Teaching Chinese characters to Chinese heritage language learners : effects of shared reading, frequency of character exposure and explicit teaching of radicals. (2022)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
Learning to read Chinese has been the main focus of Chinese heritage language education. According to models of Chinese word recognition and orthographic learning (Perfetti & Tan, 1999; Perfetti & Harris, 2013; Share, 1995), orthography-phonology mapping is core to reading development, though semantic and phonetic radical awareness, along with the frequency of exposure to orthography-phonology and orthography-semantics correspondences, also play significant roles. However, the lack of explicit instruction on phonetic radicals and limited exposure to characters in Chinese textbooks have been proposed as limitations to conventional instruction methods used with Chinese heritage language learners (Ho, Yau et al., 2003; Koda, Lü, et al., 2008; Wu et al., 1999). Alternative methods that focus on teaching characters through reading activities have been found to be useful with Chinese native children (e.g. Anderson et al., 2002; Lee et al., 2011; Shum & Liu, 2014; Tse et al., 2006), and may show similar benefits for Chinese heritage language learners (e.g. Lü, 2017; Li, 2006). However, there is scant empirical research examining the effectiveness of such methods with Chinese heritage language learners. ` The current research examined Chinese character acquisition and reading comprehension among Chinese heritage language learners who were at their early stages of learning to read Mandarin Chinese. The research focused on a newly developed teaching method that involved classroom shared reading activities. Individual studies also considered the effects of frequency of exposure to Chinese characters during shared reading activities and explicit instruction on phonetic and semantic radicals. Study 1 involved frequent exposure to novel Chinese characters’ orthography, phonology and semantics in the context. Study 2 also considered explicit instruction about semantic radicals, whereas Study 3 also investigated explicit instruction on phonetic radicals. The three studies implemented a quasi-experimental design in which a group of children experienced the new shared reading method and were compared against a control group who experienced traditional teaching methods. All child participants were in Year 1 classes at a Chinese community school in New Zealand. Both groups were assessed on measures of Chinese character knowledge and Chinese reading comprehension both before and after ten teaching sessions.
Study 1 and Study 3 found that the shared reading method produced greater improvement of character knowledge (orthography-phonology correspondence and orthography-semantics correspondence) and Chinese sentence reading comprehension than the traditional textbook-based method. Study 3 also found that the shared reading method was related to better phonetic radical awareness. These findings suggest that Chinese heritage language learners can benefit from frequent exposure to the orthography, phonology, and semantics of novel characters provided in shared reading activities. However, given the null effect in Study 2, this positive effect may have been influenced by children’s radical awareness. For example, poor phonetic radical awareness may suppress the facilitation of semantic radical awareness on character acquisition.
Findings from the current research imply that the combination of shared reading activities and instruction on new characters can provide an effective alternative to conventional textbook-based teaching methods used with Chinese heritage children. The current research demonstrated a way to design reading materials for Chinese heritage children that considered the format of words and the frequent appearance of new characters in the text. The research findings imply that teaching common phonetic radicals along with semantic radicals may facilitate character learning for children at the early stages of learning to read Chinese.
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