The present study is a computerized frequency-driven approach which focuses on the use of the definite article the by students in the Degree of English Studies at the University of Valencia. The objective of this research is twofold, first to explore and compare the frequency article-related errors made by students in their 1st and 3rd years and second, to identify the nature of the mentioned mistakes made by these EFL learners. The source of this investigation is the corpus of the research project CASTLE, made up of essays written by students on certain set tasks on a number of general topics selected from their textbooks. A total of 100 samples, each containing approximately 400 words, were compiled and analyzed by means of WordSmith Tools 6 (Scott 2012), both quantitatively and qualitatively. In this way, instances containing the article the were retrieved, taking into account the number of occurrences as well as its combination with adjacent words. The purpose was to recognize errors of usage, both in the omission of the article in a context where it should occur, and in its misuse including it in a sentence in which the zero article would be required. The basis for the present analysis was the set of 91 test-sentences in Celce-Murcia & Larsen-Freeman (1999), which have been used in related works for the inspection of the English definite article (see Liu & Gleason 2002, García Mayo 2008, Isabelli-García & Slough 2012). A survey made up of 50 gaps to be filled with the definite article the or the zero article was used to determine the difficulties of the students on this grammatical aspect. To carry out the investigation, this study focused on the four categories of the article the proposed by Liu and Gleason (2002), to which the category “article overuse” was added. The results show that the degree of difficulty varies depending on the category of the articles and that students find Type 1 use of the article (cultural use of the according to Liu and Gleason’s proposal, 2002) particularly difficult. The present investigation proves that not only 1st year students but also 3rd year students need guidance and practice in order to make use of the definite article appropriately in their essays.
corpus grammar teaching
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