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Keywords:

  • Chinese characters;
  • chunking;
  • meaningful interpretation;
  • radical knowledge;
  • teaching methods

Abstract

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

Learning and retaining Chinese characters are often considered to be the most challenging elements in learning Chinese as a foreign language. Applying the theory of meaningful interpretation, the chunking mnemonic technique, and the linguistic features of Chinese characters, this study examines whether the method of meaningful interpretation and chunking (MIC) can promote learners' immediate learning and retention of Chinese characters. Mandarin Chinese learners at two high schools were randomized into a treatment group and a control group. Students in the treatment group learned Chinese characters with the MIC method, whereas their peers in the control group learned characters by the traditional method of rote repetition according to the stroke order. Four balanced character sets were introduced each day for four continuous days with three different interventions: teacher-instructed method on Day 1, teacher-cued method on Day 2, and students' independent work on Day 3 and Day 4. Students' learning outcomes of the characters were measured with (1) immediate quizzes given each day after instruction, (2) a retention test (after one week) that integrated all the immediate quizzes, and (3) an application test administered two months after the experiment. The findings suggest that MIC enhances learners' immediate learning and retention of Chinese characters. In addition, the teacher-cued method and familiar independent work were more effective for learning and retaining Chinese characters than the teacher-instructed method and unfamiliar independent work. Furthermore, the treatment effect also varied across the measurement components (meaning vs. perception), levels of instruction, and heritage versus non-heritage groups.


Introduction

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

The Foreign Service Institute (FSI) of the U.S. Department of State has categorized foreign languages taught in the United States into three classes based on linguistic distance and the length of time it takes English-speaking students to achieve general professional proficiency in speaking and reading (“Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers,” ). Mandarin Chinese is one of just a very small number of languages assigned to Category III, which are exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to learn. The FSI estimates that it takes approximately 2,200 class hours, with at least half of that time spent in immersion study, to reach the level of proficiency needed to use a Category III language in a professional setting (“Language Learning Difficulty for English Speakers,” ).

The most challenging task in mastering Mandarin is learning the Chinese characters. While English is an alphabetic language whose writing system roughly represents its sound system, the Chinese sound system and writing system seem to be independent of each other. Thus, mastery of Chinese characters is difficult because of the large number of nonphonetic, visually complex symbols that constitute the orthography of the language (Packard, 1990). Students without sufficient knowledge of Chinese characters often encounter considerable difficulty in reading (Shen, 2005), with novice learners of Chinese claiming that Chinese characters are like “random symbols” that are beyond mastery and retention due to their large quantity and lack of regularity (Wu, 1992).

Contrary to students' beliefs, Chinese characters are not random symbols without patterns and regularities. An exploration into Chinese characters1 reveals that traceable patterns exist that students can use to facilitate learning characters, reading, and writing. Linguistically, the composition of Chinese characters is categorized into six types: pictograms, simple ideograms, ideogrammic compounds, phono-semantic compound characters, phonetic loan characters, and derivative cognates (Boltz, 1994; Wang, 1993; see Appendix A, Part I).

Among the six categories of characters, phono-semantic compounds (flan12039-gra-0001 in Chinese) form more than 90% of Chinese characters (Boltz, 1994). A phono-semantic character is composed of a phonetic element and a meaning element, or so-called phonetic and semantic “radical” (flan12039-gra-0002 in Chinese). Theoretically, a phonetic radical represents the sound of a character and a semantic radical provides clues to the meaning of the character (see examples of typical characters with phonetic and semantic radicals in Appendix A, Part I). Strokes are the basic building materials for radicals. For example, the radical flan12039-gra-0003 consists of two strokes, flan12039-gra-0004 and \. There are a total of 28 distinguishable types of strokes, and the number of strokes in a particular character may vary from 1 to 30 (Shen, 2005). Furthermore, the way strokes combine and vary across the many Chinese radicals and characters makes them particularly challenging to write and remember, especially for novice learners.

