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The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students.

Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Conditionals can be a difficult concept to grasp. The form has little indication of meaning. Parrott points out that in some languages special conditional tenses1 exist. In English we use a specific structure of clauses to indicate hypothesis. Students need to completely separate the form from the meaning. 1. Meaning and Use In A-Z of ELT Thornbury identifies the following four uses of the second conditional2: - Wishing e.g. If I were rich, Id buy an island. - Imagining e.g. If pigs flew, they would be birds. - Fantasizing e.g. If I were queen, Id ensure world peace. - Hypothetical situations e.g. If you had a car, youd be able to drive me to work daily. Overall, we can say that the second conditional is used to express unreal, improbable and impossible present and future situations. The use of the past simple helps to emphasize its hypothetical meaning and distance our language from reality.3 Other uses include giving advice e.g. If I were you, Id tell him and opinion e.g. if I were the principal, Id be more demanding. When using the verb to be it is more usual to use the subjunctive form. Hence, were is used for all persons, including fist and third e.g. If I were you, as opposed to f I was you 2. Form Conditionals are usually formed with two clauses. The main conditional clause, containing a modal verb, and a subordinate clause normally introduced by if. We often use only one of the two clauses e.g. Supposing he were to come if the conditional meaning is understood through the context. When the subordinate clause comes before the main clause in general we separate the two clauses by a comma4 e.g. If you had the chance, youd move to Alaska. However when the opposite is true the comma is dropped e.g. Youd move to Alaska if you had the chance. Although the second conditional refers to present and future situations, the past tense and a modal (would, could and might) are used to form it. 2.1 Affirmative
1 2 3 4

M. Parrott, English for Language Teachers (Cambridge University Press, 2000) p.231 S. Thornbury, A-Z of ELT (Macmillan Education, 2006) p.46 M. Swan, Practical English Usage, Third Edition. (Oxford University Press, 2005) p. 234 M. M.Parrott, Grammar for English Teachers. (Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 232


The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar If+subject+past, subject+would(d)+bare infinitive If I knew the Queen, I would go to London Subject+would(d)+bare infinitive+if+subject+past simple Id go to London if I knew the Queen. 2.2 Alternative forms These forms are used more in formal register and as Parrott points out, they make the event sound more hypothetical5 If+subject+past form+to infinitive, subject+would+bare infinitive If you were to marry him, youd be queen. Were+subject+infinitive, subject+modal Were you to help, I might lend you the money 2.3 Other conjunctions Conjunction+subject+past+, subject+bare infinitive Provided he did his homework, Id take him swimming. 2.4 Could If I knew, I could tell you. 2.5 Might If she called, I might consider it

2.6 Negative If+subject+past, subject+modal not If she smoked, she couldnt sing. If+subject+past negative (did+not+infinitive), subject+modal+bare infinitive If it didnt work, theyd need it fixed. If+subject+past negative, subject+would not If they didnt like it, they wouldnt keep doing it. In each case, like the affirmative, the position of the clause can be swapped e.g.They couldnt tell me, if they didnt know.

M.Parrott, Grammar for English Teachers. (Cambridge University Press, 2003) p. 234.


The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar

2.7 Interrogative If+subject+past, would+subject? If you were his friend, would you invite him to the party? Would+subject+bare infinitive+if+past simple? Would they come to visit if they lived closer? It is worth noting that the subjunctive is often used with the second conditional. However, because the subjunctive itself has many different forms and uses I would choose to teach this as one meaningful chunk in itself e.g.If I were you, I d tell her. 3. Pronunciation

If I were you, Id make dinner / awju: a(d) mek din/ If you said that, you wouldnt be sorry / j sed t j w denb sDri/ In spoken English the // in if is often barely pronounced. We also tend to stress the informative words in the clause. (See above example) 4. Student problems 4.1 Language one interference (L1) From my teaching experience in Malta and the UK, I have noticed that some nationalities need to pay particular attention when learning the conditionals. Below is a breakdown of these nationalities. . To help me analyze the reasons, I turned to P. Urs Learner English6. German: If Angela Merkel would be queen, Germany would have trouble in German would (wrde) can be used in both clauses of a conditional sentence. Polish: learners can produce similar sentences due to their limited L1 tenses. Japanese: Although they may quickly master the form and be able to write them quicker than other students, in Japanese conditionals are not distinctively different from each other. Thus, the idea of a particular form indicating different levels of likelihood can confuse them.

