With regards to the comprehension of the second and third conditionals in pedagogical grammar, this study analyses the complexities and difficulties Iranian students face in learning the second and third conditionals.
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This aspect of analysis is important because Iranian students, learning English as a second language, are often faced with the challenge of composing, comprehending and pronouncing English words in their second language (Allwright 2009).
This difficulty comes from the fact that, Iranian students are heavily under the influence of the Persian language, and it interferes with their comprehension of the English language (Lambton 1953). However, there are many more dynamics to the Iranian language in the sense that various languages are spoken all across Iran.
For instance, Persian is mainly a spoken in central Iran, while other Iranian geographical areas speak Azerbaijani, Kurdish, Arabic, Balochi and Turkmen (Herzing 1995).
The differences between Persian and English are immense and this is the reason why many Iranian students experience many challenges in learning English as their second language; for instance, it is noted that, in both formal and informal Parsi, the subject does not normally appear at the beginning of a sentence when explaining a given event; instead, the subject is represented as a pronoun that is attached to the verb at the end of the sentence and, in the same manner, verbs are normally used before adverbs but they can also be placed in any part of the sentence (Odlin 1994; Allwright 2009).
Another significant difference between Persian and English is that adverbs are normally placed after nouns but, in the English context, Adverbs generally modify a verb, not a noun (Behzad 2008). Considering these dynamics, it is important to acknowledge the fact that Iranian students experience many challenges in pedagogical learning.
To understand the complexities Iranian students face in understanding the second and third conditionals, this study analyses the difficulties Iranian students face regarding the comprehension of the form, meaning and use of the second and third conditionals.
Also, to understand the difficulties Iranian students face in this regard, the grammar rules, teaching styles (such as inductive and deductive teaching) and practice exercises of two grammar books entitled, How English Works (Swan & Walter 1997) and Advanced Grammar in Use (Hewings 2005) are used to evaluate how learning second and third conditionals challenges Iranian students.
From this analysis, this essay aims to help instructors understand the unique challenges Iranian students face with regards to learning the second and third conditionals but, more importantly, the insights into this essay can be used to improve how the second and third conditionals are taught to Iranian students.
Therefore, this essay first describes what pedagogical grammar is, then, briefly describes what the conditional is and, then, it will establish the differences between the second and third conditionals, according to the two grammar books described above.
This is followed by an analysis of the problems faced by Iranian students when learning the second and third conditionals, through the two grammar books. Finally, a conclusion will summarize the findings of the study.
What is pedagogical grammar?
Pedagogical grammar is a concept advanced by few language experts such as Larsen-Freeman (2000). Nevertheless, Pedagogical grammar is a new concept that has been applied by several language instructors to impart new language knowledge to students (Nordquist 2011: 1).
The teaching methodology has its own structures, in the sense that, it is divided into two aspects: the first talks about the grammatical composition of language, while the second talks about the articulation of language rules (of the new language).
Pedagogical grammar is different from general linguistic rules (especially regarding grammatical composition) because it cannot be compared to conventional grammar due to the difference in functions and uses (Odlin 1994). The difference between the two concepts (pedagogical grammar and general linguistics) emanates from the fact that pedagogical grammar is of a hybrid nature and linguistic grammar is not (Chalker 1994).
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For example, drawing on several concepts derived from certain disciplines such as linguistics, psychology and second language acquisition theory, we can establish that pedagogical grammar is more in-tune with the unique needs of the learners, but linguistic grammar does not (Thomann 2002).
Pedagogical grammar is especially used in foreign language studies and it has been advanced as an effective teaching module. Such assertions are supported by Larsen-Freeman (2000) who admits that, in understanding the dimensions of language, three aspects of language ought to be properly comprehended: form, meaning and use.
From the understanding of the form, meaning and use of language, Larsen-Freeman (2000) does not organize language structures in a hierarchical manner. Instead, she views the three aspects of language as strongly interconnected with one another, and no specific language component is stronger or weaker than the other.
In understanding the three components of pedagogical grammar learning, Larsen-Freeman (2000) explains the structure of the first part of pedagogical grammar (form) as denoted by the auxiliary have/has/‘s/ + been + verb+ing. The second part of the pedagogical grammar learning is the “meaning” part, and it is denoted by a specific verb repeating itself over a specific period of time.
