Processes of children’s literacy acquisition in Chinese as a second language

  • ZHOU, Yanling 周彥玲 (CoI)
  • Prof., McBride-Chang, Catherine A (PI)
  • Prof., JoAnn Farver (CoI)
  • Prof., Joshi R. Malatesha (CoI)

Project: Research project

Project Details


In the proposed study, we will examine correlates of early word reading and writing skills in 150 second grade Hong Kong children from Nepalese, Pakistani, or Indian backgrounds who are learning Chinese (Cantonese) as a second language and as the medium of instruction at school. These associations will be compared with those 150 native Chinese second grade children from similar family backgrounds (in terms of socio-economic and education statuses). We expect to find that phonological skills, including Pinyin (the phonological coding system used to write Mandarin, which is often taught in these schools) knowledge, will be particularly strongly associated with word reading in second language learners, whereas visuo-orthographic skills will be more strongly associated with literacy performances in first language learners of Chinese. In an experimental study with a subset of these children, children will be taught new characters in one of four ways—control condition, in which children are asked to just look at and say the new character, radical condition, in which the semantic (meaning) and phonetic (sound) radicals are highlighted and associated with previously learned characters to make a clear connection for recall, phonological condition, in which the pronunciation of each character is printed in Roman letters under it when introduced, and copying condition, in which children are asked to write the character to facilitate memory of each. We expect that second language learners of Chinese will benefit more from the phonological and copying conditions relative to the other two, whereas native language learners of Chinese will benefit more from the radical and copying conditions as compared to the control and phonological conditions. Parents’ and children‘s motivations for learning Chinese (and English, by way of comparison) will also be tapped and used to explain literacy performance. Such results will help researchers and educators to understand the cognitive skills and contexts in which Hong Kong children learn Chinese in local schools as a second language, including their strengths and weaknesses, as well as what is particularly motivating and less motivating in this process. These results will also help researchers to understand what the optimal ways of teaching Chinese characters might be for different groups of children. It is possible that children from an alphabetic background learning Chinese will learn differently from native Chinese learners. If this is the case, educators should understand these differences and incorporate them into early Chinese literacy teaching.

Funding Source: HKSAR Govt - Others^
Effective start/end date01/01/1431/01/16


  • Chinese character recognition, motivation, Chinese as a second language, metacognition, reading acquisition


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