Rant On Missing Articles

I got shot before I went to India. Oh, no, actually, I got a shot, one against hepatitis, before I went to India.

Just one of funnier instances of missing article resulting in different meaning. Usually, missing articles don’t affect meaning as much as in this case.

But if you’ve taught English to students whose own language doesn’t have articles, you probably have some idea of how hard it is to learn to use them correctly or even to remember to use them at all. It’s definitely not hard for native speakers to use them, or to do gap-fills designed to practice them…but I gained some insight when I proofread excellent translation of book about speeches on economics: it was excellent in almost every way save for its near total lack of articles. It is extremely hard to “put them into” someone’s already-expressed thoughts.

I’m hardly expert with just CELTA and couple years of experience, but I think there is huge lack of existing article practice at various levels. I wouldn’t want lesson on articles every week, but for large number of people throughout the world whose languages don’t have this great feature, gap fills done regularly would not be bad thing. I have tried to adapt authentic materials by just taking out articles…but it’s hard to do that well, and often it becomes larger task because students need to understand the vocabulary well to do it correctly.

I also have not come across anything particularly innovative for practicing articles. On occasion, after I’ve done lesson on them (CE Upper Int is one of best I’ve seen for that level or above), I’ve done something short with funny story or news story (find “a” used with a job, find “the” before a noun which is clarified with a clause) to raise awareness. But I don’t think this is good way to practice all time.

I stand by my feeling that articles are not usually hugely important to meaning, but by now you have probably gotten my drift that their absence does make difference in writing and in speech.

Anyone want to go back and fill in my missing articles? And how do you deal with this?