Academic journal article Babel

Exploring the Use of Zhuyin in Early Primary Chinese Literacy Development

Academic journal article Babel

Exploring the Use of Zhuyin in Early Primary Chinese Literacy Development

Article excerpt


Haileybury College introduced Chinese (Mandarin/Putonghua) into its junior school (K-4) literacy program in 2016, following a year of strategic planning, curriculum preparation and recruitment of Chinese teachers for each of its Melbourne campuses. Students undertake one hour of Chinese learning per week, which comprises three 20-minute lessons scheduled across three separate weekdays. The program is strategically positioned as part of the literacy program. Junior school Home Room teachers, none of whom are Chinese speakers, stay in the classroom for the duration of the lesson and actively participate in class by assisting with classroom management and modelling language-learning behaviour. Home Room teachers and Chinese language teachers work together as a team focused on learners' literacy development.

Inspired by the sharing of the literacy program responsibilities with Home Room teachers, one feature of the junior school's Chinese curriculum is a deliberate effort to create a clear differentiation between the literacy practices of Chinese and English, especially for learners in Prep and Year 1, who are pre-literate in both English and Chinese. Behind this strategic principle is the intention to build understanding among the school community that early exposure to different writing systems and literacy strategies enriches and broadens students' experiences, and that literacy development in any language has potential overall literacy benefits in the future.

Learning to read and write in Chinese

The Chinese writing system presents particular challenges for the second language learner. Chinese characters are typically complex in their visual display and provide very little clue to their sounds or meanings. Young learners in China are required to learn hundreds of individual characters in each year of schooling. While young second language learners are not required to learn this many, the visual processing demands and memory burden remain significant. To help overcome the challenge of remembering the sound and meaning of each character, different forms of Romanisation, or phonetic symbols, have been developed to provide more direct access to the sounds of new words encountered. The two most common systems are Hanyu Pinyin (used in China) and Zhuyin Fuhao (used in Taiwan).

Hanyu Pinyin

Pinyin is used as a pedagogical tool for teaching the phonology of Mandarin to both first-language Chinese-speaking children and second-language learners. In China, Pinyin usually dominates the first 8-10 weeks of Grade 1 Mandarin teaching before any characters are formally introduced. For second-language learners, the use of Pinyin in textbooks rep resents the sounds of the spoken language and provides access to the sound (and tone) of each character encountered.

In Australia, Pinyin also enjoys status as the system of Romanisation of Chinese, used in the Australian Curriculum: Languages. The use of Pinyin in the Australian curri cu lum is considered a useful tool for learning the spoken sounds of the language and for oral interaction, for learners of all backgrounds. Learning to read and write in Chinese characters is seen as requiring a separate developmental sequence for nonnative speakers (Scrimgeour, Foster & Mao 2015).

While Pinyin is the preferred option for countries that use the Roman alphabet such as Australia, it does create challenges for learners who have already mapped particular sound values onto letters and syllables in English, which are not the same as the sound values applied to letters and syllables in Chinese.

There are four broad categories of challenges that arise for young second-language learners when learning the sounds of Chinese using Pinyin.

* The sounds of Chinese words that, when presented in Pinyin, represent different sound values to familiar words in English, for example, Pinyin 'me' ([phrase omitted]) English 'me', between Pinyin 'you' [phrase omitted] and English 'you'. …

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