With the continuing expansion of English as an integral communications tool for education, science, technology, business and commerce, post-secondary education technical students are increasingly finding themselves in positions requiring them to manage high-technology studies in technical English. If you teach EFL, technical or business English, or teach a technical subject in English, you can use ESP workshops to successfully promote enhanced reading and comprehension in LEP learners.

A group of my Limited English Proficiency (LEP) students studying an Electronic Engineering class on antenna design had an American textbook in English, so it was necessary for me to convert chapters of the text into a series of ESP reading and comprehension workshops designed to allow the students to practice strategies for de-constructing the written text as an aid to understanding it.

A Series of Workshops

When my LEP Spanish-speaking Law faculty students were required to study aspects of Capital Punishment used in the USA, I again produced a series of materials as both written workshops and full multi-media presentations.

For my LEP Economics students to do comparative population studies of Colombia (population 44,222,000) with:

o South Korea (population 47,700,000)

o Poland (population 38,587,000)

o Argentina (population 38,428,000)

o South Africa (population 45,026,000)

o Ukraine (population 48,523,000)

A series of ESP workshops and multi-media presentations proved to be invaluable in promoting their reading and comprehension of their program’s technical materials in English. The process of creating effective ESP written workshops is not easy, but is well worth the effort required. It both benefits the learners in reading and comprehension of difficult written material and develops the resourcefulness and skills of the EFL teacher.

Preparing the Workshop

In preparing an ESP written workshop, the reading text is broken down into manageable segments which can be more readily understood by LEP learners. Students are taught to identify in context such elements as:

o Cognates – words which look the same in different languages; True Cognates have the same or similar meanings, usage and connotation in different languages while False Cognates have different meanings, usage and connotation in different languages

o Connectors – words that join simple and complex sentences with others. Examples of connectors are: and, but, or, so. They can be of different types, depending on their function. There are connectors which express addition, contrast, time sequence, choice, cause or result

o Referents – words that refer to others that have been used before. They are used to avoid word repetition. Commonly used ones include such parts of speech (words) as: pronouns, determiners, quantifiers and proper nouns

o Affixes – consist of prefixes and suffixes. A prefix is a syllable added to the front of a root word to make another word with a different grammatical function. A suffix is a syllable added to the end root of a word to make another word with a different grammatical function

In addition, a list of key, high-frequency vocabulary is prepared along with a glossary of technical terms which may prove to be difficult for the learners. Pre-reading activities, while-reading and post-reading activities are incorporated into the written workshop to complement and round out the total package. A variety of exercise types are used to provide in-context practice with the lexis and grammatical elements of the reading. Comprehensive support in the form of graphics, photos, diagrams and pictures are included, as are video, animation and sound files when reading and comprehension workshops are produced online in websites, blogs or class pages.

ESP written reading and comprehension workshops can be an invaluable aid for LEP learners who need to understand and apply technical material related to their field or study or employment. A good workshop may take from three to five hours to prepare, but is timeless and can be used and re-used for years. With regular and frequent practice in ESP workshop preparation, teachers can often reduce preparation time significantly. The benefits to the learners are uncountable.

If you’d like some examples of complete, prepared ESP written workshops, feel free to e-mail me for an immediate reply with samples.

Teachers of EFL, English as a Foreign Language, are almost constantly strapped for time and fresh materials to use in their English classes. If they teach in a non-English speaking country, the situation can reach critical proportions quickly and often. With the advent of the internet, however, authentic readings in English are now only a few mouse clicks away. But what to do with these snippets of information can be perplexing – even overwhelming, especially to fairly new, inexperienced EFL teachers. ESL, English as a Second Language teachers in an English-speaking country usually have a much easier time of getting materials. But, let’s look at a short historic passage of authentic English and explore some ways it could be used and re-used multiple times for a variety of didactic purposes. Here’s a 175 word complete article for starters:

