will be easy to understand as the listener is on your time. The listener is simply trying to confirm that she knows what time it is.

Your partner in the conversation might use the present perfect to frame a question or two but in most cases, your response can be made in the past simple and it won’t hinder communication in the least. You decide when you want to change the tense. You control the pace of the conversation.

If you would like to sound a little more animated or give a past event some background information, use the past continuous! It’s one of the most used tenses used by native speakers. This verb tense (past continuous) can help bring a story to life, so pick it and run with it! If you are the animated type in your native language, you will really enjoy the past continuous verb form.

Check out these examples.

Last night I went to a party, people were dancing, some were sitting around, others were chilling on the terrace, but a few of them were standing near the pool, everybody was drinking the local white wine. I was wondering if anybody had to work the next day. The past continuous here brings the party to life and puts elements of the story into perspective.

Yesterday I discovered a park next to the station, it was really quite nice, birds were singing, children were playing, some kids were skating, others were playing basketball, people were picnicking on the grass. I was wondering why I never noticed it The use of the past continuous here helps bring the park to life.

By picking a tense and running with it, you control the conversation. It’s easier for you to dictate the pace of the conversation. You also signal to the listener which tense you expect from her. It’s your solo and the others will play support while you tell the story. Even their questions will feel predictable.

The same principle applies when someone else *has the floor. If a native speaker is telling you or a group a story and you would like to make sure that you are on the same sheet of music, you only have to be clear about “when”. Knowing about when simply means being aware of when the story being told is taking or took place. If you want to ask a question about a fact, use the present simple(do,does question). If you want to have further information about the story being told use the simple past (did, was, were question). It will slow the speaker down and give you time to tune your instrument 馃檪 and check where the soloist is in the song. This is a simplification but not an oversimplification by any stretch of the imagination. It’s the power of knowing what time it is.

Have a look at this example.

Native Speaker: Last night I went to a party, people were dancing, music was playing etc…

Non-native Speaker (attempting to slow the pace): Did you dance too? What kind of music did they play? Was there a DJ? These types of questions say: I hear you and I am eager to hear more about you and the party.

By using the speaker’s choice of verb tense you keep the focus of the conversation on the topic. Some non-native speakers mistakingly ask a question in different verb tenses and get confused when the band stops playing. The sudden shift in time can lead to misunderstandings. For example, a seemingly harmless question such as, “Do you like music”? is thrown into the conversation. This can really put both the speaker and the other band members off. The entire band was grooving to a solo about last night’s party and your question about musical preference forces the soloist to abandon the solo(her story). But the band really wanted to know where the story about the party was going. By ignoring or not being aware of the time you have thrown the entire band off. Instead of talking about the party, the speaker is now talking about his/her musical tastes. An awareness of the speakers’ verb tense lowers the possibility of having such misunderstandings.

A lot of information is packed into this relatively short blog post but the bottom line is to listen up for verb tense even if you didn’t catch all the vocabulary being used and use verb tense consciously when communicating in English

If you are serious about communing effectively in English with native and non-native speakers, be on the lookout for Lucky Mushroom RWE Sessions.

RWE (Real World English) sessions will consist of small groups of people discussing current events. Native speakers from all walks of life will also be participating in these conversations. I will be there to facilitate (make sure that we are on the same sheet of music) by conducting. As a professional English trainer, I am equipped to read the music of conversation.

If you are a non-native speaker and you’d like to communicate with say African-American professionals from the USA, sessions is for you. If you are from Asia and you’d like to speak with German professionals about corporate life in Germany, RWE sessions is for you. If you are an artist and you’d like to communicate with artists from around the world in English, RWE sessions. If you simply would like to communicate with the author of this post in English, RWE sessions.

Let’s make music together! I will keep you posted

*Know what time it is. Was a prevalent term in the rap community back when I cut my teeth in Baltimore City of the 1980s and is still popular with urban professionals today. The term is very versatile and implies that one knows when to speak and when to be silent and listen. If you don’t know what time it is, it is definitely time to listen until you find out.

*run with it to select as an option and use without question

*lose to confuse

*to have the floor understood to enjoy the undivided attention of a person or group without fear of interruption

Leonard Nimoy Slater

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