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I am taking Spanish classes next week.

Despite that it is Present Continuous, it tells us about the future. But if I put it to the past, will it retain its meaning?

That day I started new life. I was taking Spanish classes next week.

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    In the last sentence, the event is a future event compared to the reference time ("that day"), but it is a past even compared to the utterance time. – kiamlaluno Jun 22 '13 at 12:33
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In non-formal conversation this is fine, except it needs more articles:

a new life, because you are not starting new-life-in-general but a particular (albeit unspecified) new life, which presumably you are going to describe.

the next week, because bare next week always means 'next' with respect to the time when you are speaking.

It's barely acceptable in formal use, too; but as a matter of courtesy to your readers it is desirable to pin down your time references a little more precisely. Otherwise readers will see was taking and assume that it refers to that day, and then have to revise that interpretation when they come to the next week. Write this instead:

That day I started a new life. I would be taking Spanish classes the next week, and &c

Effective communication is driven by the principal of minimal effort; but that means very different things in written and spoken English, because the two media present radically different constraints:

  • Written English is governed by The Adamantine Law: Whatever can be misunderstood will be.

    When you write you have no opportunity to correct your readers' misunderstandings. Consequently you must take care to express your thoughts as clearly and unambiguously as possible, so no misunderstandings arise. It is your reader's effort which must be minimized, not your own.

  • Spoken English, in contrast, is governed by The Tolerance Maxim: Whatever should be understood may be omitted.

    When you speak you are engaged in a conversation. You and your interlocutors share extensive knowledge of the situation which need not be specified, you may speak elliptically and allusively in confidence that your interlocutors will fill in the holes and tacitly ignore or adjust any syntactical or grammatical blunders you commit. If significant misunderstandings arise, they may be corrected. All parties share the effort.

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That day I started new life. I was taking Spanish classes next week.

There are at least 2 problems with the above sentence.

  1. We use 'next week' to mean the week after this week and therefore it is not used with the past tense, not to mention the past continuous.

  2. I told him that I was taking Spanish classes the following week. You can only use the past continuous to mean a future event in an indirect reported speech.

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    2. Can only is, I think, too strong. OP's use is not prohibited: it is fully parsible and formally unimpeachable. But I agree it should probably be avoided, because it establishes a temporary ambiguity. – StoneyB Jun 22 '13 at 12:58
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While it is correct to say "I am taking Spanish classes next week", most precise is "I will be taking Spanish classes next week." Over a future period of time, an activity will occur.

I mention this because it makes the past tense easier to understand: "I told him that I would be taking Spanish classes the next week." At a past point, an activity future to that point occurs over a period of time.

"When I told him that, I was taking Spanish classes." An activity occurred for a period of time in the past, used in conjunction with a point in time that occurs during that period of time.

"When I told him that, I had been taking Spanish classes for a year." A past point in time related to an ongoing activity prior to that time.

Compare both of these with "I took Spanish classes for a year." The difference is that the period of time isn't related to a different event.

The difference between "I have been taking Spanish classes" and "I am taking Spanish classes" is a bit subtle. The former implies a period of time, the end of which is now. For example "I have been taking Spanish classes for a year" means that I started taking Spanish classes a year ago and haven't stopped yet. The latter states that Spanish classes occur over time, with the present a point in that time.

Edit: and I left one out. :) "I have taken Spanish classes." At some unspecified point or period of time before now I took Spanish classes, and I no longer do so. The difference between "I have taken" and "I took" is that the former specifies the relationship to now, and the latter does not.

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