“Using the properly”: L1 Transfer in the Acquisition of Definite Articles in English by Spanish speakers
The study of L2 article acquisition has become an important area in the cross-linguistic field. Articles have been classified as one of the most difficult features in English, as they are employed very frequently in the language. Recent research has investigated the acquisition process of L2 ESL learners whose L1 contains articles in order to explore the possibilities of L1 transfer to the target language. The present paper aims at proving L1 transfer from Spanish to English by analysing the acquisition of the generic and non-generic definite article the. To this end, transferring the Spanish article semantics into English would imply the better use of the article in non-generic contexts than in generic ones. The participants were 47 university students of the University of the Basque Country studying the English Studies Degree, half of them being first year students, and the other half third year students. Moreover, 31 of the participants had Spanish as their native language, while the remaining 16 were bilingual (Spanish/Basque). A Cambridge English Language Assessment was given to them in order to test their level of English proficiency more accurately. The instrument was based on 17 English sentences, previously piloted by Liu & Gleason (2002), in which students were asked to place the definite article the wherever they deemed appropriate. The analysis did not show L1 transfer, as the major rate of errors occurred in non-generic contexts, mostly in structural positions. Nevertheless, the number of errors among the participants appeared to decrease as their level of proficiency increased, as previously predicted. In conclusion, yet transfer was not demonstrated in this dissertation, it was proven that learners of the language with high levels of proficiency still appear to ignore the different uses the definite article the encompasses. Finally, some pedagogical implications were proposed so as to contribute to the better teaching of the English definite articles to second language learners.