Adding to the difficulty of mastering knowledge of radicals and phono-semantic compounds is the evolution of Chinese characters. Because many Chinese characters have evolved and changed, in modern usage, only about 26% of phono-semantic compound characters are transparent characters2 (Zhu, as cited in Everson, 1986). In reality, the phonetic radical does not always identify with the pronunciation of the character, nor does the meaning radical always correspond to the meaning of the character. These characters are called nontransparent characters, and they make up the majority of phono-semantic compound characters (Everson, 1986). Among these nontransparent characters, the meaning and sound radicals only serve as a clue to the meaning and sound of a character, sometimes requiring that the learner engage in effortful imagination. For example, the Chinese character flan12039-gra-0005 is pronounced as fa (third tone3), meaning law in English. Here the left part radical flan12039-gra-0006 is the semantic component, which means water, and its right part radical flan12039-gra-0007 is the phonetic component, which is pronounced as qu (fourth tone). In this phono-semantic compound character flan12039-gra-0008, the phonetic and semantic radicals are no longer consistent with the sound and meaning of the character. It is a typical example of nontransparent phono-semantic compound characters.

As many Chinese characters are nontransparent phono-semantic compound characters, it becomes impossible to rely on a simple meaningful interpretation of Chinese characters by using the sound and meaning radicals. Therefore, the Chinese Linguistics Bureau (2005) and Chu (2005, 2009) proposed a new method called bujian jiaoxuefa (chunking method), or the component-oriented net-weaving approach, which employed chunking (bujian) and connections between chunks, or components, to promote character learning. Although bujian and radicals have many overlaps, bujian no longer represents the semantic or phonological components of characters but represents instead frequently appearing chunks in Chinese characters. In the 3,500 most frequently used Chinese characters, there are only 132 bujian (see Appendix A, Part II). According to this method:

Chinese characters are hierarchically organized into the three levels of stroke, bujian, and character. Thousands of characters consist of hundreds of bujian; hundreds of bujian consist of tens of strokes… Strokes and bujian are repetitive. Characters are linked together as a huge network by repeated bujian. (Chu, 2005, p. 250; emphasis added)

Chu (2005, 2009) proposed that, at the initial learning stage, learners have to learn all the bujian with their accompanying strokes as well as the order of writing each stroke. However, as students progress, they acquire the ability to automatically apply the bujian knowledge to new characters with little difficulty. Although this new method for teaching Chinese characters has been proposed and implemented in some Mandarin classrooms (Chu, 2009), no empirical studies have been conducted to examine its effectiveness in Chinese character learning.

This study examined the teaching of Chinese characters utilizing an approach called meaningful interpretation and chunking (MIC) that integrated several linguistic features of Chinese characters (i.e., origination and types of Chinese characters including the radical knowledge and bujian) and employed mnemonic strategies more commonly found in cognitive studies of memory.

Literature Review

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

MIC in Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychologists hold that our immediate recall and retention of information is selective: We recall and retain information that is personally meaningful rather than random symbols or structures (Anderson, 2005). Evidence in support of meaningful interpretation has been collected with respect to short-term memory of meaning-significant changes vs. detail changes in a picture (Mandler & Ritchey, 1977), immediate recall of meaningful vs. random chess positions (Schneider, Gruber, Gold, & Opwis, 1993), and retention of theme and meaning vs. details of a picture (Achor, Imoko, & Uloko, 2009; Chow, Woodford, & Maes, 2011). Furthermore, meaningful interpretation enhances students' retention of knowledge and has been widely used by educators in different academic fields, such as biology (Cavallo, 1992), art (Calverley, Grafer, & Hauser, 2002), statistics (Chow et al., 2011), and math (Achor et al., 2009).

