Welcome budding polyglot! This is Second Language Strategies, the best location to be when learning a new language is the goal. The barrier this week is the barrier to the future. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, this is a barrier most if not all will face. Adding in a future conjugation to an already complex set of new rules to memorize can be intimidating. Luckily there is a way to mitigate this and accelerate progress while simultaneously learning to inherently understand the temporal rules of a given language.
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It’s time TO GO
In English, there is not really a future tense conjugation, so it is necessary to supplement in order to demonstrate a future action or to express the intent to perform a future action. For this we primarily use the “to go” verb, “I am going to eat tomorrow” and it is possible to do this in most other languages as well. A true future conjugation would likely be translated as an “I will …” statement. For now, though, the focus will be on the near future tense.
In French, “Je vais manger”, Spanish, “Voy a comer” and so on and so forth. This will allow more time for learning verbs as the only necessity with this will be knowing the verbs in their infinitive form. It will also open the door to understanding the temporal aspect of these languages which will be greatly beneficial when learning past tenses.
Questions are where this new knowledge can truly be leveraged. As anyone who has ever attempted a second language can attest, being asked a question can cause the brain to freeze entirely. Using this one verb can take much of the guesswork out. Many questions are phrased, “are you going to” followed by the infinitive. If you can recognize questions coming from others, you can ask good questions of your own. If you can ask good questions you can communicate; and that is what it’s all about. But the only way any of this matters is if it can be committed to memory.
Here is where I come back to the importance of writing. Not only is it important for confidence and to learn to think, it is also a way to supercharge the memory. From the discussion of the below article in case you wanted to know precisely why, “Using three groups of participants who performed a schedule-recording task using a paper notebook, electronic tablet, or smartphone, followed by a retrieval task (Figure 1), we obtained three major results. First, the duration of schedule recording was significantly shorter for the Note group than the Tablet and Phone groups, and accuracy was much higher for the Note group in easier (i.e., more straightforward) questions (Figure 2).”
FIGURE 3. Activated regions for the retrieval task. (A) Results of the “First 6 s—Last 4 s” contrast within the retrieval task period are shown for all participants. (B) Results of the “retrieval—2-back” contrast are shown for all participants. The lines indicate the locations of the sections. Localized activations were observed bilaterally in the lateral premotor cortex/opercular/triangular parts of the inferior frontal gyrus (LPMC/F3op/F3t), angular/supramarginal gyri (AG/SMG), hippocampus, precuneus, and lingual gyrus/calcarine/inferior occipital gyrus (LG/calcarine/IOG; see Table 2 for the list of local maxima).
Writing out as many sentences as possible using this near future tense will, hopefully, cause questions to arise that may have otherwise been left unasked. One of these questions is, “What if I want to say something far off in the future, something I will not be doing imminently?”
What if I want to say something far off in the future?
Here is where the temporal aspects of a language can really be a pain. The reason I advocate for so much repetition is that there is a way to feel the difference in time, especially in the past, but it is something that comes with repetition. As far as the technical differences go, the difference between near future and future tense is, that which one is “going to do”, conjugation for “to go”, and that which someone “will do”. Beyond that, understanding the nuances is more important for understanding past tenses and their use. This is precisely why getting reps in on future tense is so beneficial.
When at the point where the only true way to express something is to use the future tense conjugation, well then it is time to learn the future tense conjugation. This method is not a wholesale replacement for learning the conjugations, it is merely a crutch to be used along the way to communicate effectively and build confidence. In the meantime, practicing these all will make your conversations far more fluid. Once the conjugation is mastered, adding in time indicators can help to better master the new skill.
I am going to do it tomorrow/soon/tonight/next week/next year etc.
Je vais le faire…
Voy a hacerlo…
And continue on until the only thing left to learn is the future tense conjugation patterns for every other word! Now, the building blocks.
A Confident Foundation
At the end of the day, if there is ever to be a monument built to show the progress made, there must be a strong foundation upon which to build it. For that reason, most of the actionable advice provided in this series will be aimed at building confidence. Without building a strong foundation of confidence, progress learning anything, but especially a language, can be terribly slow. So some strategies to build confidence with this new information:
Read: If this is brand new information to you, then read a ton and pay attention to how often this technique is used and how often it is paired with an indicator word (tomorrow/tonight/later/etc). After that, try to point out the future tense conjugations (if turbo, write them down too), and practice turning those phrases into the near future tense. Reading will always help with vocabulary and overall comprehension. The better the vocabulary and comprehension the higher the confidence.
Speak: This will be difficult, it’s why so many people rely on alcohol for a liquid confidence injection. Real confidence is far better and can be acquired by speaking through every mistake. I’ve made more spoken errors and had more awkward moments brought on by language gaps than many ever will, the people who worked through all of that with me are still some of my closest friends. You will remember your mistakes far longer than anyone else ever will, learn to have a short memory with these mistakes and continue on irrespective of how bad you think it is.
Disclaimer: I graduated college with a guy who has a Masters in French. If he isn’t embarrassed by his inability to speak fluently, you shouldn’t be either.
Write: This will be part of every confidence building section. The reason is very simple. It can be nearly impossible to appreciate progress if it can’t be seen. That is why before and after pictures are so important. Well, learning a language isn’t nearly as visual a thing as working out. However, by writing the progress can be visualized. Sentences that are written in the first few weeks compared to the paragraphs that are produced even two months into learning is a great visualization of the progress and can, and should, be a huge confidence boost. For those who have been stuck in the present, writing out just 5 sentences using this new tense can help you escape.
Feeling trapped by a limited vocabulary is common, but it does not need to be. With very little effort it is possible to expand vocabulary rapidly while adding an entirely new tense to your speech/writing. Reading will always help with vocabulary, but in the meantime adding this to the repertoire will allow for exponentially better expression when speaking or writing.
You can do difficult things and be great, so go out and do difficult things and be great.
Disclaimer: I am not a teacher and have no professional educational experience. I am a polyglot with 2 C2s, 1 C1, and 2 B2s. Nothing here is guaranteed and all outcomes will be the result of the effort put forth by the individual.