Articles are hard. Think about it. Why do we say “I ate a cookie,” but we say “I ate pizza?” Or “Who’s that? Oh, she’s the Queen of England,” “Who’s that? Oh, he’s a teacher.” Don’t even get me started on “Let’s go to Seoul” vs. “Let’s go to the store” vs. “I want to go shopping, let’s go to a department store” vs “I’ve always wanted to visit the Washington Monument.” They’re all places, for Pete’s sake.
The point is, articles are easy for (most) of you reading the blog because (most of) you are native speakers of English. It’s intuitive for us, but for many people learning English it’s one of the most frustrating parts of writing – because many languages, Korean for one, don’t have articles. There are “rules” about when to use the definite, indefinite, and zero article, but they’re not hard and fast, and there are are so many exceptions that you have to wonder why we bother.
As I mentioned before, I spend two weeks teaching students articles. It’s… definitely not their favorite. Every time I put 관사 (article) up on the board, the class collectively groans, and there’s always at least one student who melodramatically drops her head into her hands and fake sobs.
It’s the week before midterms, so we’re doing a review game in class. Students are broken into groups of 4 or 5 and have to answer questions and “bet” points. If they are right they receive the number of points they bet, and if they are wrong they lose that amount. It’s been going over pretty well. One of the questions was “please fill in the missing articles in the following passage: I saw __ bird. __ bird was in __ tree. I sat on __ ground under __ tree.” In order to get the points, they had to get every article right.
Every. Single. Group in 2.5 answered this question correctly. That’s 27 kids, broken into 6 groups. When I asked them why they chose those articles, one kid promptly rattled off “Bird – unknown. Bird – known. Tree – unknown. Ground – Unique. Tree – Known.”
So proud of my kids right now.