Previous research has shown that the learning of second language words in the simultaneous presence of pictures or first language translation equivalents interferes with their acquisition. The purpose of this study was to investigate variables associated with the learning of Chinese characters as second language stimuli (L2). Acquisition for both naming of English translations and pronunciations was shown to proceed more rapidly under conditions in which each character was presented 5 s prior to its pinyin and English word equivalent, in contrast to simultaneous presentation conditions. These data were interpreted in terms of (a) interference, which can occur when students attend to multiple input simultaneously, and (b) the beneficial effects of attending to L2 stimuli prior to their associations in language learning contexts. It was concluded that the presentation of a character first, and the provision of its associated pinyin and English translation after a short delay is recommended when teaching characters for non-native speakers of Chinese at the early stage. Copyright © 2002 Taylor & Francis Ltd.