This understanding is fundamental because second and third conditionals normally expose different functionalities. According to Larsen-Freeman (2000), the last part of pedagogical grammar (Use) is explained as a verb that started in the past; is continuing at present, or has just stopped happening.
With regards to the “Use” part of language, reference should be made to the present use of the verb being referred to. The following diagram shows these differences:
Source: Larsen-Freeman (2003, cited in Sommer n.d.)
What are Conditionals?
Conditionals are sentence structures used to refer to real life, imaginary and unreal situations (sometimes they are referred to as the ‘if-clauses’). In other times, “whether” is used instead of “if”. In subsequent sections of this study we will analyze how this poses a problem to Iranian students when learning the second and third conditionals.
Nonetheless, like their abstract meaning, real conditionals refer to real or practical situations, while unreal conditionals refer to imaginary or unreal situations or sentences in grammar use. For example, a real conditional would be: if I studied hard, I would pass the exam. An unreal conditional would be: if I was a girl, I would get the scholarship.
Due to different sentence structures, English grammar conditionals are divided into four categories: zero, first, second and third conditionals (where all categories possess different sentence structures) (Thomann 2002).
Since this study focuses on the second and third conditionals, it is important to understand that, when using the second conditional, we often use the past simple tense to express a future conditional but, in understanding the second conditional, it is essential to understand how the sentence framework is formed because different sentence structures may have different meanings (Bryndal 2009).
Under the Form of second conditional, there are two clauses: the first is the “if” clause and the second is the main clause, whereby, in an example sentence, this would be, If I had a million dollars, I would buy the car (Welter 2010). In the second conditional, a different form of verb is normally applied. This means that, in the first clause, the sentence structure would be “if + subject + simple past verb”.
The main clause of the sentence would also be “subject + would + verb”. The third conditional also has two clauses like the second conditional in the Form but when using different verb forms, the past perfect verb in the “if” clause is formed with an auxiliary verb. The “if” clause would, therefore, be “if + subject + past perfect verb” and the main clause would be “subject + would (or could or might) have + past participle”.
Difference between Second and Third Conditional
The second conditional has been known to bear close similarity to the first conditional (Bryndal 2009). The similarity comes from the fact that the second conditional talks about the future, the same as the first conditional does. This analysis exposes the form of the second and third conditionals.
With regards to meaning, the second conditional talks about an unreal possibility such as winning a lottery to do something or the ability to possess some supernatural powers to change a given situation (and the like) (Welter 2010: 1). From this understanding, we see that the second conditional in its true “meaning” talks about an unreal possibility. This fact emphasizes the meaning rule.
However, in this analysis, the unreal possibility bears no possibility that it may be real in any way (however, sometimes, if the situation is right, it may be factual). This aspect of analysis is especially very important in drawing the distinction between second conditional and third conditional because a second conditional would not bear its qualities if the verb in question did not have an unreal possibility of happening.
With regards to use, another difference between the third conditional and the second conditional is that the third conditional is expressed in the past tense while the second conditional (and first) is expressed in the future tense. From this understanding, we can see that the “use” of the second and third conditionals also follows the same sequence.
Another difference is that, in the third conditional, the event in question did not actually occur and this is the reason why the said condition is non-existent. The third conditional, however, shares the same concept with the second conditional in the sense that both talk about a dream but the distinction is that, in the third conditional, the possibility of the dream actually materializing is nonexistent.
This scenario can be best explained through a conversation (cited in Bryndal 2009: 24) between two people where one tells the other that “You did not win a million pounds yesterday and so you cannot buy the house you wanted”. The condition in this sentence is the winning of a million pounds and the result is buying the house.
Problems Experienced and Difficulties in Form of Second and Third Conditionals by Iranians
How English Works and Advanced and Grammar in Use are two pedagogical grammar books used to teach the second and third conditionals to students learning English conditionals. Advanced Grammar in Use is especially applicable to this study because it is a Self-Study Reference and Practice Book for Advanced Learners of English (With Answers), and therefore, its exercises provide a good analysis to the understanding of the problems faced by Iranian students when learning second and third conditionals.
