Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

An Investigation of Reading Strategies Applied by American Learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

An Investigation of Reading Strategies Applied by American Learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language

Article excerpt


Minimal research has been conducted in reading Chinese as a second/ foreign language (CSL/CFL). In an effort to further the understanding of the reading process, this study, utilizing think aloud and retelling procedures, focuses on the identification of strategies that American university students applied to read Chinese texts (narrative and argumentative), and the difficulties encountered when processing texts for meaning. Also it examines whether Bernhardt's constructivist model can account for the reading process of the CFL learners at the intermediate proficiency level. The results show that the CFL readers employed bottom-up and top-down processing strategies, that their difficulties were pertinent to vocabulary, orthography, grammar, and background knowledge, and that Bernhardt's reading model could account for the reading process of CFL learners with minor modification.

Keywords: second language reading, reading strategies, reading Chinese as a foreign language, bottom-up and top-down strategies, metacognitive and cognitive strategies

Language: Chinese


There has been an explosion of interest in Mandarin Chinese at both the high school and university levels in recent years. Based on a survey compiled by the Modern Language Association (MLA), Welles (2004) reported a 20% increase in enrollments in university Chinese classes from 1998 to 2002. This growth is a result of business (economic globalization) and government (national security) interests. Hence, at the direction of the president of the United States, various U.S. cabinet-level departments have developed a comprehensive national plan-National Security Language Initiative (NSLI)-using new programs and resources which will broaden foreign language education throughout formal schooling (K-16) and into the workforce (U.S. Department of State, n.d.). For example, under NSLI in September 2005, the National Security Education Program at the Department of Defense, funded the University of Oregon and Portland Public Schools for a program to develop a national model (Chinese K-16 Flagship), which would result in graduating students who are culturally and linguistically competent in Chinese (OELA Newsline, 2005). As another example, the National Foreign Language Center (NFLC), under NSLI, is planning a multiyear project, STARTALK, designed to provide summer language programs for high school students and teachers of Arabic and Chinese in K-16 (U.S. Department of State, n.d.). Over 1,350 students and teachers will enroll in STARTALK Chinese programs in the summer of 2007 (National Foreign Language Center, 2007). Furthermore, the College Board's Advanced Placement (AP) program course and examination in Chinese Language and Culture was created as a result of China's increasing economic importance and the College Board's dedication to fostering cultural understanding in American schools (College Board, 2003). The AP Chinese curriculum was first offered worldwide in the fall of 2006, and the AP Chinese examination, which assesses reading, listening, writing, speaking, and culture, was first administered in May 2007.

This flourish of interest and activity has resulted in an increased emphasis on the best ways to develop Chinese language proficiency in native speakers of English. One area of utmost importance in second/ foreign language learning is reading skill. Becoming proficient in reading Chinese as a second/foreign language (CSUCFL) can be a long and arduous process for American students. Reading in a language that shares few common features with a student's own language presents unique challenges for both the reader and the teacher of that language. Walker (1984) maintains that "in the long run, reading is probably the most important skill a learner can gain from formal instruction in Chinese" (p. 67). Also, Chen (1992) holds that reading (Chinese) is of great importance in the academic field and the job market, and can contribute to other learning skills. …

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