Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Reading, Writing, and Animation in Character Learning in Chinese as a Foreign Language

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Reading, Writing, and Animation in Character Learning in Chinese as a Foreign Language

Article excerpt

Abstract: Previous studies suggest that writing helps reading development in Chinese in both first and second language settings by enabling higher-quality orthographic representation of the characters. This study investigated the comparative effectiveness of reading, animation, and writing in developing foreign language learners' orthographic knowledge of Chinese and found that, for learners with existing orthographic knowledge, the three learning conditions facilitated character learning in different ways: Writing and animation both led to better form recognition, while reading produced superior meaning and sound recalls. In addition, the effect of animation in meaning recall was also better than writing. In developing the skill of reproducing characters from memory, writing was superior. Implications for the teaching and learning of Chinese characters are offered.

Key words: animation, Chinese characters, orthographic knowledge, reading, writing

The Chinese writing system is often considered to be "logographic," although this general term is not entirely accurate. A logographic language is one in which each word is represented by a distinct symbol, while the basic orthographic units in Chinese are characters instead of words, which usually consist of two or more characters. As characters represent morphemes and they are typically monosyllabic, some have chosen to refer to it more accurately as the morphosyllabic writing system (DeFrancis, 1989; Perfetti & Zhang, 1995). The Chinese writing system is said to present the highest contrast to languages such as English: Whereas English has a linear structure, the Chinese character is composed of a number of strokes interwoven in a square-like form. In addition, while the relationship between spelling and pronunciation is transparent in alphabetic languages, the Chinese script has little or no systematic grapheme-phoneme correspondence. Thus, learning Chinese orthography is often identified as the greatest challenge for learners of Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) (e.g., Everson, 1998; Ke, Wen, & Kotenbeutel, 2001). A large number of studies by researchers specializing in CFL, reading, and educational psychology, summarized below, have investigated a variety of methods to help learners overcome these difficulties. This study approached the issue of non-alphabetic reading using theoretical foundations and experimental methods based in both cognitive and behavioral sciences and addressed the question of how to help learners who have an alphabetic first language background best develop reading and writing skills in Chinese.

Existing Research

CFL researchers have attributed learners' difficulty in learning characters to the need to retain and rapidly retrieve the three aspects of a character: the shape (graphic form or orthography), the sound (phonology), and the meaning (semantics) (Shen, 2004). The decomposition of character identification skills into these three elements is consistent with the lexical constituency model, which claims that a high-quality lexical representation is complete and accurate and provides strong links among these three interlocking constituents (Perfetti & Tan, 1998, 1999; Tan & Perfetti, 1998). A topic of key interest to both researchers and instructors is how to facilitate learners' development of orthographic knowledge, which can be defined as a thorough understanding of characters as the logical composition of radicals1 and strokes and, in addition to having such structural knowledge, the establishment of strong form-sound and form-meaning links when processing the written language.2 Traditionally, learning to read and write characters has been accomplished through rote repetition (Fan, Tong, & Song, 1987; Packard et al., 2006); however, the increasing availability of modern technology has given rise to discussions of changes in pedagogical decisions in two different aspects. On the one hand, some scholars have argued that the need to actually write characters by hand is diminished with the increasing reliance on electronic communication, rendering handwriting practice an inefficient use of learners' time (e. …

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