How English works adopts a more general approach to the teaching of English conditionals.
The problems experienced by Iranian students when learning the second and third conditionals are vast. However, these problems are majorly experienced from the guidelines exposed in pedagogic grammar books.
It is from this understanding that this study focuses on the books How English Works and Advanced and Grammar in Use, specifically because they are focused on teaching the second and third conditionals, the main focus of this study.
Teachers teaching the second conditional to Iranian students have often expressed concern over the fact that Iranian students do not understand that the second conditional is not talking about the past (Herzing 1995).
This view is especially evidenced in Advanced Grammar in Use because, in explaining the “if” conditional, it explains future tenses using a present tense verb (Hewings 2005: 166). This teaching approach is almost always problematic for Iranian students.
Also, in How English Works, the same problem is witnessed in the first sentence of page 257 because the book simply explains that the second conditional uses the past form to refer to present future situations, without explaining how the students should comprehend the past, present and future tenses (Swan and Walter 1997: 257).
This explanation is perplexing for most Iranian students because the use of the word “if” changes the timeline of various verb uses in the second and third conditionals because Swan and Walter (1997: 260) in their first sentence on page 260 explain that present and future verbs can all be used to refer to the present and future situations if they are used with the word “if”.
For instance, in their first sentence on page 260, the explanation is that the use of the words “if I go….I will” and “if I went…I would” would all be used to represent both the present and future scenarios (Swan and Walter 1997: 260). However, in Iran , it is understood that “if I go” represents the present scenario and “if I went” represents the past tense.
This understanding is, therefore, contradicted when learning the second conditional because both verbs have been used interchangeably. With this sort of explanation abounding, it remains very puzzling for the Iranian learners to understand what tense structures should be used to explain the second conditionals.
Advanced Grammar in Use uses inductive reasoning to explain the form of the second and third conditionals through Practice Exercise 84 where students are required to complete conditional sentences in whichever form they deem appropriate (Hewings 2005: 172).
Since inductive teaching is known to have an ambiguity in the expected objectives, this teaching methodology (inductive teaching) may prove problematic for any student learning second and third conditionals.
If and Whether
The use of the two conditionals words “if” and “whether” is prominent in explanations of the second and third conditionals for Iranian students. Often, when explaining the second and third conditionals, the two words are used to explain a made up scenario where the speaker is not sure about something.
However, the use of both words is often problematic for Iranian students who are not conversant with when to use “if” and “whether” because, at face value, they sound the same as one another.
Advanced Grammar in Use seems to contradict itself in this regard because in Practice Number 86 (c), it explains that when teaching the second and third conditionals, the two words, “if” and “whether” can be used interchangeably to mean the same but, several examples later, it explains that there are unique situations where “whether” would be preferable to “if” and “if” would be preferable to “whether” (Hewings 2005: 172).
For example, in the third sentence, “They could not decide if/whether it was worth resitting the exam”, Hewings (2005: 168) explains that “if” and “whether” can both be used interchangeably but, in the fourth sentence, “We argued about whether butter or margarine would be better for you”, “whether” is used in place of “if”.
This explanation is normally confusing for Iranian students because their understanding of the second and third conditionals is clouded by using “if” for “whether” and “whether” for “if”. In other words, the students may find that when they use the conditional word “if”, “whether” may have been more appropriate.
Problems Experienced and Difficulties in Meaning of Second and Third Conditionals by Iranians
Learning the meaning of second and third conditionals sometimes poses a big problem for Iranian learners because they are unable to predict (at different levels) the characteristic of the reading process and, therefore, they develop an unfound fear when learning the second and third conditionals (Erdal 2004).
This is the problem evidenced from Advanced Grammar Use because most of its teaching approaches are taught in very sophisticated vocabulary that would normally send a learner looking up the meaning of the words in a dictionary. For instance, in Practice Exercise 85.1, the book uses technical legal terms such as “libel” in its exercises to explain conditional sentences (Hewings 2005: 171).
This scenario is often retrogressive to the understanding of second and third conditionals for Iranian students because the meaning of the words used in the exercises is not clear. Moreover, the book does not show any follow up of student comprehension to the understanding of the meaning.
