Studiu de specialitate – Another Approach to Conditionals


Autor: prof. Vorzsák Milán
Liceul Teoretic ”Brassai Sámuel” Cluj-Napoca

Conditionals or “if-clauses” are an integral part of the English grammar, taught in secondary and high school alike. Throughout the high school years they are revised and exercised, no English Language Olympiad is ever free of them, pupils are required to use these language items correctly during any advanced level language exams.
This is the reason that a language teacher needs to put emphasis on teaching the above mentioned grammar item, making use of the principle of cyclic learning, coming back to the same item again and again on higher levels of understanding and language development. Conditionals need to be part of the advanced student’s everyday language, without them the pupil’s range of expression is limited, just as if they lacked the knowledge of passive voice, modal verbs etc.
However, the teaching of conditionals can prove problematic on the most elementary of levels. A general presentation of the language item is required at this stage of the study, in order to pinpoint the possible problematic areas.
There are four types of conditionals, if we discard the zero conditional as presenting no grammatical difficulties. Even so many grammar books present only three of them, the first, second and third conditional, leaving out the mixed one or presenting it as a special case. But this study will only concern the English language textbooks available for the Romanian high schools, and they generally present the following:
1.First Conditional: used for future, real/factual situations. In this conditional the if-clause will have a verb in simple present, while the main clause will be built up from will plus the short infinitive of the main verb.
2.Second Conditional: used for present or future unreal, imaginary situations. In this conditional the if-clause will have a verb in the simple past, while the main clause will be built from would plus the short infinitive of the main verb.
3.Third Conditional: used for past unreal, imaginary situations. In this conditional the if-clause will have a verb in the past perfect, while the main clause will be built up from would plus have plus the third form of the main verb.
These are the three conditionals, not taking into consideration the fourth, mixed conditional, which is built up from different halves of the afore mentioned three, depending on the requirements of the situation.
Now these categories would present no major difficulties of understanding, memorizing and using, in the case of prominent students who possibly also have a CAE Cambridge diploma in their future plans. But a language teacher has to cope with and teach mixed groups as well, or in many cases entire classes which have deficient foreign language skills compared to the standard requirements.
One of the main principles in teaching grammar is to keep the item clean, uncluttered by high level vocabulary items and exceedingly complex theoretical explanations. The average high school student needs a clear, easy to understand pattern, short and to the point definition of usage, and plenty of exemplifications and exercises. These requirements are hardly met if the teacher starts going into definitions which contain terms like “improbably condition”, “future unreal situations” etc.  (fragment)

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