The Presence or Absence of Definiteness in the Native Language and Its Impact on ESL Learning

Article excerpt

Abstract

The purpose of this study was to determine if first language interference does play a significant role in the use of articles in English by native speakers of Arabic as compared to other ESL learners. An error analysis was conducted on the use of English articles in essays taken from two groups of advanced ESL learners. The essays were composed by undergraduate students at Texas A&M University located in Commerce during the period 2011-2013. The first group was comprised of 18 native speakers of Arabic while the other was comprised of 18 other non-native speakers of English. The use of English articles was categorized numerically using a taxonomy of formal obligatory contexts. None of the statistical tests used in the study revealed significant differences between the groups even though over 90% of group two participants were native speakers of languages that do not have a system which contrasts articles as definite and indefinite like English does, or a system that separates article function from indexical use of the morpho-syntactic unit. Since Arabic does have an article system, these findings provide evidence that the strong version of the contrastive analysis hypothesis has little predictive import with respect to the English language article system in the written language of advanced ESL learners. The major factors affecting the use of English articles by these subjects are intra-lingual rather than inter-lingual.

Keywords: definiteness, indefiniteness, ESL learning, intra-lingual errors, inter-lingual errors

1. Introduction

It may be claimed that "a knowledge of English is a sign of culture and education, besides being helpful in getting a job" (Abu-Absi, 1982, p. 134). For the vast majority of people throughout the world, English is considered as the international language. It is also used as a "lingua franca" in many parts of the world (Kim, 1983, p. 21). ESL learners in the Arabic speaking world are no different than their counterparts in other parts of the world. A large number of Arab students as well as students from other countries go to the United States of America and other English speaking countries in an effort to pursue their post secondary education. This highlights the growing need for good English as a foreign language (EFL) instruction in American colleges and universities.

In the case of native speakers of Arabic, (Naser, 1983) points out that Arab students represent a large portion of international students in America. They usually lack proper preparation in the English language. Thus, most of them have to take a full course of English before entering colleges and universities. Since Arabic and English differ greatly in several linguistic aspects, students whose native language is Arabic encounter some serious difficulties in their endeavors to learn English.

One area of the English language that is particularly troubling to native speakers of Arabic is the use of articles. In a study conducted by (Kharma, 1981) concludes that it has been proven without any doubt at all that the use of English definite/indefinite articles is a serious source of difficulty to Arabic speaking students. To this effect, Naser (1983) claims that in the case of Arabic and English, the perceived language distance is relatively great (pp. 21-27). Therefore, the effect of Arabic on its native speakers' use of English articles and other syntactic elements would be expected to be relatively weak. Richards (1974, p. 172) also stresses the developmental aspects of learning syntax. He states "contrastive analysis may be ...least predictive at the syntactic level". Furthermore, he urges that more attention needs to be paid to errors the source of which is not inter-lingual. More specifically, Richards (1974) classifies inter-lingual errors as those resulting from overgeneralization, ignorance of rule restrictions, incomplete application of rules, and false concepts hypothesized.

Building upon Richards' (1974) and Corder's (1975) theoretical framework regarding error analysis and how it may be used to explain ESL learners' errors, James (1998) makes a solid contribution to the area of error analysis and its impact on aiding non-native speakers of English to understand reasons behind the mistakes made during the process of second language learning. …

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