Arabic Transfer During Acquisition of English Articles

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Arabic L1 Transfer

The gaining of knowledge about the English grammatical articles has posed significant challenges to English as Second Language (ESL) learners over the years. Specifically, learners whose native language, the first language, do not possess corresponding article systems often struggle to acquire English articles. Conversely, for English-as-a-first language (EFL) learners, the attaining of knowledge about the proper use of English articles occurs naturally as they grow. Arguably, several variations exist between the Standard Arabic language, which is vastly acquired through Arabic formal educational systems, and the English phonology. Such differences often result in ESL learners’ difficulty in acquiring Standard English, especially the use of articles. Notably, several reviews have indicated the variances emanating from Arabic and English use of grammar and orthography (Atashian & Al-Bahri, 2018). To understand the differences between such alterations, some studies have used such linguistic phonologies as syntax (Fhaid Alqhtani, 2018; Mustafa, 2017; Khalil, 2020). The current study analyzes the difficulties in the acquisition of English articles by EFL learners, highlighting the challenges Arabic EFL learners face, with notes on L1 transfer concerning definite articles.

Challenges in Acquisition of English Articles by ESL Learners

English article acquisition has been acknowledged in several previous literature materials as very challenging. For instance, most studies that dealt with the effect of EFL on learners’ exercise of grammar articles were piloted in the EFL framework (Alhaisoni, Gaudel, & Al-Zuoud, 2017; Shalaby, 2014). In essence, ESL perspectives have not established satisfactory attention to the use of English articles. Many research articles that used extraneous L1 language loss did not create a distinct variation between the two forms of learners and their attainment of English grammar articles and often used them interchangeably. For example, in the research conducted by Shalaby (2014), there was a clear misunderstanding between the context of EFL and ESL in the framework of English articles. Due to the lack of transfer studies in ESL environments and inadequate ESL training, the surety of whether learners in ESL backgrounds indicate any transfer effects are doubtful.

The discrepancy emerging between the acquisition of English articles by ESL and EFL mainly focused on the condition that English is communicated and learned as a core subject in schools. The effect of this move ensures that all students can attain minimum EFL competence, thus enabling them to apply English as the main form of instruction or lingua franca amongst orators of foreign linguistics (Ababneh, 2017). For instance, the variation in the creation of public speaking, which allows learners to use English in day-to-day communication as opposed to learning in a constrained environment, might have a language learning process. Therefore, such factors as the context of instructions, materials used, and the form of relationship ESL and EFL learners have are essential in language acquisition. Besides, noting whether the learners in ESL backgrounds are subjected to transfer effects is vital to unlocking the potential of English instructors.

English Article and the Standard Arabic Language

A grammatical feature that is researched more often by EFL-oriented educators but is understated in an ESL perspective is articles. The article’s structure in English is different from the standard Arabic language. For instance, the English form of articles includes the indefinite articles “a” and “an,” the definite article “the,” and the zero articles. Conversely, the Standard Arabic Language inscribes “definiteness” with the definite prefix, which commonly forms auxiliary to nouns [ʔal], for instance, [ʔalschool] “the school.” In this regard, the absence of indefinite articles in the Arabic language is replaced with the definite prefix (Alhaisoni et al., 2017). Alhaisoni et al. (2017) highlighted the use of definite Arabic prefixes, which are absent in the English language and English article usage. In the Arabic language, countable nouns are used concurrently with definite prefixes with no clear distinction for gender classification. For example, “the gentleman” rather than “gentleman” is often applied where there is no need for a specific discrepancy in gender.

Moreover, definite prefixes are applied when using abstract nouns. A good example is a sentence; “the past” instead of “past.” In other instances, such variations are noted when mass nouns are applied to infer wholeness. Examples include “the water” rather than “water” and proper nouns such as “The Arabic nation” rather than “Arabic nation” (Shalaby, 2014). Notably, the use of an article with two separate nouns containing a conjunction results in the negative L1 transfer. A good example is a use of “and,” such as “the spoon and the plate” instead of “spoon and plate.” Arabic ESL learners’ misuse of the English article ‘the” has been recognized in numerous research articles. Shalaby (2014) and Alhaisoni et al. (2017) are cases where a critical evaluation of Arabic learners’ records discovered the abuse of the definite article. The employment of the definite article “the” was accredited to students’ transfer of their L1 knowledge because the definite article was used to substitute the zero articles.

Other studies have misrepresented the use of definite errors by ESL learners. Particularly, Thyab (2016) characterized such faults as the following transfer errors:

Grammatical construction: the arms of combatants

Learner text: *arms of combatants

However, Standard Arabic Language would apply a definite pointer in this perspective despite it being auxiliary to the second noun, for example, in this expression: ʔðruʕu ʔəl-dʒunu:d (arms definite-soldiers-arms of the soldiers). Since Arabic relates the use of definite pointer in such phrases, as shown above, no particular article was indicated in the example, thus resulting in inaccuracy to factor such faults as transfer errors. Based on the studies reviewed formerly, the employment of the definite article and subsequent replacement of the English zero or indefinite is an error endorsed by L1 influence. As discussed above, the study on the effect of L1 Arabic transfer acquisition of the English articles, specifically definite articles, is deficient and additional analysis is needed.

