The present tense in Spanish is quite different than it is in English. The other night in class we were discussing the verb "to go" which is "ir a". I happened to say that you can use "ir a" to mean "going to". In an example we used the conjugation "voy a" to mean "I'm going to" . A student said “but isn’t ‘I am’ either ‘soy’ or ‘estoy’", and she was absolutely correct. At the same time “ir” can be used as “is going”.
The present tense in Spanish can often be used where the progressive tense is used in English (think the words ‘am’ or ‘is’ with a verb ending in ‘ing’, such as “I am going). The verb ir (to go) in the first person is voy (I go). Usually it is translated as “I go”, as in “I go to the movies”, a habitual action. This is certainly one of the uses of the Spanish present tense.
This same tense can describe actions in progress at the moment. “Voy” can mean “I’m going”. You don’t have to use the verb “to be/am” with “voy” to achieve this meaning. If someone asks you “¿qué haces?” (what are you doing?) you can reply in the present tense and will be correct. There is a progressive tense in spanish where you do use a conjugation of the verb “to be” (estar) and a verb with the progressive ending (‘ando’ for ar verbs and ‘iendo’ for er or ir verbs). We will certainly explore this tense more at another time!
The present tense can also be used to express actions in the future. “I’ll call you tomorrow” can just be “te llamo mañana” (I call you tomorrow). This is perfectly correct in Spanish, although not the only way it can be done. Spanish does have a future tense, and again that will be a topic for a different day.
The main takeaway, you can use the simple present tense to express habitual actions at the present time, it can be used as a progressive action you are doing at the moment, and it can be used to talk about the future. Three tenses for the price of one!
Habitual action: Voy al cine todos los viernes (I go to the movies every friday).
Progressive: no está, ahora va al cine (he’s not here, he is going to the movies now).
Future: Vamos al cine mañana. (we will go to the movies tomorrow).