A Day Well Spent

Business boomed in Cooperstown, NY. on the July day in 1805 when George Arnold, a local resident, was to be publicly hanged for murder. Merchants and street vendors did a capacity trade with the thousands of visitors from the countryside who came to witness the spectacle. At noon a brass band enlivened a procession of uniformed troops, noted citizens, and the condemned man, who was riding in a cart, to the newly erected gallows. There, a minister preached a sermon, dignitaries made speeches, and Arnold spoke his last words. The sheriff put the noose around the condemned man’s neck – and then announced regretfully that this was as far as the ceremony could go. A reprieve from the governor had come early that morning, the sheriff explained, but the town officials had let the preparations go on because they hadn’t wanted to disappoint anybody. While the crowd howled, Arnold collapsed and was carried back to jail – there to serve a life term – and Cooperstown counted the day (and the visitors’ money) well spent.

So, what could be done with this piece? Lots, that’s what. For example:

o Extract key vocabulary to make crossword or word find puzzles

o Take out the key vocabulary to create a fill-in-the-blanks exercise

o Create a cognitive pairs or matching exercise

o Work with a grammar point like reported speech based on the passage

o Use the passage for regular or irregular verb exercises

If you’d like to use the passage elements for further research you could easily:

o Create a web quest for students online

o Recommend additional related readings on history or topical information

o Have students write a different ending or plot twists for the passage

o Use the passage or its elements as a spring board for further discussion

o Investigate related themes such as methods of execution

o History and geography of the locale are other good possibilities

o Look for pictures and photos related to the passage and topic areas

But there’s more that might be done with even this short, basic piece. To generate speaking you might want to use activities

o to promote pronunciation practice

o to have students generate dialogues based on information in the reading

o have students enact scenes generated from elements in the reading

Then there’s always the possibility of making up some “standard” exercises based on the reading passage like:

o multiple choice questions

o true – false questions

o sentence or word unscrambles

o re-ordering of the sentences

o give sentences from the passage as “answers”, students write the questions

Additionally, you can always have students write a composition or opinion essay on the passage itself or some particular aspect of the passage. Had enough yet? Well you get the idea. Deepen and expand on one or any number of related topic areas to extract the maximum from any piece you come up with and you’ll be a lot less hard-pressed for ideas and materials. Don’t forget to have fun while you’re at it too.

Many languages are different from English in regard to semantics, syntax and grammar. Although there are a variety of differences, this paper researches article use, misuse and acquisition. I predict that speakers of languages other than English which lack an article system (Korean, Russian, Polish and Japanese) will demonstrate language transfer errors within the English article system, a/an, the, or zero, when learning to speak English. Research suggests that non-native speakers of English will make errors when speaking English if their native language lacks articles.

Ionin, Ko and Wexler (2003) tested the linguistic theory of L2-acquisition as it relates to article use. They predicted that Korean and Russian English language learners will overuse the article the in specific and non-specific definite and indefinite contexts. In a 2004 study, Ekiert examined the acquisition and misuse of the English article system by speakers of Polish who were studying English in ESL and EFL settings. Neal Snape, 2004, examined article use by Japanese and Spanish English language learners and proposed that due to L2 acquisition processes, all English language learners would make systematic transfer errors regarding the English articles.

In a 2003 analysis done by Ionin, Ko and Wexler, Russian and Korean English language learners were studied in regard to their English article use. Participants in this study were 50 Russian learners of English ranging in age from 17-57, with a mean age of 38 who had been residing in the United States for an average of about 3 years (3years, 2 months). There were also 38 Korean learners of English ranging in age from 17-38, with a mean age of 28 who had been living in the U.S. for an average of just under 2 years (1year, 10 months). All of these participants had been exposed to English in their home country at an early age or during adolescence, but were not completely exposed to it until they came to the U.S. during late adolescence or adulthood. There was also a control group who participated in this study. It was made up of seven adult native speakers of English. They performed as expected on all tasks.