Chunking is another popular strategy (Ericsson, Chase, & Faloon, 1980) and refers to processing small units of information (chunks) and grouping them into larger, meaningful units (Chase & Simon, 1973). The importance of chunking originated with Miller's (1956) work that showed that short-term memory had a capacity of about seven plus-or-minus two chunks and that short-term memory could be enhanced by recoding information into a small amount of high-information-content items. In the field of language learning, research about chunking remains inconclusive and conventional thinking holds that chunking, or decomposing, is effective for alphabetic word acquisition. Most research has been conducted in the field of English word recognition and acquisition (Rastle, Davis, Marslen-Wilson, & Tyler, 2000; Rubin & Becker, 1979; Taft & Forster, 1975), indicating that English words can be grouped into a variety of smaller units such as individual letters, spelling patterns, syllables, and morphemes. These smaller units can then function as basic perceptual units for processing in word recognition and acquisition (Taft & Forster, 1975).

Research has also shown that associations between items or chunks can assist in short-term recall (Tulving & Patkau, 1962). Stuart and Hulme (2000) found that pre-exposing pairs of low-frequency words in order to create associative links between them had substantial beneficial effects on immediate serial recall performance. These findings indicate that associating links between items or increasing availability of prior knowledge can enhance retention. An important implication, then, is that teachers should pay attention to linking items with the same or similar chunks.

MIC in Teaching and Learning Chinese Characters

Despite the evidence in support of meaningful interpretation and chunking in cognitive psychology, no study has applied both of these cognitive processes to examine how Chinese characters are taught. The majority of related studies have focused on radical knowledge and the essence of meaningful interpretation of Chinese characters and have demonstrated a correlation between radical knowledge and Chinese character acquisition. For example, Taft and Zhu's studies (1995, 1997) argued that there is “a radical-transportation effect” on readers and that all simple radicals are independently activated in the process of character recognition, including the characters containing more complicated radicals. Therefore, the recognition of Chinese characters is promoted by the activation of information about their component radicals. Furthermore, Shen's study (2000), which investigated the relationships between radical knowledge and recognition and production of novel phonetic-semantic compounds, showed that students with good radical knowledge performed significantly better in the production of novel morphological transparent characters than did students who lacked equivalent radical knowledge. In a follow-up study with college learners, Shen and Ke (2007) found a linear relationship between the development of radical knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge in Chinese word acquisition.

Although a connection between radical knowledge and Chinese character learning seems to have been established, a method to effectively teach radical knowledge is yet to be studied and discussed. A controversy exists as to whether Mandarin teachers should systematically and explicitly teach radical knowledge to students (Shen, 2007; Taft & Chung, 1999; Wang, Liu, & Perfetti, 2004). Recent research has supported teacher-assisted instruction of positional and functional regularities of radicals (Taft & Zhu, 1995, 1997). More important, research has shown that if teachers explicitly introduce target characters with the meaning and use of radicals, then students are more likely to associate the learned radical knowledge with the pronunciation and meaning of newly learned characters, which expedites learning (Taft & Chung, 1999; Wang et al., 2004).

In a recent research study, Shen (2007) showed that student-initiated elaboration can be as effective as teacher-guided elaboration in the long term. In the study, three types of encoding strategies were used during character learning; these included rote memorization (shallow processing), student self-motivated elaboration (deeper processing), and teacher-guided elaboration (deeper processing). Her findings indicated that elaboration resulted in significantly better retention for sound and meaning of characters than did rote memorization. Between student self-motivated elaboration and teacher-guided elaboration, retention of sound and meaning was significantly better with teacher-guided elaboration in study intervals of 20 minutes; however, this advantage disappeared at a 48-hour recall interval. Therefore, teacher elaboration apparently only enhanced working memory, not the retention of character sound and meaning. In other words, after being introduced to the method of deep processing, student self-motivated elaboration can be as effective as teacher-guided elaboration.

