I always wanted to know if you folks notice when someone is skipping articles during a basic talk?
Articles (and determiners in general) in English are important because it connects the flow of expectations between speaker/writer and listener/reader and helps one side understand what's expected to be understood or shared experiences on the other side.
Definite articles let the speaker/writer say "I expect you to know which X I'm talking about" - and that prompts the listener/reader to ask (or mark as unknown) if actually not known.
Since English doesn't have a strong word-ending/particle system like Spanish, Russian, etc. it's also a signal that a word is meant as a noun and not a verb, which sometimes critical to a sentence.
So native English speakers will definitely notice, even though most of the time a listener will be able to figure out what you mean.
Yes, we do notice but it seldom affects the meaning. Some people get upset by things like that others do not. When Chinese colleagues give me their work to edit I always put the articles back in because I know some journal reviewers get annoyed by things like that but I would like to think I am not so affected.
Yes. Even online. Your English could be otherwise impeccable but if you skip more than one word when writing I will immediately think you are a non-native speaker.
The words you choose to omit also matters. Sometimes a native speaker will also omit words out of laziness but the words that are chosen to be omitted are never as awkward as the ones omitted by non-native speakers so you can tell the difference. There's multiple levels of unimportance. This is only in writing though. Articles and words that affect flow and connectivity are not omitted by native speakers while speaking; They're much more likely to get mashed together.
When non-native speakers omit words during writing, they not only omit the wrong words, but not enough words so it is obvious that effort is being put into the sentence and they're not just being lazy. A native speaker being lazy will not only omit the correct words, but omit even more words than a non-native speaker might.
Very much so. Choice of articles distinguishes between known/unknown, here/there, us/them, and similar. Omission of articles leaves the intended distinction unresolved and may substantially change the meaning of the sentence.
For instance, if you and I are in a car and one says to the other "the car is on fire". This means the car we are in is on fire and we should take immediate, responsive action to protect our lives and property. If instead one says to the other "a car is on fire", the means some other car is on fire and we should take different action to protect our lives and property. If the article is omitted, there is no way to know which category of action to take; the function of the communication, to indicate which class of actions to take, has not been effected.
If we are reporting a theft. "That man stole the item!" means the specific man that is being indicated (through the existing context, perhaps including the speaker pointing a finger) is the thief. "A man stole the item!" means an unspecified man is the thief, not necessarily one of the men nearby. This changes how the listener internally labels various men -- in the one case one man has a clear "thief" label and in the other, nearby men have a diffuse "non-thief" label. On the other hand, "Man stole the item!" means that the species, mankind, stole the item. This is a huge difference in meaning.
"Let's protest the government!" means this government, the one in power here. "Let's protest a government!" means any government; perhaps choose one with little ability to project power where you are. "Let's protest government!" means to protest the existence of government at all -- without further context, this suggests preference for pure anarchy, not just a change of leadership or a change of policy.
The additional ambiguity in parsing sentences lacking articles is very quickly clear to a native speaker. An exaggerated example is this: "Man store bus." All three words can be verbs or nouns. Without articles, we don't know which of eight intentions is being expressed.
- noun noun noun: This would be a noun phrase. It references a device for transporting a "man store" (a store that caters to the needs of men, not a store at which one procures men (probably)) or it could describe a vehicle for transporting one to a man store.
- noun noun verb: This describes the use of public transportation to take customers to a man store.
- noun verb noun: This commands "man" to stow away "bus", probably be cleaning it, removing volatile fluids and perhaps replacing lubricants.
- noun verb verb: Verging on grammatical nonsense, this might mean to convey (by bussing) for the purpose of storing a man.
- verb noun noun: This is a command to take an operating position in the "store bus", which could either be a traveling store in the form of a bus or the bus owned by a store.
- verb noun verb: Verging on grammatical nonsense, this might be a command to take an operating position in a bus for stores (meaning a means of transporting stores -- typically heavy engineering equipment).
- verb verb noun: This seems to cross the line into grammatical nonsense.
- verb verb verb: This seems to cross the line into grammatical nonsense.
Some languages use endings to distinguish verb and noun uses of a (root) word (consider a gerund, for instance) but English does not. Contrast "run to the store" and "a run in my tights" (a long, thin hole in my thin clothing that covers the legs). The word that signals which part of speech is "run" is the article.
It also might depend on geography - there are locations where native English speakers omit the word "the" in sentences. The first example that comes to mind is Yorkshire in England itself - can't get more native than that. To hear great examples of this, just watch any BBC TV series which is set in Yorkshire, especially in the countryside/non-urban areas.
Yes, it is noticeable to native speaker if non-native speaker leaves out article. Whether it is definite article or indefinite article, matter is same. Interesting thing is it doesn't change meaning much — y cn lv t vwls s wll nd t's stll dcphrbl. rbs d t ll tm. (K, tht ws hrd n.) Ntrl lngg s vry rdndnt.
As EMJ referred to, there are even some differences between different areas of English speakers. Being born in the USA, I notice differences when watching British TV shows. Most notably, they refer to "going to hospital" (or "university") where my own background would expect "going to the hospital" or "going to the university".
Does it make it difficult for me to understand? Rarely. Is it noticeable? Absolutely. But no more jarring than things like the spelling of "color" vs. "colour", "loo" vs. "bathroom" etc.
It's very noticeable, and very incorrect. But remember native speakers are not necessarily good English speakers and vice versa. So I wouldn't assume that the speaker is non-native.
There are particular mistakes that would by typical for say a native German, or a native French speaker, and some things that are accepted in Indian English but not in British or US English. And mistakes like confusing "their", "there" and "they're" are most likely signs of a native English speaker - to the non-native speaker these are entirely different words that are impossible to confuse, just like you would never write "gazelle" instead of "elephant".