The tenses are one of the main challenges in learning French. However, for the past tenses one can say that it is the variety of forms that makes it difficult, not the use. French has mainly the same tenses and they use them the same way English does it. We have to talk about the imparfait (= past tense); the passé composé (= present perfect); the plus-que-parfait (= the past perfect). French does have something called passé simple, but as we will see, it is used only in written form in literature. However, we know already that French has an own form of verbs for each and every person, which makes things a bit complicated. Else, things are very much comparable to English.
In addition French has the subjonctif, but we leave this until chapter 8.