The English Article System or An English Article System? Determiners and ELL’s

TESOL-direct states “It is almost impossible to discuss the noun phrase without referring at some stage to the class of words known as determiners, since more often than not a noun will occur with one or more words from this grammatical class. Determiners include articles (a/an, the) and quantifiers.” DEFINITE AND INDEFINITE ARTICLES IN ENGLISH GRAMMAR

According to Julia Miller, the English article system presents many problems for non-native speakers of English, particularly when they do not have an equivalent in their first language (2005)  “…identifying countability may be problematic for the learner”. John M. Lipski, an American linguist writes “Articles in English are one of the key indicators of native speaker competence, and the ease with which native speakers use articles can lead them to ignore the complexities of the system and often be unaware of their importance to English syntax.” (Lipski, 1978, p.13).

The term indefinite article refers to a or an. The term definite article refers to the. Once the noun is identified by an ELL as noncountable or countable, the student will need to determine if an article is necessary. The indefinite article is stated to be less problematic for most students because its use is restricted to singular, countable nouns (Miller, 2005). A study in 2002 by Lui and Gleason’s indicating that students may initially overuse the definite article even after the following instruction on its use and the use of the may be generic or non-generic (Miller, 2005). Definite articles are used when talking about or referring to something specific and indefinite articles are used when referring to something non-specific.

For example:

Duck

“The duck” (Definite) vs A duck (Indefinite)”. ‘The duck’ refers to a specific duck; however, referring to ‘a duck’ it refers to any duck.

Other struggles for Emergent Bilinguals include linguistic interference and cross-linguistic influence with quantifiers such as little, few, many, and much (Pesce)  and singular and plural noun determination as native langue nouns may be plural in their mother language but not in English (Miller, 2005).

Liu, D. & Gleason, J. L. (2002). Acquisition of the article the by nonnative speakers of English: An analysis of four types of use. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 24, 1–26.

Lipski, J.M. (1978) On the use of the indefinite article. Hispania, 61, 105-109.

Miller, J (2005). Most of ESL students have trouble with the articles. International Education Journal, 5 (ERC2004 Special Issue), 5th ser., 80-88.  J. Miller Text

Pesce, C. How to teach countable and uncountable nouns https://busyteacher.org/18856-how-to-teach-countable-uncountable-nouns-esl.html