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Building Fluency: Reflecting on the Past

These materials look at talking about reflecting on the past.

I have used the article Top five regrets of the dying as the basis of the materials. For some people this could be a very emotive subject, but it offers us an opportunity to look at some slightly less common grammatical structures around expressing regret and talking about past situations hypothetically.

Before reading the text below, have a think about the following questions, these are designed to help you to start to think about any gaps in your vocabulary around reflecting on the past and how you might start to engage with the topic.

  1. What do you think are the biggest past regrets that people have?

  2. Can it be helpful to regret past decisions, and why?

  3. Can you think of a big decision that you have made in life? what would have happened if you had made the decision differently?

  4. What do you think people would find the most important at the end of their lives?

  5. What would you like to achieve before you die?


*the article*

Top five regrets of the dying

There was no mention of more sex or bungee jumps. A palliative nurse who has counselled the dying in their last days has revealed the most common regrets we have at the end of our lives. And among the top, from men in particular, is 'I wish I hadn't worked so hard'.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian nurse who spent several years working in palliative care, caring for patients in the last 12 weeks of their lives. She recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai, which gathered so much attention that she put her observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Ware writes of the phenomenal clarity of vision that people gain at the end of their lives, and how we might learn from their wisdom. "When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently," she says, "common themes surfaced again and again." Advertisement Here are the top five regrets of the dying, as witnessed by Ware:

1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me. "This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it."

2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard. "This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children's youth and their partner's companionship. Women also spoke of this regret, but as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence."

3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings. "Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result."

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends. "Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying."

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier. "This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called 'comfort' of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again."

*end of article*


Grammar: there are two main structures used in the text to reflect on the past -

wish that: Subject + wish that + Past Perfect.

I wish that I had not worked so hard.

3rd Conditional: If + past Perfect, would have + past participle.

If I hadn’t worked so hard, I would have had more time for my family.


While we are on the subject of past regret and reflecting on life, I've always found this song fitting for the subject; what do you think?


You've started to think about the topic and build your vocabulary - to really build on developing your spoken fluency then this needs to be done through active usage of the language - contact me on to discuss how we can put together a series of personalised lessons to develop your fluency on the topics that are most relevant to yourself!

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