Finally, Everson and Ke (1997) found that highly proficient learners have a more advanced understanding of Chinese orthography and morphology. In a sight-reading task employing think-aloud protocols, these learners more easily applied their radical knowledge to identify unknown characters and made fewer random decisions to figure out the pronunciation and meaning of these characters. With regard to language learners' family background, although no specific study has been identified investigating the difference on Chinese character learning between heritage and non-heritage learners of Chinese, research has demonstrated that the two groups differ significantly in language learning in terms of their motivation, resources, and general learning strategies (Liu, 2012; Scrimgeour, 2012; Wen, 2011). Therefore, in the study, both heritage and non-heritage participants were recruited, and their learning outcomes using the MIC method were analyzed and compared.

Research Questions

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

To examine the effectiveness of the MIC method as well as the instructional setting in which the method was delivered, this empirical study compared an experimental group and a control group's learning and retention of Chinese characters and addressed the following research questions:

  1. Is the MIC method more effective than the traditional stroke-order method in students' immediate learning of Chinese characters?
  2. Does the MIC method produce greater retention of Chinese characters than the traditional stroke-order method?
  3. Does the MIC method have a long-term effect on students' learning of Chinese characters?
  4. Which treatment is more effective in learning Chinese characters: teacher total instruction, teacher-cued instruction, or students' independent work?
  5. How does level of instruction (2nd year vs. 3rd year students) and heritage vs. non-heritage learner status affect instructional treatment for learning Chinese characters?

Methods

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

Design

The study was conducted in the Palo Alto Unified School District in northern California. Due to limited time and resources, a convenient sampling strategy (Alreck & Settle, 1994) was used to select the study participants from two local high schools. The participants included 124 students enrolled in Chinese classes. Given that the main experiment lasted for only four days, the 16 students (seven students in the control group and nine students in the treatment group) who were absent on any of the four days were excluded from the analyses. T test comparisons showed that the pretest results of the absent students in the control and treatment groups were not significantly different (p > 0.05), and therefore their absence would not bias the study. The participants ranged in age from 14 to 17 years. Among the 108 participants, 70 were male (65%) and 38 were female (35%). Thirty-five students (32%) were heritage speakers, and 73 students (68%) were non-heritage speakers.

This study employed a randomized experimental design. Students were randomized into a treatment group and a control group within the same class as follows. First, the original 124 students were homogeneously grouped by pretest scores. The pretest was a recognition test administered one day before the experiment and consisted of all 32 characters to be taught in the study. During the pretest, students were asked to write down the pinyin and meaning of the characters. Test papers were collected immediately afterward, and results were never shared with students so that students did not receive any instructional exposure to those characters except in the experiment. After ranking students by their pretest performance, matched pairs with successive ranks were formed. Second, matched pairs were randomly assigned such that one student participated in the treatment group and the other in the control group. Third, a few participants within a matched pair were switched to balance the gender distribution between the treatment and control groups. Table 1 presents information about participants' group, school, and level.

Table 1. Distribution of Experimental and Control Group
 Experimental GroupControl Group
Level II (about 120 instructional hours)11 (School A) + 11 (School B)12 (School A) + 11(School B)
Level III (about 240 instructional hours)8 (School A) + 15 (School B)9 (School A) + 15 (School B)
Level IV (about 360 instructional hours)8 (School A)8 (School A)
Total53 students55 students

Students at both schools used the same textbook series, Nihao, and had completed approximately the same amount of instructional time and content based on their level of Chinese instruction. A standardized Chinese assessment instrument, the Standards-based Assessment and Measurement of Proficiency (STAMP), was administered to students approximately two weeks before the study. The results indicated that the majority of Chinese II students fell into the novice-low4 to novice-mid categories, the majority of Chinese III students fell into the novice-mid to novice-high categories, and the majority of Chinese IV students fell into the novice-high to intermediate-low categories.

