Published 31st May 2019

difficult languages to learn

The past simple tense in English can seem pretty straightforward. Besides the irregular verbs, there’s not much to it. Until you come to the pronunciation. If you are a native speaker, you’ve probably never given the pronunciation of regular past simple verbs much thought. But for English language learners, their pronunciation can be infuriating.

Let’s first think about the rules.

If the verb ends in /t/ or /d/, the past simple ending is pronounced /Id/.

For example, wanted and ended.

If the verb ends in a voiceless sound, such as /p/, /f/, /s/, /ʃ/, /ʧ/ or /k/, the past simple ending is pronounced /t/.

For example, stopped and washed.

If the verb ends in another voiced sound, the past simple ending is pronounced /d/.

For example, played and allowed.

As you can imagine, this is a lot of information for our learners to keep in mind when trying to speak fluently. While it is not complicated it will take practice to get used to using the correct pronunciation ending.

One activity you can use in your EFL classroom to help your learners is a categorisation activity.

What is a categorisation activity?

A categorisation activity is exactly what it says. The learners must put words into their correct categories. In this case, learners must put the verbs and their endings in their correct categories. This can be done by creating cards with the present stem of regular verbs. Hand these out to the students.

On the board, make columns for the three different pronunciation endings – /t/, /d/, /Id/ -, without writing the rules. Make sure your students understand the IPA symbols. Let your students categorise the vocabulary cards by sticking them on the board in the correct categories.

Do not help them in any way. Don’t even indicate whether they are correct or not. When they have done all the vocabulary cards, let them know how many are wrong without actually telling them which ones are the incorrect ones. Give them time to change their answers and continue until they are all correct.

This can even be done before you focus on the rules. By allowing your students to complete this activity by trial and error they should figure out the rules for themselves. In this way the rules will be more memorable for them.

Even though a grammar point can be relatively simple, sometimes pronunciation can be more complicated. Pronunciation of the regular past simple endings can be problematic for English learners at lower levels but we can help them out with this simple categorisation activity.