This means that when Iranian students are taught the second and third conditionals, they are given complex examples which may shift their attention from understanding the grammar point effectively.
Sometimes, this problem is enhanced by the fact that some students experience sophisticated meaning and high density grammatical compositions when learning the second and third conditionals, especially when the speech level used is beyond their category of comprehension. Often, the problem is normally experienced because Iranian students do not use English as their first language.
They would, therefore, not understand complex English terms. Also, sometimes the problem is normally represented by some students failing to understand that some combinations of sentence items are likely to occur more frequently than others. Erdal documents a teacher’s personal experience in the above problem by stating that:
From my teaching experience, it seems that, this problem is particularly noticeable with pre-intermediate and intermediate students who have made or are just making the transition from relying on an L1 dictionary to using a bilingual dictionary and developing higher tolerance of ambiguity, but still having a strong need to understand almost every new word they encounter in the text. (Erdal 2004: 245)
This assertion only reinforces the fact that simpler English terms should be used to teach second and third conditionals for Iranian students. In Advanced Grammar in Use, teaching the second and third conditional is taught using inductive reasoning through the understanding of both conditionals in practice exercises.
In Practice Exercise 84, Advanced Grammar in Use shows the use of inductive reasoning where students are required to understand general sentences and come up with conditionals (Hewings 2005: 169).
This form of inductive reasoning is problematic for Iranian students when establishing the meaning of second and third conditional sentences because, through the teaching methodology (inductive reasoning), students may be convinced that whatever meaning they have deduced from the generalization is true; but, in a real sense, the meaning could turn out to be false.
In other words, in deductive reasoning, the students are trying to establish the meaning of conditional sentences that may or may not exist and, in this manner, the chances of the occurrence of errors may be high.
Problems Experienced and Difficulties in Use of Second and Third Conditionals by Iranians
In understanding the second and third conditionals for learners who do not use English as their first language, the use of English beyond the classroom context is highly encouraged. In this regard, the context of second and third conditional understanding should be taught as a natural part of the student learning progress.
The problems identified in this context, in learning the second and third conditionals, almost always emanate from the fact that Iranian students are nervous and find the use of the second and third conditional a daunting and insurmountable task (in the natural environment) (Herzing 1995).
Also, considering most students do not enjoy using the second and the third conditionals in their normal language conversations, they do not use the grammatical dynamics out of the classroom context.
This is the problem experienced when teaching the second and third conditionals in How English Works and Advanced Grammar in Use analyzed in this essay because the learning objectives of the books do not exceed the expectations of students learning both conditionals in the classroom context.
For instance, from their exercises, it occurs that both books only aim at making the students understand how the second and third conditionals are used; making students understand the characteristics and functions of the second and third conditionals; and, ultimately, enabling students to understand how both conditionals can be used when making sentences.
The complexities in both books emanate from the fact that they do not advocate the use of second and third conditional sentences out of the classroom context because, for proper language comprehension, the language concepts learnt (second and third conditionals) ought to be practised not only in the classroom, but also out of the classroom.
Moreover, the purpose of learning is normally spoilt by the fact that learning the second and third conditionals is only aimed at improving English language proficiency. Also, it has been identified by many Iranians students that learning the second and third conditionals is normally not a mainstream concept of English; in this regard, they would rather focus their time on learning mainstream concepts of the language (Bryndal 2009).
Learning unfamiliar concepts of grammar in pedagogy has been associated with an increase in anxiety among students and many of them have a negative expectation of second language study outcomes in such situations (Bryndal 2009). This analysis, therefore, shows confusion among students and instructors with regards to the aims of studying the second and third conditionals.
This attitude obviously dents a blow to the understanding of second and third conditionals for Iranian students because they approach the learning of the conditionals as a less important concept of English. On the contrary, the understanding of conditionals should be a natural course of learning second and third conditionals, rather than a basic concept of its application (Bryndal 2009).
This is one problem experienced from both books analyzed in this study because the second and third conditionals often rely on the use of imaginary sentences and unreal situations, as evidenced in the first practice exercise, unreal conditionals which may counter the aim of using the second and third conditionals out of the classroom context (Hewings 2005: 166).
