How to Learn English Tenses, Pronunciation Tips, and Speak to vs Speak With (Ask Jack #8)

Ask Jack Episode 8

(Note: If you want to reach a high level of English, click here.)

Welcome to episode eight of Ask Jack. If you are new here, this is where I answer your questions on learning English and the English language.

In this episode, I explain how you can learn English tenses and the difference between speak to and speak with. And… I have a special guest to answer one of the questions.

Below the video, there is a transcript from this episode and a summary of the answers.

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Hello. This is Jack from and welcome to Episode 8 of Ask Jack, the free series where I answer your questions about learning English and the English language. So, I have 3 questions to answer today and in one of the questions I’m going to do something a little bit different. So, here is question 1.

Beata from Poland asks, “I have a problem with English tenses. Any tips?”

Thank you for your question, Beata. So, English tenses are difficult because there are so many of them. They have different rules for when you can use them and then there are exceptions. So, each rule you’ll have one, two, three or more exceptions. So, reading explanations and learning how to use these tenses will help.

For example, I made a video on how you can use a present simple to talk about future actions and I said that this tense is used in this way in very specific situations and only with certain verbs.  So, after watching this video, you’ll have an understanding of how to use it. But, you won’t have the natural ability yet to use it without thinking because this is step two of your learning. This takes more time. It takes lots of lots of input and input from strong context.

So, if you see the present simple used to talk about the future in a podcast, in a book, in a movie while talking to someone in a different video, if you see this repeated again and again and again, then you’re going to internalize the way it is used and then you’ll be able to use it in a natural way. And, this is the same for any other type of English grammar. So, you know, English tenses aren’t any different. It’s going to take time for you to get that and it’s just a process. And, as I always say, ‘Make the process as full as possible and make this your focus.

George asks, “Both “eye” and “ice” start with /ai/ – but they sound different to me. Why?”

Thank you for your question George. So, I’m going to do something a little bit different now and hand you over to another teacher who is going to answer this question for you. So, take it away.

Geof: Hello. I’m Geoff Lindsey. I’ve been asked a question about the vowels in the words eye and ice. The question is why do the vowels sound different when dictionaries show them as being the same. Well, most speakers of English have a difference in vowel length. Eye has quite a long vowel. Whereas, in the word ice the vowel is truncated by that final S which is a voiceless or some people call it fortis sound and this has the effect of shortening the vowel so that we get ice.

But, there are many speakers in places like Scotland and Canada and many speakers in the USA who have also a difference in the quality of these vowels. In North America, it’s called Canadian Raising but it’s not restricted to Canada. There are many speakers in the USA who have this too. What it means is that in a word like eye, the vowel begins with a very open quality, a bit like the vowel quality in arm so we get ah-ah-i. Whereas, the word ice begins for many speakers with a raised quality closer to the English hesitation vowel ‘uh’, so we get uh-i, uh-I, ice.

The conditioning factor again is that final S which is voiceless or fortis.  So, we get the same sort of things in words like knife and like. I hope that helps.

Enrique from Mexico asks, “What’s the difference between “speak with” and “speak to? “

Enrique, thank you for this question. Now, this really brings up a greater issue, a greater, you know, topic that we can talk about because, just to answer your question, “speak to” and “speak with” mean the same thing. One of them, “speak with” is more common in American English. “Speak to” is more common in British English. However, because I’m from the UK and I’ve been living in the US for so long, they both sound natural to me.

Now, the greater issue is this, is that sometimes it can be really confusing or annoying to think about “Speak to, speak with, are they the same, are they different?” And, my best advice here is to know the difference or to know that they basically mean the same thing. But then, choose one when you’re speaking because when you’re speaking you don’t want to have to hesitate and think, “Is it speak to or speak with? Which one should I use in this situation?” So, stick one, stick with one, sorry, and use it. But then, when you’re listening to people, you’re going to know now that both mean exactly the same thing. So, I hope that helps.

So, my question for this video is this: Which English tense do you find the most difficult?

Leave your answers below this video. Thanks for watching and I’ll see you next time.

Q1: How Can I Learn English Tenses


English tenses are difficult to master. There are a lot of them, they have different rules, and many exceptions. Explanations will help – for example, here is my video on how to use the present simple in the future – but this is only stage one.

Stage two is getting lots of input so that you see lots of examples. If you see the present simple being used to talk about the future in a podcast, in a movie, in a blog post, and then in conversation, you will internalize the way it is used and be able to use this naturally over time.

It is a process and that’s why I always say to make this your focus.

Q2: Both “eye” and “ice” start with /ai/ – but they sound different to me. Why?

Thank you, Geoff, for answering this question.

In a nutshell, vowels can be short or long. Because ice has the /s/ sound on the end, this shortens the length of the vowel. Eye doesn’t have this /s/ and the vowel sound here is short.

It might sound confusing, and you might be thinking about rules. But being aware of this difference and mimicking native speakers will help you greatly with this.

Click here to learn more about Geoff.

Q3: What’s the difference between “speak with” and “speak to?

“Speak to” is more common in British English while “speak with” is more common in American English. They both mean the same thing (note: there are subtle differences, for example, speak to can imply one-way discussion – with might imply a two-way discussion). Here are a couple of examples:

  • I spoke with Dave last night about the project.
  • They always speak to me in a strange way

What to Do Now:

1. Answer the question below: Which English tense do you find most difficult?
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3. Click here to ask me a question about learning English.

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  • I find future perfect tense most difficult .
    Q: Is future perfect progressive tense commonly used by native speakers ?

    • It’s not that common because it is only used in specific situations. I used it on Friday when I said to my wife, “I’ll be waiting for your outside.” We were on the phone when I said this and she was just about to fly back home.

    • Nafa

      Future perfect tense is diffucult for me too.

      • Again, this is used in specific situations. I will have finished this project by next week.

  • First of all, thank you for sharing such useful video and I’m so glad for getting the issues through e-mail. Definitely, one of the most difficult for non-native speakes, for instance, i’m Brazilian and most of learners insist to learn grammar, instead to learn English in the context, that is why is the most important. Besides, learn phrases is the fastest way to reaching out quickly the fluence. Don’t study English, use the language everyday. Carlos, from Brazil.

    • You wisdom is much appreciated, Damião. Thank you for sharing!

  • Very nice video Jack. Tenses are a problem that my students here in Germany have all the time. German learners like rules, which can make teaching them about tenses a bit difficult because of the many exceptions as you mentioned. I encourage my students to busy themselves with the language as much as possible so that they pick up the “feel” for it. Thanks for the video! I put it on the video page of my site –!training-videos/c1wj4

    • Thank you for sharing, John. I appreciate you stopping by and sharing your thoughts!