Materials

Both the control and treatment groups were taught eight Chinese characters daily for four consecutive days for a total of 32 different characters (see Table 2). The characters were all selected from the word lists of Lessons 4, 5, and 6 in Nihao IV. The highest-level students (Chinese IV students at School A) in the study were learning Lesson 2 in Nihao IV when the study began. Therefore, the characters used in the study had never been taught formally in class to students. Five criteria were used to select the characters for the study: human memory capacity,5 number of strokes (i.e., density), frequency of characters, transparency of phono-semantic compounds, and learning in context (see Appendix B). By following these criteria, the daily level of difficulty was controlled to enable within-subject comparisons across the four instructional days.

Table 2. Character Sets Selected for Four Days
StrokesDay 1Day 2Day 3Day 4
≤5 strokesflan12039-gra-0076 90*flan12039-gra-0077 129flan12039-gra-0078 1018flan12039-gra-0079 589
 flan12039-gra-0080 213flan12039-gra-0081 166flan12039-gra-0082 320flan12039-gra-0083 565
6–7 strokesflan12039-gra-0084 360flan12039-gra-0085 988flan12039-gra-0086 127flan12039-gra-0087 73
 flan12039-gra-0088 827flan12039-gra-0089 531flan12039-gra-0090 110flan12039-gra-0091 1652
8–9 strokesflan12039-gra-0092 219flan12039-gra-0093 846flan12039-gra-0094 586flan12039-gra-0095 170
 flan12039-gra-0096 1149flan12039-gra-0097 504flan12039-gra-0098 499flan12039-gra-0099 362
10–15 strokesflan12039-gra-0100 326flan12039-gra-0101 134flan12039-gra-0102 824flan12039-gra-0103 474
 flan12039-gra-0104 822flan12039-gra-0105 55flan12039-gra-0106 41flan12039-gra-0107 295
Wordsflan12039-gra-0108flan12039-gra-0109flan12039-gra-0110flan12039-gra-0111

For both the treatment and control groups, handouts on which characters and activities would be covered were provided to students. A substitute Chinese teacher (see “Procedure” below for details) was trained in using the handouts for the study lessons. The treatment group also received an extra handout illustrating types of Chinese characters based on their origin and the MIC method (see Appendix A). In addition to the handouts, Chinese-English dictionaries were available to all participants in the study's follow-up activities.

Procedure

To prevent research outcomes from being influenced by subjective bias, the participants and the experimenter were blind to who was assigned to the experimental and control groups. A credentialed substitute Mandarin teacher was employed as the experimenter to teach all participants in both groups. The teacher was trained in the steps that should be followed in delivering the study instruction to the participants.

The experiment was conducted during the regular Chinese class periods in both schools. For the control group, the teacher used a traditional method (i.e., stroke-order rote memorization) to teach the Chinese characters. On Day 1, students followed the teacher's model, writing the character stroke by stroke (teacher-instructed traditional method). On Day 2, the teacher provided the character's stroke order on the board, and students practiced writing by themselves (teacher-cued traditional method). On Day 3, students were asked to study eight characters by themselves and practice each character's stroke order (student independent traditional method). The teacher was not in the classroom. On Day 4, the student independent traditional method from Day 3 was repeated for a new character set. This practice lasted for approximately 15 minutes on each day of the experiment. Afterward, students participated in “making up words and phrases,” an activity in which they had to look up characters in the dictionary and use those characters to make two words or phrases. This activity lasted approximately 10 minutes on each day of the experiment.

For the treatment group, on the day before the experiment, the teacher introduced the MIC method with three steps. The first step in this method was to introduce the origin and types of Chinese characters (see Appendix A, Part I). Because introducing all six linguistic breakdowns can be overwhelming for new Chinese as a foreign language learners, teachers can simplify the knowledge by leaving out phonetic loan characters and derivative cognates because they are the most difficult to deconstruct and make up less than 1% of all Chinese characters (Boltz, 1994; Wang, 1993). Therefore, in this study, only the first four types of Chinese characters (pictograms, simple ideograms, ideogrammic compounds, and phono-semantic compound characters) were introduced to students. The teacher emphasized radical knowledge when teaching the phono-semantic compound characters. For each type of character, she gave abundant examples of Chinese characters and demonstrated how they could be meaningfully interpreted.

