From: Leigh Steedman <leoshelliinet.net.au>
Subject: 'An Article of Faith' - An investigation into the acquisition and use of the English definite article by Japanese learners of English
Institution: Macquarie University
Program: Department of Linguistics
Dissertation Status: Completed
Degree Date: 2005
Author: Leigh Steedman
Dissertation Title: 'An Article of Faith' - An investigation into the acquisition and use of the English definite article by Japanese learners of English
Dissertation URL: Degree is Master of Applied Linguistics
Dr Peter Roger
This study took place because of the author's interest in various
languages' article systems, which began during a year's teaching in Prague,
in 2001. Czech, being a Latinate language, has no article system, and is
also a pro-drop language. These, and several other differences, were
factors leading to the author beginning to consider areas of similarity and
difference in language families generally.
On his return to Australia, the author taught ESL at Curtin University, an
institution which has one of the highest proportions of overseas students
in Australia (most of them from countries in S.E. Asia) There he began
taking an interest in some of the general principles of the structure of
some of the many languages which were represented in the student body, and
reading about languages from SE Asian countries specifically.
It was discovered that many (indeed most) of the world's languages did not
have article systems as such, and that those which did often had systems
which differed widely from the English model. Most of the overseas students
at Curtin came from an L1 background not possessing an article system, and
the author wondered whether they all (or any groups in particular) had
problems in acquiring and using the English definite article.
After opting to investigate this question, the author then decided to study
article acquisition by Japanese learners, because the Japanese language
possesses no article system, and because there were many Japanese students
at Curtin. When research questions had been decided, the author devised
tasks which would answer these questions, choosing a short essay task, a
cloze reading exercise and a questionnaire as research tools.
All the tasks were administered to a sample of 32 volunteer Japanese
students from Curtin's ELICOS Centre. The volunteers were from the middle
and upper (proficiency) sections of the Centre (at approximate levels early
Intermediate to upper Intermediate/Advanced). The three tasks were
completed by the volunteers, and the results recorded and examined. A
detailed record of the students' work on each of the tasks was entered on
to spreadsheets, and the results were then analyzed, using tables and graphs.
There was no firm evidence for any pedagogical implications in the study,
and use of the definite article in particular contexts was seen by the
students as important at some times and not at others. While there appeared
to be no widespread understanding of the functions of the definite article,
ability to use it contextually, when necessary, seemed reasonably high on
parts of two of the tasks.
Some task variation was found within the results of the three tasks given
to the students, and a generally very low level of article acquisition
appeared to have been displayed in the study. Most of the students enjoyed
learning English, but most found it difficult or very difficult to learn.
One interesting finding was that the students, given the opportunity to use
the definite article in their own personal writing, used it very little indeed
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