What would be the pros and cons of teaching the Present Continuous before the Simple Present of main verbs?

As every teacher and foreign learner of English knows, courses and course books usually introduce the Simple Present of main verbs before the Present Continuous. In other words, students learn to speak first about regular habits, repeated actions, general truths and actual facts long before they can describe a concrete scene.

Here are some arguments:

ONE very strong argument in favor of Simple Present FIRST:

  • The Simple Present has more social or practical relevance than the Present Continuous: It helps in initial basic conversation when we introduce ourselves and listen to others do so.

What speaks in favour of Present Continuous FIRST:

  • 1) The Present Continuous can build on a grammatical structure that students are usually taught explicitly from the very beginning: the Simple Present of the verb "be".
    From a learner's point of view, the transition from Simple Present "be" to Present Continuous structures is a lot easier. All they need to do is learn new verbs and add "-ing" to their base form.
  • 2) Presenting an actual, present situation is a lot easier than eliciting the concepts of habitual and repetitive action as well as general truths - especially with young learners. You simply present scenes.
  • 3) You avoid learners from mixing structures and being confused as they learn the Simple Present. Many automatically translate from their L1 simple tense (where the present tense very often allows to talk about a present situation - unlike English)

Do you know of good arguments that would support such an inverted approach?
Has this been tried in the past?

Unfortunately, I haven't been able to find out anything about this.

  • Not an answer, but I see it very weird to learn tenses before the LL grasps the meaning and context. "Do you speak English? — Yes, I do" and "Where are you going? — I'm going to school" should appear on lessons e.g. ##2-3, regardless of the formal tenses employed in both phrases. Your students should learn meaning and context first, and only on lesson maybe ##15-20 should they study the formal tenses (and recall what they learned on lessons ##2-3). I apologize for a too bold statement, but if your learning curve is any different, you're at least wasting time. Jul 18, 2017 at 13:16
  • If you read into my question that I was putting the cart before the horse, I must disappoint you. I made no assumption about what is the better way of teaching an item of English. Of course grasping meaning and context comes before teaching forms. That's out of question here. The question is stated in the heading!
    – user3588
    Jul 18, 2017 at 13:31
  • Your bullet lists are a good overview of the respective advantages of teaching either the simple or continuous form first. Of course, the Communicative Language Teaching and Task-Based Teaching approaches were a reaction against the perceived failings of ELT syllabuses based on the presentation of grammatical forms one-by-one, so for advocates of these approaches your question does not arise!
    – Shoe
    Jul 19, 2017 at 8:00

1 Answer 1


Teaching the present continuous first would make sense for highly inflected languages like Spanish. You only need to learn six present-tense conjugations of the verb estar (to be) according to person, number and formality plus the progressive of each verb. Supposing you have five verbs to learn, you only have to memorize 11 words in all to form every possible conjugation in the present progressive.

  1. Estoy (I am)
  2. Estás (you singular & informal are)
  3. Está (he, she, it or you singular & formal is)
  4. Estamos (we are)
  5. Estáis (you guys are)
  6. Están (they or you all are)
  7. Hablando (talking)
  8. Bailando (dancing)
  9. Comiendo (eating)
  10. Leyendo (reading)
  11. Viviendo (living)

In order to conjugate those same 5 verbs in the present tense, you would need to memorize 30 words in all! 1-6. hablo, hablas, habla, hablamos, habláis, hablan (I through they talk) 7-12. bailo, bailas, baila, bailamos, bailáis, bailan (I through they dance) 13-18. como...comen 19-24. leo...leen 25-30. vivo...viven

For every new verb, you need to memorize six more conjugations in the present tense and only one more in the progressive. Granted, this is usually easy in the case of regular verbs, but there are exceptions to every rule.

There is a similar advantage to learning the present progressive first in English, but not as much as in Spanish. To learn the above verbs in the present progressive, you need to memorize six conjugations: am, are, talking, dancing, eating, reading and living. Compare that to ten conjugations in the present tense: talk, talks, dance, dances, eat, eats, read, reads, live, lives. Of course, the present tense in English is hardly more difficult than the present progressive. English has much fewer irregular verbs in the present tense than in Spanish.

The above benefits of learning the present continuous first, however, might not compensate for the fact that the simple present is much more common in Spanish. Indeed, if you can learn one tense properly, the simple present will serve you better. Native speakers might find it odd if you communicate exclusively in the present continuous.


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