Ionin, Ko and Wexler (2003) note that data for this study were collected in the form of forced elicitation tasks and participants were asked to complete the written portion of the Michigan test of L2 proficiency, a 30-item multiple choice test which grouped learners into ability level (beginner, intermediate and advanced). The researchers also note in the results section that there was another task which was not reported on in this study. For the elicitation task, there were 56 short dialogues testing 14 context types where the participants had to choose between a, the, and the null article (–) for singulars and some, the, and — for plurals. Ionin, Ko and Wexler’s study shows examples of the dialogue elicitation tasks on pages 250-252. Three of the context types aimed to elicit singular specific indefinites. Ex-
In a “Lost and Found”:

Clerk: Can I help you? Are you looking for something you lost?

Customer: Yes, I realize you have lots of things here, but maybe you have what I need. You see, I am looking for (a, the, –) green scarf. I think I lost it here last week.

Three context types were used to elicit singular non-specific indefinites: Ex-

In a clothing store:

Clerk: May I help you?

Customer: Yes, Please! I’ve rummaged through every stall, without any success. I am looking for (a, the, –) warm hat. It’s getting rather cold outside.

Two contexts tested plural indefinites (specific and non-specific). Ex-

Phone Conversation: (specific)

Jeweler: Hello, this is Robertson’s Jewelry. What can I do for you ma’am? Are you looking for a piece of jewelry? Or are you interested in selling?

Client: Yes, selling is right. I would like to sell you (some, the, –) beautiful necklaces. They are very valuable.

Phone Conversation: (non-specific)

Salesperson: Hello, Erik’s Grocery Deliveries. What can I do for you?

Customer: Well, I have a rather exotic order.

Salesperson: We may be able to help you.

Customer: I would like to buy (some, the, –) green tomatoes. I’m making a special Mexican sauce.

Two context types were designed to elicit definite determiner phrases (DP) in plural and singular contexts. Examples:

Singular definite:

Richard: I visited my friend Kelly yesterday. Kelly really likes animals- she has two cats and one dog. Kelly was busy last night- she was studying for an exam. So I helped her out with her animals.

Maryanne: What did you do?

Richard: I took (a, the, –) dog for a walk.

Plural definite:

Rosalyn: My cousin started school yesterday. He took one notebook and two
new books with him to school, and he was very excited. He was so proud of having his own school things! But he came home really sad.

Jane: What made him so sad? Did he lose any of his things?

Rosalyn: Yes! He lost (some, the, –) books.

Since the results of this study were separated into ability level, The Michigan Test results were given first. The L1-Korean group had 1 beginner, 12 intermediate and 25 advanced English language learners. The L1-Russian group contained 13 beginners, 15 intermediate and 22 advanced English language learners. Results show that intermediate and advanced learners generally overused the in specific indefinite contexts. Results also showed that the use of the was higher with definites than with specific indefinites and was also higher with specific than non-specific indefinites. Researchers also noted that article omission was higher with plural DPs.

Overall, it was noted that the L1-Korean students outperformed L1-Russian speakers in most categories. This performance difference was attributed to the fact that “the L1-Korean students were predominantly international students receiving intensive English instruction, while the speakers came from a variety of backgrounds” (Ionin, Ko and Wexler, 2003).

In a similar study conducted by Monica Ekiert in 2004, the acquisition of the English article system by speakers of Polish was studied in ESL and EFL settings. Participants in this study included 10 adult Polish learners of English (ESL), 10 Polish English language learners (EFL) and 5 native English speakers who served as the control group. All Polish students ranged in age from early 20s to late 30s, were given a grammar placement test and divided in to beginner, intermediate and advanced ability levels. The ESL students were enrolled in an intensive English language course at Columbia University with an average length of staying in America of one year. The EFL students were enrolled in Warsaw University whereas English was not their major and they had not been outside of Poland for more than one month nor did they use English outside of the classroom.

