Learning to use articles

When I took Russian in high school, it took us a while to get used to the idea of a language without articles. So I’ve often wondered, when a Russian (or anyone whose native language doesn’t use articles) learns English (or any article-using language), is it a major problem to learn to differentiate between a definite article vs. an indefinite?

Absolutely. My Japanese students had signficant trouble with it.

Considering the difficulties my classmates had with the fact that there are two different words for “is” in Spanish, I’m sure that they would have plenty of problems.

It wasn’t a very big problem for me, but of course it took some getting used to. The English system with a definite article is a lot simpler than the Swedish system that uses several different suffixes, sometimes combined with umlauts.

It seems to me as if it is. My husband’s family’s native language has no articles, and they routinely either misuse them or simply leave them out.

It’s a definate problem to learn when their original language doesn’t have articles.

But it’s a fairly minor problem in actually using the language. In English, for example, the articles can generally be dropped without significant damage to the sense of the sentence. Occasionally some confusion between reference to one specific item vs. reference to the whole class of such items.

You ever listen to native Chinese speakers without great English proficiency? They certainly tend to drop them. Misuse of articles is probably common for just about any native speaker of a foreign language, since there’s quite a bit of arbitrariness in when they tend to be used (even, say, Spanish or French, which both have definite and indefinite articles whose uses are mostly similar to English have definite room for pitfalls in that area.) For people who speak languages without articles, of course, it’s an even bigger issue. Plus it tends to stand out in speech - think of stereotypical Russian or Japanese accents like you see in movies - the dropping of articles is a major tool to communicate “foreignness” in that context.

I used to know a girl whose first language was Russian. She spoke English so well that most people never even guessed she wasn’t American - the one defect in her English that I ever noticed was that she very, very occasionally dropped the definite article. This despite having a flawless accent and probably above-average vocabulary. This strikes me as evidence that it’s one of the hardest things to get right.

My Japanese wife has lived in this country for more than 50 years, speaks English very well, albeit with a slight accent, but when to use “the” and “a” drive her nuts. She never got it (and probably never will).