Moreover, the books also use many hypothetical examples in their exercises which cannot be used in the real-world use of the second and third conditional sentences. It would, therefore, be more beneficial for the authors of the books to use real examples which can be applied in the practical environment of the Iranian students. This would encourage them to use both conditionals out of the classroom context.
With regards to the use of the second and third conditionals, How English Works uses inductive reasoning to show how the second and third conditionals should be used. In Practice Exercise 4 (“if: ordinary tense use”), the book expects students to complete conditional sentences by providing half-completed sentences.
Since inductive teaching is known to have an ambiguity of the expected objectives, the teaching methodology (inductive teaching) may prove problematic for Iranian students when using the second and third conditionals because the outcome of the use of conditional sentences could be many, and one may be wrong.
From the teaching methodologies applied in both grammar books, we see that the understanding of the form, meaning and use of the third and second conditionals is problematic for Iranian students with regards to the use of inductive and deductive reasoning.
Reading exercises meant to explain conditionals should also be authenticated with the purpose of undertaking the learning process in the first place (meaning that when learning the second and third conditionals, the learning process should be centered more on the meanings of the second and third conditionals, as opposed to the text that accompanies the learning process).
There is, therefore, a problem when referring to the materials teachers use to teach the second and third conditionals because, if teachers use the right teaching materials, then the goals and comprehension levels of the students learning the second and third conditionals will be improved.
The lack of preexisting knowledge about English and, more so, second and third conditionals, makes the understanding of second and third conditionals extremely difficult for Iranian students. This is, however, a problem identified to affect most foreign language learners.
The problem emanates from Iranian students deriving their understanding of the second and third conditionals by applying concepts of their first language in second and third conditionals comprehension (Herzing 1995). In this regard, therefore, there is a clash of language understanding because of the eminent differences between English and Persian.
One area identified to be of great complexity to Iranian students is the text structure of the Persian language influence that affects English comprehension and the ability of students recalling how to structure sentences in the second and third conditionals (Gerngross 2007).
Moreover, in Iran, there are several language groups (for example Kurdish, Persian and the like) which affect the sentence structure and ability of Iranian students to recall the sentence structures applied in the second and third conditionals.
For instance, it has been identified that Iranian students with an authentic Arabic language background tend to remember expository texts better (but with comparison structures), whereas Iranian students who have a strong inclination to Asian language backgrounds are identified by Gerngross (2007:6) to “speak Kurdish recall texts best from text with either problem-solution or causation structures”
The absence of formal content schemata for Iranian students also compounds the problem in the sense that students are unable to make predictions of how to structure sentences in the second and third conditionals because they lack the ability to resonate with the meaning of the sentences made.
This is a problem evidenced in Iranian students since one reason why most students resist learning the second or third conditionals is because they have not properly mastered the rules of grammar and, therefore, they are not in a position to apply what they have learnt (Gerngross 2007: 6).
This makes most students assume that learning the second and third conditionals is a difficult exercise and so they usually become reluctant in participating in the learning activity. Studies that purport this view have been seconded by other studies on Asian students who expressed the same reluctance in learning second and third conditionals if they were heavily characterized by European referents (Bryndal 2009).
Other problems identified to worsen the situation are associated with the characteristics of Iranian students because they are sometimes identified to have negative expectations in their learning outcomes (therefore, ‘killing their spirit’ of learning second and third conditionals in the first place).
An example is cited in Nitschke (2010: 3) explaining that “the general assumption by students (not only Iranian students) that understanding second and third conditionals is difficult also affects the attitude most students approach to learning second and third conditionals”. This would no doubt negatively affect their cognitive ability regarding the topic of study (Nitschke 2010).
However, many researchers such as Jones (2010) and Bryndal (2009) have studied the reasons for such negative attitudes among Iranian students and many have concluded that most students are normally affected by previous negative experiences or some just have a negative expectation of the subject of study (Nitschke 2010).
How does this analysis relate to the earlier discussion of Iranian students’ problem?
Complexity of English Rules
Many languages, such as Latin or even Persian (which many Iranian students are more conversant with), do not have many exceptions to their rules (Rich 2008: 544).
