Using radicals in teaching Chinese characters to second language learners

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A study was carried out to determine whether knowledge of the internal radical structure of a Chinese character helps a naïve learner to memorize that character. Four groups of Australian subjects who knew nothing about Chinese were asked to learn 24 character/meaning pairs (e.g., Pa-CHEW). Each character was composed of two radicals taken from a set of 16. Every subject was presented with the set of character-meaning pairs three times and then were given each character alone and asked to recall the meaning associated with it. Before seeing any characters, one group (Radicals Before) told about radicals and had 15 minutes to learn the set of 16 radicals thoroughly. Another (Radicals Early) was told about radicals at the first presentation of the stimuli, but were simply asked, as each character was presented, to point out on a chart its component radicals. A third group (Radicals Late) did the same thing, but at the third presentation of the stimuli; while a final group (No Radicals) were told nothing about radicals at all. It was found that memory for the character-meaning pairings was best for the Radicals Early group, suggesting that it is important to highlight the radicals when a character is first presented to the learner. Copyright © 1999 Psychologia Society.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)243-251
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1999


Taft, M., & Chung, K. (1999). Using radicals in teaching Chinese characters to second language learners. Psychologia, 42(4), 243-251.


  • Chinese characters
  • Radicals
  • Second language learning
  • Teaching orthography


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