P.Ur, Learner English (Cambridge University Press 2001)


The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar Koreans: Have similar problems to the Japanese. As they only have two conditionals in their language, they often find it difficult to distinguish between the various meanings of different conditionals. Arabic: In England, I had a student who thought I was inviting him to dinner when I asked him Would you eat, if I cooked?. In English we use tenses to determine the level of the condition e.g. If she cooked, wed eat. This sentence clearly indicates that to eat is confirming that she is unlikely to cook. Arabic speakers have two different words for if to express the different degrees of likelihood and they therefore often put the past simple in both clauses e.g. If they went to the beach, they had fun where they would want to say If they went to the beach, theyd have fun.

Any conditional structure can be very complex for students because it involves two clauses that come together to create a hypothetical meaning. I have frequently seen students immediately attempting to break down a conditional sentence into smaller segments and begin to decode it word for word. This usually does not work because, when broken down into two clauses as separate entities, the learners are unable to understand the meaning of the subordinate clause since it cannot stand alone. 4.2 Form 1. Other conjunctions When students comes across a sentence with another conjunction, such as supposing or as long as they may get confused, e.g.Supposing he brought his wife, wouldnt we need another tent?

2. Exclusion of the if clause Speakers often exclude the if clause completely if it is understood through the context. Consider: A: I hate it when she sings in the shower. B: Id ask her to stop. It may also lead the student to believe that it is a question rather than a conditional, e.g. Were you to you help her, she would appreciate it 3. Uses of different modals Students who have been taught that the second conditional is formed with past + would as a rule, might find it difficult to use it with modals such as might and could. It may also cause confusion with meaning, e.g. If she asked, Id help her (definitely) vs. If she asked, I might help her (possibly). 4|Page

The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar

4. Over use of would Learners may be over conscious that they need would for the second conditional and mistakenly put it in both clauses, e.g. If I would go, shed get angry. 4.3 Meaning 5. Use of past tense for the present The form of the second conditional gives very little indication of its concept of hypothesis. The students may find it difficult to understand that we use the past simple to create a hypothetical present or future meaning. 6. Confusion with the first conditional This links with the previous point. As students may find it difficult to associate the past simple with a present hypothesis they often use the present simple instead e.g.If I see her, Ill walk away not realizing that this tense removes the hypothetical unrealism. 4.5 Pronunciation 7. Contraction of would In spoken English we contract would with the subject e.g.Id make dinner. Students may find difficulty hearing the contraction and may miss out would from the sentence. As d can also be a contraction of had, students may confuse the two and hence mistake the sentence for the third conditional e.g. if Id known, Id have helped her

5. Solutions


The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar As the concept of hypothesis is so intangible for some learners, I would use an inductive method to help students discover the formation of the hypothetical conditional independent of conscious study and explicit rule formation7 1. To enable the learning of the correlation between the meaning and of a hypothetical situation and the past form, I believe that students will benefit from a situational presentation to engage them and give something they can relate to, e.g. tell students about Amy, a fifteen year old girl, elicit come fact about her life (she lives in Malta, she has no money etc), and tell them she is in love with Brad Pitt. Elicit facts about his life (he lives in America, hes married etc.). To help visual learners it is best to draw Amy on the board and write the elicited words. Now hypothetical sentences can be elicited by pointing at the words as a need has been created through a context (If she had money, shed go to America If she went to America, shed find Brad Pitt). This will guide students to the discovery of the correlation for themselves. It will leave more of an impact and will be more memorable. 2. Another effective way of dealing with the second conditional is an activity used in New English File8. Through a multiple choice exercise students predict the best way to survive three extreme situations e.g. What would you do if you were in a forest and a very large bear came towards you?. They then listen to an expert giving his advice. The chance of anybody finding themselves in a situation like this is highly unlikely, giving the idea of unrealism. As the listening is predominantly in the present form, it clearly indicates a present and future hypothesis. 3. For work on pronunciation and to direct students to accuracy of form and pronunciation, a rolling story may be very effective. The teacher tells the first student If I were queen, Id live in a palace the student in turn says If I lived in a palace, Id have many servants and so on, until the entire class has made a sentence. This allows the teacher to focus students attention on correct form, sentence stress and pronunciation of contraction and it allows the students to notice and correct errors in others and leads to peer teaching. It also gives opportunity to check for meaning.

