This website uses cookies. A cookie is a small piece of code that gives your computer a unique identity, but it does not contain any information that allows us to identify you personally. For more information on how TESOL International Association uses cookies, please read our privacy policy. Most browsers automatically accept cookies, but if you prefer, you can opt out by changing your browser settings.

The attempt of a supplementary exercise in the usage of articles for Japanese ELLs

by Kazushi Mito | 16 Aug 2019
Resource Description:


It is well known that the most common mistake that Japanese English Language Learners (ELLs) make is with the use of articles when composing English sentences for both writing and speaking (e.g., Yamada & Matsuura, 1998; Akamatsu & Tanaka, 2008). As a Japanese-English bilingual teacher, I have been trying to correct this particular mistake, with understanding of the characteristics of the Japanese language. This is a report of an attempt to conduct supplementary exercises, particularly for Japanese ELLs, to correct their mistakes in using articles. 

Audience: University
Audience Language Proficiency: Intermediate
Duration: 45 min.
Materials and Technology: See the attached files.

The reasons why Japanese ELLs often misuse articles:

One of the biggest reasons is caused by the incompatibility between the two different languages: Japanese and English. First of all, because the Japanese language does not have articles and is very incapable of translating all English articles, most of the Japanese ELLs do not understand the importance of the articles’ functions from the very beginning. Furthermore, although they are told the importance of articles, unlike native English speakers, Japanese people are not well aware whether each noun is countable or uncountable, and uses definite or indefinite articles, due to the habitual characteristic of their language.


The different trends in article mistakes in beginner and intermediate (and higher) Japanese ELLs:

1) Beginner

Simple absence of articles.

2) Intermediate and higher

Incorrect usage, including excessive use of articles. The beginner's mistake is obviously the mistake that comes from a lack of grammatical knowledge and awareness of articles. In this simple case, they just need to know more about the characteristics of articles and how to use them as they advance. Contrary to beginners, mistakes at the intermediate level and above are from the usage of articles, including the typical trend of excessively using articles in unnecessary cases. 

Activity Description:

Activity guideline:

1) Beginners

English language teachers in Japan seem to point out the lack of articles too often in beginners’ English composition. However, in many such cases, the learners have simply forgotten to locate the articles. Accordingly, it will take time for beginners to understand the correct use of the articles by pointed out the lack thereof only. Rather, it is important to provide guidance that explains the basic characteristics of English nouns themselves.

2) Intermediate and higher:

In Japan, there is a tendency for English teachers to teach special and irregular cases in English grammar in order for ELLs to pass English proficiency tests, qualification tests, school entrance tests and so forth. However, although learners become knowledgeable about these special and irregular cases in grammar, it does not mean that learners are able to use current English for everyday use in writing and communicating. For the intermediate level and higher, it is my proposal to provide special standalone exercises for Japanese ELLs so that they become more familiar with characteristics of articles. These exercises will aim to discriminate between countable and uncountable nouns, and definite and indefinite articles.


Activities for intermediate and higher learners:

Lesson 1Countable and Uncountable Nouns

1) Review the difference between countable and uncountable nouns.

2) Distribute to each students a list of 100 words that contains a random selection of countable and countable nouns, 50 of each (supporting file #1).

3) Play a game where you guess whether each word belongs in a countable or uncountable list.

4) The teacher gives a sample sentence such as, “I like __.”

5) The teacher selects one word at a time from the list of 100 words for the students.

6) The students speak the teacher's chosen word correctly in the sentence presented.


a.      I like an orange. I like fish. I like dogs. I like water. I like flowers. I like honey.

b.      I need houses. I need advice. I need the two identification papers. I need lot of paper.


Lesson 2: Definite and Indefinite Articles

1) Review the difference between definite and indefinite articles.

2) Distribute to each students a list of 100 words that contains a random selection of nouns with definite articles and with indefinite articles, 50 of each (Supporting file #2).

3) Play a game to guess which list each word belongs in.

4) The teacher gives a sample sentence such as, “I go to __.”

5) The teacher picks one word at a time from the list of 100 words for the students.

6) The students speak the teacher's chosen word correctly in the sentence presented.


a.      Places and nature (I go to New York. I go to the Hudson River.)

b.      Examples of time (I go to New York at night. I go to New York in the morning.)

c.      Examples of people (I meet John. I meet the Johns.)

d.      Examples of languages ​​(I study Japanese. I study the Japanese language.)

e.      Example sentences (I study war. I study the twenties)

f.       Examples of music, sports, etc. (I play the piano. I play baseball.)

g.      Other example sentences


Hawkins, John A. 1978. Definiteness and Indefiniteness: A Study in Reference and Grammaticality Prediction. Croom Helm.

Yamada J. and N. Matsuura. 1982. ‘The use of the English articles among Japanese students.’ RELC Journal, 13, 50-63.

Akamatsu, N., & Tanaka, T. (2008). The use of Eng1ish articles: An analysis of the knowledge used by Japanese university students. ARELE (Annual Review of  English Language Education in Japan), 1981-90.
Uploaded Files:
TESOL Interest Section: English as a Foreign Language, English for Specific Purposes