The contribution of sound-meaning flexibility to early Chinese reading

Yui Chi FONG, Suk Han HO

Research output: Contribution to conferencePoster


Chinese is an opaque language that has extremely complicated mappings among the linguistic features of print (e.g., sound and meaning). A high level of flexibility is thereby demanded for processing these features. It is known that domain-general cognitive flexibility emerges in children at age 4 when they begin able to manage multiple dimensions of objects (e.g., color-shape flexibility); however, whether Chinese preschoolers further develop reading-specific cognitive flexibility to manage multiple dimensions of print (e.g., sound-meaning flexibility) remains largely unknown. The current study aimed to examine the potential importance of sound-meaning flexibility for reading skills among Chinese preschoolers.

A total of 195 Chinese kindergarten children at age 5 were recruited to perform a color-shape flexibility task and a sound-meaning flexibility task among other cognitive tasks. Their linguistic skills in the domain of sound and meaning were assessed by a phonological awareness task and a morphological awareness task respectively. Three aspects of reading performance, including word reading accuracy, word reading fluency, and reading comprehension, were assessed.

Results of hierarchical regressions showed that sound-meaning flexibility uniquely and significantly contributed to all three aspects of reading performance beyond the effects of established cognitive predictors, namely color-shape flexibility and working memory, as well as the effects of established linguistic predictors, namely phonological awareness and morphological awareness. Its unique contribution to reading comprehension remained significant when the effect of both word reading accuracy and fluency were further controlled.

To conclude, the present study showed that Chinese preschool children begin to develop cognitive flexibility in manipulating the sound and meaning features of print. The unique contribution of sound-meaning flexibility implies that learning to read Chinese requires children to be flexible not just in general but specifically in handling features of print. It appears that sound-meaning flexibility is importantly involved in different aspects of reading. Copyright © 2021 ICP.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2021
EventThe 32nd International Congress of Psychology - Prague, Czech Republic
Duration: 18 Jul 202123 Jul 2021


ConferenceThe 32nd International Congress of Psychology
Country/TerritoryCzech Republic
Internet address


Fong, Y. C., & Ho, S. H (2021, July). The contribution of sound-meaning flexibility to early Chinese reading. Poster presented at The 32nd International Congress of Psychology, Prague, Czech Republic.


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