The task given to the students was 42 sentences containing 75 deleted obligatory uses of a/an, the, zero. The participants were asked to read the sentences, insert a/an, the, zero in the appropriate spot. Blanks were not put in the sentences because the researcher felt that if blanks were inserted, the participants would fill every blank with a or the creating unreliable data. Each student was given 20 minutes to complete the task and they were asked to not use dictionaries. An analysis of the overuse of a/an, the, zero was conducted. Unfortunately, examples of the sentences used for this task were not reported in the report.

Results for this study showed that learners at all ability levels overused the zero article. A direct relationship was shown between ability level and overuse of the zero article whereas the beginners showed the most overuse, intermediates less and advanced learners made the least amount of zero overuse errors. Results of the misuse of the a article were the same for proficiency level v. misuse. In contrast, the article was not overused by the beginners. The level of the overuse was highest among the intermediate learners.

It was noted by Ekiert (2004) that a remarkable finding of this study was that the EFL learners outperformed their ESL counterparts. This provides evidence that the acquisition of the English article system does not rely solely on exposure. One reason given for this performance difference is that all of the EFL students were enrolled in a college program, while the ESL students varied in educational background and were simply enrolled in a college level ESL class for one semester.

Another study was conducted by Neal Snape in 2004 which examined article use by Japanese and Spanish English language learners. This study proposes that although Spanish speakers do utilize an article system, due to L2 acquisition processes, that Spanish speakers of English would make systematic transfer errors regarding the English articles similar to Japanese learners. He also predicted that L2 learners would overuse the definite article the.

Participants in this study were three Japanese-speaking learners of English, three Spanish-speaking learners of English and two native English speakers acted as the control group. All participants ranged in age from 23-40 years old, with a mean age of 28. All of the English language learners had been studying in the UK for six months and had taken and scored 575 or above on TOEFL. The two groups of learners were separated into ability levels based on placement test scores.

The first task in this experiment was an oral production task and consisted of having the participants listen to 13 short stories. The stories were presented using PowerPoint slides and prompts were given to the students on each slide to assist them in the recall of the story. They listened to the story twice and recalled it using the prompts. Each recall was recorded digitally, transcribed and the checked for accuracy. Ex- story:

‘I thought the train was leaving’ the young man said. ‘they can’t find a driver.’ the elderly woman’s daughter replied.

Results demonstrated that participants had difficulty using the correct article. Ex-results: ‘They can’t find the driver.’

The results of this study also show that accuracy with article use directly correlates to the learners’ performance on the placement test whereas beginners scored the lowest with correct article use while the advanced students scored highest.

The second task in this study was a gap-filling test where the participants had to read a dialogue and fill in the gap with the correct article, a/an, the, or zero. Ex-

A: Come on! We have been in this shop for hours.

B: I can’t make up my mind. Which shirt do you like best?

C: I prefer ____ shirt with stripes.

Results from this task found that Japanese learners of English and Spanish learners of English did not overuse the definite article the. This research showed that all English language learners performed better in the written section than in the verbal by creating less article errors. In the oral section of the task, advanced learners were more accurate in their article use, but omission errors were still persistent (Snape, 2004).

In all of the studies, it was shown that speakers of languages other than English which lack an article system, use of a/an, the, or zero demonstrated language transfer errors when learning to speak English. It also showed that the most errors were omissions, because their native languages do not have an article system. Although this is true for the Korean, Russian, Polish and Japanese speakers of English, it is not true for the Spanish speakers. This leads to the interpretation of Snape’s 2004 data and results in regard to language acquisition. Perhaps it is not an issue of the other language’s lack of an article system, it is directly related to second language acquisition whereas English articles are not acquired until a later stage.

Research suggests that ESL articles are so difficult to learn and teach to ESL and EFL students because of the vastness and complexity of the rules and exceptions regarding article usage (Norris, 1992). Some teaching techniques that could be useful for ESL and EFL teachers include providing extended descriptions, meaningful learning experiences and the use of visual aides and imagery.