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ESL forum > Grammar and Linguistics > THE USE OF ARTICLES OF ENGLISH    


Russian Federation

Dear teachers from English-speaking countries and born with English! :)
The topic is surely not new and has probably been raised lots of times but still ... All of us are perfectly aware that articles for those who learn English as a secondary foreign language in so many cases are merely senseless combinations of sounds, i.e. they fail to deeply understand what grammatical meaning they bear in a concrete situation. This problem is actual for, I guess, both those who are still elementary learners and even advenced level studetns whose speech is fluent enough but, yet, lacks for articles... as, you know, while they īre thinking what to say next, they don īt even feel the necessity to use a modifier before, say, a singular noun mentioned for the first time.
So, my question is as follows: does the ignorance of articles in English make our speech really weird and unnatural to the ear of a native speaker? Do native speakers use them intuitively rather than applying any special grammar rules? Can we completely skip them without influencing the meaning of what we want so say much? Finally, what are your thoughts about, how to put it right, teachers ī attempts to put our students in milder conditions and disregard their mistakes in the use of "a" and "the"?
Awfully sorry for so many questions, but the point of articles has been troubling me recently for an unknown reason 
Thank you for your answers! 

30 Nov 2018      

United Kingdom

Hi niksailor, well I will answer one or two of your questions, but not all! Native speakers do use the article intuitively; we do not need to think about it at all. I think some of us find the omission of the article funny and endearing, even. My Polish friend has a very high level of English but recently she said to me īI bought new car yesterday. ī  I think, over many sentences, if the article is constantly omitted, it does sound unnatural, although I don īt think it affects comprehension... I once gave a teacher training session to my colleagues, when we were getting a lot of students from eastern Europe. One exercise was for them to replace the missing articles - easy-peasy! The next was for them to explain why the article (or no article!) was needed. I wanted to show how difficult this was for eastern Europeans, particularly. Oh dear - not a clue! They didn īt have the first idea! As for how to help students get them right - I īm afraid I never bothered and hoped they would pick it up by osmosis, so I can īt help you there. Here is the passage I presented to my colleagues, just out of interest.

30 Nov 2018     

United States

I can add that the lack of articles immediately identifies the speaker as non-native, but I wouldn īt say that it sounds weird. Articles do significantly affect meaning, so they are an important part of our complicated language. If I said, "I tried a new kind of tea," you would ask me questions about it, so you could determine if you wanted to try it, too. If I said, "I tried the new kind of tea," the definite article indicates that we have discussed this tea, so you would probably ask, "Did you like it?". That is one example of the significance of articles.
Because their use is somewhat complicated, I don īt think it is necessary to put much effort into correcting beginning students when they misuse or don īt use them, but from the intermediate level up, it would be good to get the students trained.

1 Dec 2018     

United Kingdom

Bruce is right, of course. Using the article brings an extra layer of meaning. I really meant funny, rather than weird, but that īs because I īve been influenced by īLead Balloon ī. Here is a little excerpt. 

2 Dec 2018     

United States

https://www.quora.com/What-is-the-effect-of-the-omission-of-articles-from-a-sentence-Can-you-give-an-example has a couple of example paragraphs where the articles have been omitted.  To me, omitting the articles makes the speech sound choppy instead of fluent.

2 Dec 2018     

United States

I can see arguements for both sides. Articles do add some meaning to the phrase. This makes them important. However, using the wrong article ("the" instead of "a", "an" instead of "the") can take some information away from the sentence.
For example:
"I went to the store." --> This means you went to your usual store. This is the same store you always go to when you need to buy something.
"I went to a store." --> This could to any store, so the listener will ask questions about it such as, "What kind of store?" and "What was the name of the store?

When people omit articles, native listeners usually have a mental image of cavemen. "I went to store. I bought big stick. Big stick is good stick for piņata." Native listeners might think the person lacks intelligence; however, they will still understand the information with no issues. (The native speaker would have said, "I went to the store. I bought a big stick. The big stick is a good stick for a piņata)

If your students truly are struggling with articles to the point where they cannot progress further in their English studies, then omiting all adjectives can boost their confidence and allow them to continue. Native speakers will understand them. However, it will sound unusual and may cause insult to your students` intelligence. This being said, I have met brilliant people (nonnative speakers of English) who lead scientific research projects or teach at universities yet still make mistakes using articles. No one doubts their intelligence if they know the person īs job or have heard their opinions on difficult topics.

My recommendation is that you continue to teach articles ("a/an" for general / nonspecific objects and "the" for specific objects). However, if you have them not use articles, your job becomes much easier and people will still understand them. They will also still be able to pass standardized English tests. The negative side is that your students will not be respected as well for omiting articles.

2 Dec 2018     

United States

Aperkins4, I agree with your caveman comment, if the tone of the speech matches the mentality of a [primitive] caveman. However, the tone can convey hesitancy or any number of modalities in an intelligent person.

4 Dec 2018     

United States

Hi, English is the universal language. If you can able to understand and read the English then you can travel anywhere in this world. If someone wants to improve English then it is important to read articles. In this way, you can increase your vocabulary. You have to start from the beginner level so that you can understand the common words. If you will write in English then you also you can come to know about your mistakes. It is the best way to become proficient in any language. When I was struggling for my research papers writing in English then I took help from https://nativemonks.com/english-classes. It is a really good resource where you can learn any language completely.

26 Dec 2018