Form and structure of Chinese characters and children’s understanding of science

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The written representation in Chinese can be considered as a pictorial or a symbolic representation which is very different from English where the pronunciation is related to how the word is spelt. Students face challenges of a very different nature when science is learnt in Chinese compared with English. In Hong Kong, students are making translations between the language they use in their daily lives, the science concepts and the scientific terms. The research team designed an interview protocol for primary school pupils in order to identify the pupils’ alternative concepts of science and if these alternative concepts are related to the structure of the Chinese language. The findings suggest that there are alternative conceptions related to (a) the form of the Chinese character—for example, the Chinese character for crocodile includes a radical meaning fish, and so pupils may take it that a crocodile is a fish; (b) the meaning of the Chinese character—for example, an electronic buzzer is a device used to attract bees as in Chinese, the character contains the word meaning “bees producing sound”. The findings provide important data for future endeavours aiming to compare the learning of science using different languages and on ways in which primary teachers may better facilitate their pupils in learning science. Copyright © 2010 National Science Council, Taiwan.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)731-749
JournalInternational Journal of Science and Mathematics Education
Issue number3
Early online dateOct 2010
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2011



Cheng, M. M. H. (2011). Form and structure of Chinese characters and children’s understanding of science. International Journal of Science and Mathematics Education, 9(3), 731-749. doi: 10.1007/s10763-010-9247-y


  • Children’s understanding of science
  • Chinese language and science learning