Then, the teacher told students that phono-semantic compounds (xingsheng zi) comprised about 90% of Chinese characters and that only about 26% of the phono-semantic compounds were transparent or close to transparent. Definitions and examples of transparent and nontransparent characters were given to students. To memorize those nontransparent characters, the teacher suggested that students use bujian (chunks) for memorization. She introduced the method of bujian and indicated that only 132 of the most common bujian could be found in a list of the 3,500 most frequently used Chinese characters (see Appendix A, Part II). She also gave examples on how to chunk several Chinese characters.

In the third step, the teacher listed several characters that consisted of the same radicals or chunks; by doing so, she facilitated students' identification and association of those radicals, chunks, and characters (see Appendix A, Part III). The teacher then stated that, although the element of meaningful interpretation focused on the types of Chinese characters and radical knowledge and while the element of chunking focused on the structures of Chinese characters, students should combine both elements as there were overlaps between chunks and radicals that frequently connect the characters consisting of the same chunks or radicals. This three-step introduction lasted approximately 90 minutes and did not involve the characters selected in the study.

After students participated in the above three-step orientation to the MIC method, on Day 1 of the experiment, the teacher introduced eight characters to students by providing her own interpretation and memory tips based on the MIC method (teacher-instructed MIC). For example, when introducing the character flan12039-gra-0009 (ren, recognize), the teacher mentioned that the left radical flan12039-gra-0010 represented the meaning (talk, express out) and the right radical flan12039-gra-0011 represented the sound (ren, similar pronunciation of flan12039-gra-0012). When introducing the character flan12039-gra-0013 (shi, recognize), the teacher mentioned that the left radical flan12039-gra-0014, again, represented the meaning (talk, express out) and the right radical flan12039-gra-0015 represented the sound (zhi), emphasizing that the phonetic radical might not exactly match the sound of the compound character. Another example was the character of flan12039-gra-0016. The teacher told students that chunking could be used in memorizing this character and wrote the tip on the board: flan12039-gra-0017 = flan12039-gra-0018 + flan12039-gra-0019 + flan12039-gra-0020 + flan12039-gra-0021. On Day 2, the activities repeated Day 1's structure; however, the teacher changed the character set and encouraged students' own interpretation and character chunking by providing cues (teacher-cued MIC). For example, when she taught flan12039-gra-0022, she said, “This is a phono-semantic compound, which means one radical represents pinyin and the other represents the meaning. Who can share his or her memory tips?” When teaching flan12039-gra-0023, the teacher told students that they could chunk the character into familiar bujian and asked students which two bujian they could identify and in what other characters they had seen them before. On Day 3, students were asked to self-study the eight characters using the MIC method. The teacher was not present (student independent MIC). The student independent MIC method was repeated on Day 4, except that the participants studied a different character set. Similar to the control group, time was controlled for learning the eight characters each day (about 15 minutes). After learning the character set, the treatment group joined the control group for the words-and-phrases activity, which lasted approximately 10 minutes, in the same classroom.

A quiz was administered in the same classroom each day to both groups after the words-and-phrases activity (see Appendix C). In the first section of the quiz, after the teacher pronounced the Chinese characters one by one, students wrote the characters and their meanings in English. In the second section, students completed a character-recognition task in which they saw the printed characters and were asked to provide their pinyin spelling and meanings in English.

On Day 5, a week later, a retention test was administered to both the treatment and control groups. Items on this cumulative test were presented in the same format as the previous quizzes (administered on Day 1 through Day 4) and included characters taught on Day 1 through Day 4.

Finally, to examine whether the MIC method enhanced long-term student learning, an application test was given two months after the experiment. Rather than assess students on the Chinese characters they learned in the experiment, the application test followed the same format as the retention test but examined students on the characters they learned from their classroom teachers in the two-month period after the experiment finished. The intention of this test was to determine whether students could apply the MIC method to their own Chinese character learning. The experimental design is shown in Table 3.

