The English Progressive When Learnt by Romanian Students

The two languages under discussion are different enough as to pose certain problems in understanding one through the other. The major differences between them come primarily from their different origins, Romanian being a Latin language and English a Germanic language. Their different roots explain why their phonetic, morphological, syntactical, and lexical structures do not overlap very often. This also accounts for the appropriateness of trying to understand each of these languages through their own rules and mechanisms, not necessarily by relating them to each other.

The category of Aspect, meaning the Simple form versus the Progressive/Continuous form of English tenses, is a grammatical issue which requires the development of certain linguistic abilities on behalf of the learner to make correct choices when using the target language.
Both languages have a variety of verbal tenses but the way they function and reflect the reality is specific to each of them. For example, the Romanian sentence:
El cântă. (Present Tense)
can be translated into English in two ways:
He sings. (Present Simple) He is singing. (Present Progressive/Continuous)

One would necessarily need a context to understand the message in Romanian exactly or to choose the correct aspect in English. The category of Aspect is better defined and more largely systemized in English than in Romanian. This difference leads to possible confusion on the user’s way from one language to the other.
If we added (El cântă) de trei ore. to the Romanian example, although it would not change the tense in this language (Present tense), it would bring a significant change to the English version as the Present Perfect Progressive would be in order this time:
He has been singing for three hours.

All this above proves how a certain mental and linguistic perception of the language has to be set in order to grasp its inner construction and assimilate it.

If we were to consider the examples given so far as illustrative for the Present Tense in both languages, we would have to conclude that in this point Romanian and English probably manifest the biggest gap between them: the former has one single tense for the present (no matter if it is temporary, permanent, seen in connection with the past or independently of the past etc.) whereas English has four different forms for the Present (Present Simple, Present Progressive, Present Perfect Simple, Present Perfect Progressive). Of these, Present Perfect Simple stands out when compared to the Romanian language because in many cases the best and most natural translation would be by the Romanian past tense called Perfect Compus.
They have lived here all their life. = Au locuit aici toată viața lor.
However, this is not to say that it cannot be translated by Present Tense, depending on the situation:
She has been here for two hours. = Este aici de două ore.

Another conclusion that we can draw regarding the present tense in general in the two languages is that English, due to its broader variety of present forms, can use the verb to express meanings and ways of perceiving the time or duration of the action to a larger extent than Romanian. This makes the necessity of adverbials and other types of complementation greater in Romanian, especially for the sake of clarity of the message and accuracy of the information transmitted.
He works. = El muncește.
He is working. = El muncește (acum).
He has always worked a lot. = Tot timpul a muncit din greu (și – probabil –
încă mai muncește).
He has been working on this project for two weeks. = El muncește la
proiectul acesta de două săptămâni.  

As concerns past tenses, we could say that here the two languages have more similarities or at least seem to function by similar mechanisms. This statement relies on the fact that Romanian, too, this time, has a wider choice that makes it possible for the speaker to express aspectuality with more precision. The existence of the Imperfect and Perfect Simplu brings Romanian closer to English from this perspective.
I was going to school when I met him. = Mergeam la școală când l-am întâlnit.

In the example given, the combination between Past Simple and Past Progressive in English is rendered in Romanian through the combined use of Imperfect (similar to Past Progressive because they represent imperfectivity) and Perfect Compus (similar to Past Simple, because they reflect closed actions, or the perfective viewpoint). However, Romanian does not reach the level of English in terms of expressing aspect with the past, either.

An interesting comparison that can be made between English and Romanian is illustrated by the example below:
I have made a soup. (Present Perfect Simple; most likely a recent activity, but ended, about which the exact moment when it happened is not necessarily important)
Făcui o supă. (Perfect Simplu; a recent activity, but ended, about which the exact moment when it took place is not necessarily important)

The two sentences express activities that were ended not long before the moment of speech but the use of the respective tenses without any indication of the exact time when they took place shows that the focus is on the result (the soup). The equivalence in the two languages is between a present tense (English) and a past tense (Romanian). It is important to mention that such structures using Perfect Simplu are especially characteristic of certain Romanian dialects.

With regard to the Past Perfect Simple and Past Perfect Progressive in English, we again have only one form in Romanian to balance them with, Mai Mult ca Perfectul.
I had done the homework when they got home. = Făcusem tema când au ajuns ei acasă.
In Romanian, the Progressive does not have special markers with this tense. Neither does it have for the future.
 I will read this book. (Future Tense) = Voi citi această carte. (Viitor I)
I’ll be flying this time tomorrow.  (Future Progressive) = Voi zbura mâine pe vremea asta. (Viitor I)

In English, the aspect changes from the first sentence, which expresses a decision or a promise for the future, to the second, in which the action is visualized as being in progress at a certain time in the future. This does not happen to the Romanian verb which stays the same in both sentences although the type of statement in the first sentence (decision, promise) is very different from the one in the second sentence (mentioning what kind of future action in progress at a certain moment I will be involved in).

Learning a foreign language is like looking at the world through different kind of glasses because it means constructing a new set of linguistic parameters for truly understanding it.


prof. Dana Lupu

Colegiul Tehnic de Arhitectură și Lucrări Publice Ioan N. Socolescu (Bucureşti) , România
Profil iTeach:

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