Tse, S.K. (2015). Comprehensive and Integrated Learning of Chinese Characters for Writing and Reading. Conference proceedings of 10th International Association for the Improvement of Mother Tongue Education Conference: Languages, Literatures, and Literacies. Odense, Denmark: University of Southern Denmark.
For centuries, the traditional ways teachers have been using to teach Chinese Language include the following: repeated copying of Chinese characters; and rote memorization of character strokes and elements. In contrast with such ‘bottom-up’ ways learning without understanding, this study seeks to address with a ‘top-down’ approach by having learners integrate an understanding between oracy and writing.
Children are first introduced to nursery rhymes, watching clips of the meaning portrayed, listening to the words used and how they are employed and spoken in context. Sentence syntax is introduced without any special emphasis as part of how the meaning and sense of the words are presented. How the words correspond with the written characters and how they are written is then taught to the children. This approach differs markedly from the traditional approach, and focuses on teaching learners to recognize and write the words they are able to articulate orally (Tse, 2006). A learner’s mental lexicon is gradually acquired as clusters of commonly-used and encountered words are learnt and verbalized. As network clusters in their mental lexicon accumulate, young learners increasingly discover how to recognize and write the actual characters involved, in meaningful context, making learning a unitary and integrated process.
The present study looked at the learning of Chinese characters by Hong Kong Primary 1-2 students, aged 6-8, presented with characters within semantic networks that illustrate and emphasize the meaning of the words featured. Multiple sources of evidence about the impact of this approach on children’s learning were systematically collected. The analysis involved comparing pre-and post-test scores to examine the children’s knowledge and skills before and after learning. Interviews with teachers and lesson observations were conducted.
It is found that all learners had improved their interest in learning Chinese characters. Comprehensive and integrated learning of Chinese characters led to active learning of reading and writing. Children became more efficient language learners and knew much more about the semantics, phonology and graphics of Chinese characters than did peers taught in control classes by conventional methods. They also proved to be able to start writing earlier than their peers in control groups. This effective method can be applied to other languages.
Keywords: Chinese character learning; instruction of Chinese character learning; language teaching for preschooler; semantic network; mental lexicon