Table 3. Design of the Study
 Day 1Day 2Days 3 and 4One week laterTwo months later
ContentCharacter set 1Character set 2Character sets 3 and 4Retention test (Quiz 1 + 2 + 3 + 4)Application test on Chinese characters taught in between
Step 1
Control groupTeacher-instructed traditional methodTeacher-cued traditional methodStudents' independent traditional method  
Treatment groupTeacher-instructed MICTeacher-cued MICStudents' independent MIC  
Step 2 (Both)Related activityRelated activityRelated activity  
Step 3 (Both)Quiz 1Quiz 2Quiz 3, 4  

Measures

The immediate, retention, and application tests applied the same four types of measurement to test students' memory of characters: (1) reading the character and writing down its pinyin, (2) reading the character and writing down its meaning, (3) listening to the character and writing down the character, and (4) listening to the character and writing down its meaning. For the two reading tasks, characters were presented on a handout and students were required to write down their pinyin spelling and meanings. For the two listening tasks, characters were dictated and students were required to write down the characters and their meanings.

The number and percentage of correct pinyin spellings, written characters, and character meanings were measured. Students earned one point if they wrote the pinyin correctly (including tones), one point if they wrote the character correctly, and one point if they wrote the correct meaning. When students provided the right pronunciation with an incorrect tone, they received a score of 0.75. When students provided an intelligible pronunciation that was almost correct, they received a score of 0.5. When students made a small mistake in the character writing, such as missing or adding a stroke, but the character was still recognizable, they received a score of 0.5. If the meaning provided was close, but not exactly correct, they also received a score of 0.5.

Analyses

First, to make the analysis more concise and efficient, the two most relevant measurements—reading the character and writing down its pinyin spelling and listening to the pinyin spelling and writing down the character—were combined and renamed as the perception component. The other two tasks—reading the character and writing down its meaning and listening to the character and writing down its meaning—were also combined and renamed as the meaning component.

Multi-factor ANOVA was performed to analyze three main variables in the study: instructional differences as indicated by the variable day (four levels6), the treatment or control condition as indicated by the variable group (two levels), and different measurements as indicated by the variable component (two levels). To investigate the main effects of the MIC method and different instructional strategies on the test components as well as their interactions between each other, a 2 (group) × 4 (day) × 2 (component) multi-factor ANOVA was conducted.

In addition, two additional variables, language level as indicated by the variable level (three levels) and heritage or non-heritage students as indicated by the variable heritage (two levels) were also of high interest and were included in the results. To analyze the impact of the MIC method including the level and heritage variables, a 2 (group) × 3 (level) / 2 (heritage) × 4 (day) × 2 (component) multi-factor ANOVA was performed on the dependent variables.

Results

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

Immediate Tests

All means and standard errors are reported in Table 4. The results of the analysis showed that treatment was significant, F(1,106) = 4.73, p < 0.05, indicating that the MIC method was more effective than the traditional method for short-term memory of Chinese characters. Day was significant for both groups, F(3,104) = 49.42, p < 0.001. Generally speaking, student performance was ranked from high to low in the following order: Day 4 (student familiar independent work), Day 2 (teacher-cued instruction), Day 1 (teacher total instruction), and Day 3 (student unfamiliar independent work). Component was significant, F(1,106) = 45.23, p < 0.001, showing that students performed significantly better on the meaning tasks than on the perception tasks. There was an interaction between group and component, F(1,106) = 7.59 p < 0.01, which demonstrated that the treatment group did especially well on the meaning-related tasks as compared to the control group. Figure 1 displays the means of the immediate tests by component and group. The interaction between day and group was not significant, F(3, 104) = 1.17, p > 0.05. This indicates that the MIC method was equally effective across the four instructional settings. Figure 2 displays the means of the immediate tests by day and group.