S. Thornbury, How to Teach Grammar. (Longman, Pearson Education Limited 2004) p. 49

Clive Oxenden, Christina Latham-Koeing and Paul Seligson, New English File Pre-Intermediate (Oxford University Press 2009) p. 66


The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar 4. Another way of raising awareness of contractions and stress is a dictogloss. The use of dictation will help students become aware of the weak forms and ellipsis. 5. To help students begin to use other modals, e.g. If St.Julians flooded, we could go to the top of the Hilton. I would ask students to write up a contingency plan for unlikely events9. Ask students to discuss in groups What would you do if a Tsunami hit Malta?. By eliciting modals like could and might students discuss what they would do, what would be best, what they could use, etc. 6. To address the issue of half sentence a good idea would be to adapt a lesson from Grammar Games and Activities10, give groups of students a pile of question cards with hypothetical questions e.g. If you knew the world was to end in one week what would you do? By giving students a fluency activity like this they will be eager to voice their opinion against other students and therefore naturally use single clauses.

7. To raise students awareness of the difference between the first and the second conditional there are a number or useful activities. Two of which are the following: a. Distribute half sentence to all the students some with the first clause and some with the second clause of different conditional sentences. Some of the students will have the first conditional and some will have the second and therefore each half sentence will only have one possible match e.g. i. If I have a car ii. Ill give you a lift iii. If I had a car iv. Id give you a lift This will encourage students to decipher the difference in both form and meaning between the first conditional (likely situations) and the second conditional (unlikely situations). b. Give students the beginning of a sentence on a strip of paper. e.g. If it rains tomorrow and If aliens landed on earth ask them to complete the sentence. They then pass the sentence on to the person on their left and they have to switch the would clause to the if clause and create a new


R. Aitken, Teaching Tenses (Longman) p. 109 P. Watson Jones, Grammar Games and Activities (Penguin Books) 1995


The use of the second conditional for pre-intermediate students. Centre No: MT029 Candidate No: 08 Name: Becky Vella Muskat Language Analysis Assignment 1: Grammar second clause e.g. If I broke a mirror, Id have bad luck would become If I had bad luck, I would lock myself inside. The sentences keep going around until they return to the original students. The students then have to analyze each sentence that has been created from their original and see if they agree that the form and meaning of each one is correct. This is useful because students first have to construct their own sentence using the correct form and meaning. Then they analyze other sentences and by correcting, notice the connection the form has to the meaning for themselves.11 8. To address the issue of the clause sequence a good idea might be to give them card prompts with blanks they have to fill in about themselves e.g. If I flew, ____________ and I would eat bananas__________. All sentences will be collected and redistributed to different students. They then have to find the student who wrote the sentence by using he question form e.g. Would you eat bananas if you were a monkey? This enables students to notice, that the conditional can be formed with either both ways. 9. Another useful activity is to ask students to think of six things they would do if they were Prime Minister. They interview each other and vote for who they think would be the best for the job. This creates a situation in which students need to use the language, but are probably unaware of it. Their goal will be to find out who would be best for the job; the use of language is secondary thus enabling the students to use the language fluently Conclusion In view of the above, I have a deeper understanding of grammar analysis and students problems. I feel this will better enable me to anticipate learner problems and find effective ways of dealing with them.


S.Kay and Vaughn Jones, Inside Out Intermediate Resource Pack (Macmillian Publishers Limited 2000) 15A