A Closer Look at the English Article System: Internal and External Sources of Difficulty Revisited

Mustafa Ali Harb


This paper aims to provide a short overview of the English article system along with a detailed account of the sources of difficulty that makes such a complicated system uneasily attainable for ESL learners. According to Hewson (1972), “the definite and the indefinite articles are among the ten most frequent words of English discourse” (p.131). As such, learners of English are likely to be heavily exposed to hundreds of instances that contain a wide range of uses of English articles, which will, presumably, provide non-native speakers with a perceptibly increased level of accuracy. However, the English article system has been reported to be one of the most difficult features of the English language, causing some students enormous difficulties; particularly, of course, those whose native languages do not use articles (Master, 1990; Mizuno, 1999; Park, 2006; inter alia). In this paper, I will discuss the factors that make the English article system difficult for speakers of other languages to use appropriately. The paper will be divided into three sections: (1) a short overview of the article system, (2) internal factors: those that pertain to the internal structure of English such as lexico-syntactic and discoursal factors, and (3) external factors: those that pertain to other languages such as presence or absence of the article system. Possibly unlike previously published research, this paper combines both factors and further works to the advantage of new instructors as it provides them with the rationale behind ESL learners’ inappropriate usage of the article system. 

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.5296/ijl.v6i4.5998

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