How definite are we about the English article system? Chinese learners, L1 interference and the teaching of articles in English for academic purposes programmes.

Nickalls, Richard (2020). How definite are we about the English article system? Chinese learners, L1 interference and the teaching of articles in English for academic purposes programmes. University of Birmingham. Ph.D.

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Omission and overspecification of the/a/an/Ø are among the most frequently occurring grammatical errors made in English academic writing by Chinese first language (L1) university students (Chuang & Nesi, 2006; Lee & Chen, 2009). However, in the context of competing demands in the English for academic purposes (EAP) syllabus and conflicting evidence about the effectiveness of error correction, EAP tutors are often unsure about whether article use should or could be a focus and whether such errors should be corrected or ignored. With the aim of informing pedagogy, this study investigates: whether explicit teaching or correction improves accuracy; which article uses present the most challenges for Chinese students; the causes of error and whether a focus on article form can be integrated within a modern genre based/student centred approach in EAP. First, a questionnaire survey investigates how EAP teachers in higher education explicitly teach or correct English article use. Second, the effect of explicit teaching and correction on English article accuracy is investigated in a longitudinal experiment with a control group. Analysis of this study’s post-study measures raise questions about the sustained benefits of written correction or decontextualised rule-based approaches. Third, findings are presented from a corpus-based study which includes an inductive and deductive analysis of the errors made by Chinese students. Finally, in a fourth study hypotheses are tested using a multiple-choice test (n=455) and the main findings are presented: 1) that general referential article accuracy is significantly affected by proficiency level, genre and students’ familiarity with the topic; 2) Chinese students are most challenged by generic and non-referential contexts of use which may be partly attributable to the lack of positive L1 transfer effects; 3) overspecification of definite articles is a frequent problem that sometimes gives Chinese B2 level students’ writing an ‘informal tone’; and 4) higher nominal density of pre-qualified noun phrases in academic writing is significantly associated with higher error rates. Several practical recommendations are presented which integrate an occasional focus on article form with whole text teaching, autonomous proofreading skills, register awareness, and genre-based approaches to EAP pedagogy.

Type of Work: Thesis (Doctorates > Ph.D.)
Award Type: Doctorates > Ph.D.
Licence: All rights reserved
College/Faculty: Colleges (2008 onwards) > College of Arts & Law
School or Department: School of English, Drama and American & Canadian Studies
Funders: None/not applicable
Subjects: L Education > L Education (General)
P Language and Literature > PE English
P Language and Literature > PI Oriental languages and literatures


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