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Haven’t we been here before?

I’ve been casting about all week for  Something To Write About.  ” Blogs only work if you write every day,” says one of my friends who knows about these things, thus heaping more guilt on to my already overloaded plate and shoulders.

Had been trawling about comments made by members of the BELF group on the Besig Ning and I tried to comment, but I just landed up sounding like a rather petulant Jeremy Clarkson – except I don’t get the money he does for not only sounding petulant, but actually BEING petulant.

So this is a sort of spin-off from the BELF thing and it concerns my so-called “lesson” this afternoon: Conditionals and negative questions. That wasn’t planned, it just evolved. The “conversation” (my lessons are conversation- rich,- driven and -dependent) started from a question my student asked about maintaining, or trying to maintain the level reached during this very short time spent with us in a complete immersion, conversation-rich, -driven and -dependent environment. “Well,” I said, starting off as most NS do when framing a longish answer to a complex question, “unless you practise some aspect of English every day, you will lose your confidence.”

“‘Unless’? What is this?”

“Um…” Well, come on, what the hell IS it? Sheesh – think brain think… what is “unless”? I mean apart from being a “subordinating conjunction” – which isn’t the answer my student needs or wants. Is it really just another way of saying “if…..not”? Unless you pay, you can’t have it = If you don’t pay, you can’t have it. I think so….think think think of an example where this isn’t so…..nope….can’t think of one here and now. Can “unless” be used in a 3rd conditional – ie about the past?  Ermmmm…. think think think…. I wouldn’t have got this job, unless I’d known a little bit about what I was talking about. Yep, can be used in a 3rd with a past perfect.

All this in what I hoped wasn’t perceived by my student as Too Long A Time.

Then we looked at how “if” and “otherwise” worked using the same sentences and found the patterns and like that.

Then I stupidly asked, “Hadn’t you ever heard the word “unless” before?”

“Why you didn’t say “Had you ever? Why you say “Hadn’t you ever?” she asked. Why indeed.

 Does anyone have an idea?

Hasn’t anyone got an idea?

 Has no one got a single idea?

Which of these – in an ELF context would you teach? Any, all or some of them?

Man, my brain hurts.


4 responses »

  1. Oh seriously, this is so not what I need when I’m busy trying to meet deadlines…

    LOL – thanks muchly for the rich giggle on a rather unproductive Friday, it must be the weather, though – as I can’t help you out. I’ll look into what Swan says and get back to ya.


  2. I mean it really was a lesson that went from panic to speculate to reflect and back again…..
    Thanks for stopping by, as always 🙂


  3. Hi Candy! I think I’d want to teach both but go after the pragmatics and point out that native seakers often use negative questions when things are a bit awry somehow, or not quite as they should be.

    Your student wasn’t Slovak, Hungarian or Croatian by any chance? It interests me that they seems to use negative questions a bit like we might use modals to make a question more polite. Of course we could offer a cooingly sympathetic ‘Oh, aren’t you feeling well?’ which might be similar I guess, but (mild) irritation or indicating that something is not quite expected is more likely. So there’s potential for relationship damage there if they say things like ‘Haven’t you finished yet?’, and ‘Aren’t you ready yet?’ and we hear it and think ‘Give us a chance!’ or ‘What are you breathing down my neck for?’

    • Hi Vicki
      Thank you so much for stopping by! I would love to spend some time with you discussing BELF! The student was Italian. Does that fit in anywhere? We spent a really great afternoon thereafter discussing exactly those things you mention. We even ventured into the rather more sarcastic, “Well aren’t we just the little ray of sunshine then?” This whole journey is nothing more than fascinating!



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