Methods Used in Teaching Definite Articles

Interviews and L1 Transfer

Whereas the exploration of English article errors by ESL learners errors can deliver some indication of transfer, they cannot establish the psychological mindset of the learners. Therefore, to teach and understand how the learners perceive articles written in English is to have learners dialogue about their involvements and reflect on them. A research article has highlighted the use of interviews to scrutinize transfer among ESL and EFL learners (Aronin & Toubkin, 2002). For example, Aronin and Toubkin (2002) considered transfer in L2 and L3 immersion teaching methods. They examined the consequence of the Russian dialectal, which was students’ L1, on their achievement of Hebrew as an ESL and English as the learners’ L3. They also inspected whether L2 and L1 impacted learners’ acquisition of L3.

The interviews, nevertheless, were group dialogues, and each member was given a stage to reply to the interrogations modeled by the assessor. However, the discussions that were not approved independently might have resulted in an exaggerated outcome. Moreover, some learners might have been curious to duplicate other students’ responses, especially the introverts who fear disclosing certain important information. Students were “protective” and retorted to such comments as “It is my inherent phonology. How can it affect anything?” In essence, the majority of students partaking in the research acknowledged that they did not understand the formulation of the L1 transfer when attaining the first and the second forms of language transfers. 84% of the student, however, acknowledged that the Russian language had no effect on their form of acquiring Hebrew. Moreover, about 91% noted that the Russian language and its dialect had no significant interference in their efforts to obtain English concepts.

A few study publications focused on how the interviewers concentrated on the inspiration in acquiring the Arabic students’ L1 effect on their gaining of a grammar feature, in this case, the definite English articles. Touchie (1983) applied the strategies that learners embraced in developing such grammar features as definite articles, relative clauses, and syntax errors. The scholar informed me they interviewed some Arabic ESL students. However, it was not possible to establish the dialogues on the basis of whether they were performed independently or collaborated with other types of group discussions. 84% of the study the members testified that they depended on their L1 Arabic in reacting to the four relative clauses tests as directed by the examiner (Touchie, 1983). The study further concluded that the Arabic ESL contenders reported that their L1 predisposed their English article errors.

After examining the Arabic to English translation test and the multiple-choice, sentence completion, and grammaticality judgment tests majority noted several errors. Touchie (1983) recognized that the most recurring fault was the use of the plausible pronoun followed by the misuse of the definite articles. Both errors are projected by CA and accredited to L1 transfer. According to Alhaisoni et al. (2017), pedagogical practices comprising an association of article use in learners’ ESL systems may advance the learners’ aptitude to practice the articles in both writing and other skills.

In the same context, the use of instructional taxonomy in teaching has been widely used in teaching English articles. Instructional taxonomy is used to avoid such misleading hypotheses as to the definite article “the” for non-generic NPs. In the framework of ESL with such morphemes, although Arabic students often experience an immense exposure to the L2 system of English articles, they are still faced with challenges. Ellis (2006) suggests that such problems of L2 acquisition existence may occur due to the structural functions and empirical mapping of ESL learners, which vary from EFL learners. Therefore, instructional fossilization is endorsed to augment L2 learners’ article system acquisition.

Contrastive and Error Analysis

There are two key methods embraced by functional linguists to investigate learners’ errors. Research has alleged that for linguistic teaching resources to be operational, they needed to embrace explicit explanations of the alterations and resemblances between the learners’ EFL and ESL learners. CA attracted the “most spirited controversies” in the field of foreign language teaching, and Robert Lado was one of its strongest advocates (Sridhar, 1975, p. 3). Lado’s book Linguistics Across Cultures demonstrated the contrastive analyses of vocabulary, grammar structures, and sound systems of various languages. His exploration enclosed comprehensive contrasts between L1s and L2 learners and foretold the extents of impending complications learners might expect based on such assessments (as cited in Myles, 2010). Lado’s manuscript stirred academicians to propose teaching ingredients founded on CA and steered the delivery of the Michigan Test of English Language Proficiency (MTELP).

CA, which was thought to have the capacity to predict learners’ errors and classify parts of exertion for learners by the appraisal and the evaluation of both ESL and EFL languages without inspecting the learners’ documents, was substituted by an EA. The methodological practice of CA was joined with EA so that learners’ records were first explored through EA (Thao, 2020). Once errors are identified, CA helps researchers locate errors that are prospective to be instigated by learners’ undesirable transfer of their L1 understanding (Altheneyan & Boayrid, 2019). The exploration of learners’ faults through EA, inversely, identified how L1 transfer justified, though for some few, the challenges encountered by language learners.

Specific principles are applied in the methodology of using CA in the study of English features. In this case, Serdhar (1975) stressed that scientists pursuing to associate two dialects through CA have to ascertain that they can access precise and unequivocal accounts of the languages they are to probe. Moreover, another principle has to pertain to having harmonious explanations of the languages that are being evaluated. In other words, the emphasis of the assessment should either be on the whole system of language or subsets. For instance, scholars should observe either a definite article or concentrate on one of the articles. While EA was prognostic as it pursued to forecast learners’ errors based on the resemblances or variances between EFL and ESL, CA is investigative and is typically combined with EA. In this regard, the latter facilitated and enlightened sources of errors rather than theorizing about them.


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