Zhao & MacWhinney - Learning the English Article
English Article Usage
Documentation of this study is currently in progress.
Background and Significance
The current project focuses on the development of a cognitive tutoring system for the teaching of English articles – one of the most difficult grammatical forms for second language learners to learn and master. Articles are particularly difficult for learners whose first language (e.g., Chinese and Japanese) does not use articles. There are three factors that make this a difficult target structure: (1) there are dozens of difficult and conflicting rules determining article choice; (2) misuses of the articles usually do not cause miscommunication and therefore learners tend to ignore these errors; and (3) classroom instruction does not provide enough opportunities for learning many of the functions and cues that determine article choice. Cognitive tutoring systems can provide address each of these problems by giving simple illustrations of relevant cues, providing consistent feedback, and sampling across a wide range of genre types and usages.
The research goal of the article tutor project is to promote robust learning and mastery of the English articles among Chinese EFL learners illuminated by principles from: (1) Experimental Psychology: Practices make perfect; Feedback promotes learning; (2) Developmental Psycholinguistics: Language is learned in context; Cue conflicts are crucial for learning; (3) Human-Computer Interaction: rule-based and exemplar-based instruction promotes learning in different ways; and (4) Second Language Acquisition: explicit types of instruction is in general more effective than implicit types of instruction; accurate metalinguistic knowledge representation is important. Synthesizing the above principles, the Cognitive Article Tutor designs exercise with nine genres of texts with rich article usages and provides explicit instruction in the form of explicit feedback.