Journal of Academic Language and Learning, Vol 12, No 2 (2018)

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Countability and confusion: Helping students with English as an additional language to understand the English article system

Julia Miller

Abstract


Academic language and learning (ALL) practitioners are frequently asked by students for help with English grammar, but are not equipped to answer questions in detail. This study examines an explanation of the English article system (a/an/the) for adult high intermediate level university students (average IELTS score 5.5) with English as an Additional Language (EAL). The aim was to inform ALL practice by determining which articles are most difficult for EAL students to use correctly. Participants (n = 297) were given a pretest from which twenty articles had been deleted, followed by a teaching session and a posttest. A comparison of pre- and posttest scores indicated some improvement in definite and indefinite article usage, although the indefinite article was more problematic than the definite article. It is recommended that ALL practioners working with upper intermediate level students concentrate on countability, first use indefinite articles and the correct use of the definite article followed by ‘of’ or a relative clause. Occasions when nouns are not preceded by articles should also be highlighted. The study challenges ALL advisors to investigate particular problems in other areas of English grammar in order to understand their students’ difficulties and provide better ALL support.

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