Though these rules are majorly flexed because they are aimed at facilitating the understanding of English for learners, they sometimes end up being more complex and sophisticated for most Iranian students when comprehending the second and third conditionals (Jones 2010: 1).
This is the problem experienced with Advanced Grammar in Use because its comprehension of the second and third conditionals is heavily reliant on understanding English grammar rules. For instance, in explaining the rules of the real conditional sentences in Unit 86, the author explains that “unless” and “if” can be used interchangeably, though they do not necessarily have the same meaning (Hewings 2005: 172).
Understanding when to use “unless” and “if” can be understood from English language comprehension. However, this is normally not as simple as it sounds because the approach is not admissible for Iranian students, since they do not have a strong command of English in the first place.
Some Iranian students have often identified that the application of grammatical rules in the second conditional amount to a blockage of thought (Jones 2010: 1).
For example, in the real life application of tenses, the uses of past tense in hypothetical situations seem not to apply all times. For instance, many Iranian students have often identified that when they come across native English speakers, they are often confused by the fact that they do not really observe the rule of using past tenses in hypothetical situations (Jones 2010: 1).
The way native speakers pick their verb of choice when using the second conditional, therefore, seems somewhat perplexing for most Iranian students because, even from the above example, it is difficult to establish whether there is also an exceptional rule in English which states that when the verb is happening at present, a present tense should be used (Baecker 1995).
In How English Works, the comprehension of English rules cannot be overemphasized, especially when determining the right tense use in the second and third conditionals because the determinations of the right tense is entirely a matter of proper comprehension of the right English rule.
For instance, in the third sentence of page 263, the authors use “should” and “would” interchangeably to represent unreal situations in the second and third conditionals, but later acknowledge that there are unique situations where “would” is more suitable than “should”.
The explanation stems from “would” being more common than “should”. In comprehending tense use in the second and third conditionals, such “grey” areas prove problematic for Iranian students.
This problem has often been associated not only with Iranian learners, but also English native speakers (especially those at elementary and high school levels) (Nitschke 2010). It is, however, estimated that when students graduate or enter college, they normally know how to use the second conditional well.
Some students have often cited instances where they experience a lot of difficulty making a hypothetical thought using the second conditional because of the difficulty in selecting the right tense to use.
For instance, often times, many students have identified the fact that when they try to select a given tense, the sentence flow that comes out of the entire sentence is normally awkward and does not sound the same way as native speakers would speak (Postman 1969).
With regards to this complexity, Dahl (2004: 93) narrates further by stating that “We often use cases like “if I were”, “if she were”, “if you were” in our daily life, some thoughtful ones would even make long hypothetical thoughts for everything, like Einstein, Newton, Pascal etc”.
In summary, there are significant similarities in the manner second and third conditionals are explained in the two books analyzed in this study How English works and Advanced Grammar in Use. This essay acknowledges that Iranian students develop a problem understanding the second and third conditionals as they are taught in the textbooks, majorly because they have a unique Persian influence and other native languages spoken in Iran.
This affects the way they comprehend English sentence structures and word arrangements. Moreover, they often experience a lot of communication challenges in augmenting the two parts of the sentences observed in the second and third conditionals, as is explained in both textbooks.
In conclusion, most Iranian students experience problems that result from the grammatical complexities and sophisticated lexical terms that may be used in learning second and third conditionals (especially evidenced in the textbook, Advanced Grammar in Use). This problem is especially observed at the onset of learning the second and third conditionals.
This study also affirms that Iranian students experience significant challenges in determining the right tense to use when inverting the two segments of the second and third conditional sentences. Both textbooks highlighted in this study fail to explain the conditional events for Iranian students (as cited in their examples), probably because they are not written for a specific audience.
This problem is sometimes exacerbated by English having multiple rules and most students tend to find their comprehension quite challenging as well. When combined, these dynamics lead us to the conclusion that both textbooks cited in this study pose unique challenges to Iranian students in their own right and, therefore, they ought to be improved to address the needs of Iranians students.
However, comprehensively, we can conclude that they both expose the complexities Iranian students face with regards to learning the second and third conditionals.
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