Table 4. Means (Standard Errors) of Immediate Tests
  Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Average Means
ControlPerception9.59 (0.58)12.48 (0.41)10.55 (0.55)13.15 (0.42)11.44 (0.44)
 Meaning10.40 (0.58)12.88 (0.42)10.9 (0.56)13.92 (0.33)12.31 (0.45)
 EM Means9.99 (0.56)12.68 (0.40)10.72 (0.53)13.53 (0.34)11.73 (0.41)
TreatmentPerception10.67 (0.59)13.27 (0.42)11.82 (0.56)13.47 (0.43)12.03 (0.41)
 Meaning11.83 (0.59)14.36 (0.43)13.30 (0.57)15.35 (0.33)13.71 (0.42)
 EM Means11.26 (0.57)13.82 (0.40)12.56 (0.54)14.41 (0.35)13.01 (0.42)
BothPerception10.13 (0.42)12.88 (0.29)11.18 (0.39)13.31 (0.30)11.88 (0.31)
 Meaning11.12 (0.42)13.62 (0.30)12.10 (0.40)14.63 (0.23)12.87 (0.29)
 Avg. Means10.62 (0.40)13.25 (0.28)11.64 (0.38)13.97 (0.24)12.43 (0.37)
image

Figure 1. Means of Immediate Tests, by Component and Group

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image

Figure 2. Means of Immediate Tests, by Day and Group

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Retention Tests

All means and standard errors are reported in Table 5. Analyses of the retention tests produced results that were similar to the analyses for the immediate tests. The treatment was significant, F(1, 106) = 6.33, p < 0.05, indicating that the MIC method was also effective for retention of Chinese characters.

Table 5. Means (Standard Errors) of Retention Tests
  Day 1Day 2Day 3Day 4Average Means
ControlPerception4.77 (0.55)5.56 (0.55)3.67 (0.39)4.98 (0.57)4.74 (0.48)
 Meaning6.15 (0.65)6.97 (0.60)4.94 (0.52)7.11 (0.64)6.29 (0.55)
 EM Means5.46 (0.54)6.26 (0.56)4.30 (0.44)6.04 (0.58)5.52 (0.51)
TreatmentPerception6.37 (0.57)7.07 (0.57)4.98 (0.40)6.26 (0.59)6.17 (0.50)
 Meaning8.68 (0.67)9.21 (0.62)6.93 (0.54)9.27 (0.67)8.52 (0.57)
 EM Means7.53 (0.60)8.14 (0.58)5.96 (0.45)7.76 (0.60)7.35 (0.52)
BothPerception5.57 (0.40)6.31 (0.40)4.33 (0.28)5.62 (0.41)5.46 (0.35)
 Meaning7.42 (0.47)8.09 (0.43)6.39 (0.37)8.19 (0.46)7.41 (0.40)
 Avg. Means6.49 (0.42)7.20 (0.40)5.13 (0.31)6.90 (0.42)6.50 (0.38)

Day was significant for both groups, F(3, 104) = 33,26, p < 0.001. Generally speaking, student performance was ranked from high to low in the following order: Day 2 (teacher-cued instruction), Day 4 (student familiar independent work), Day 1 (teacher total instruction), and Day 3 (student unfamiliar independent work). Component was found to be significant, F(1,106) = 158.09, p < 0.001, with students performing significantly better on the meaning tasks than on the perception tasks. Similar to the immediate test, the retention analysis revealed a significant interaction between group and component, F(3, 104) = 6.74, p < 0.01, which demonstrated that the treatment group did especially well on meaning-related tasks of the retention test when compared to the control group. The interaction between day and group was not significant, F(3, 104) = .26, p > 0.01, indicating that the MIC method was equally effective across the four instructional settings.

Application Test

Two months later, students were tested on the new characters they had learned from their teachers since the completion of the experiment. Chinese II students learned 29 characters, and Chinese III and Chinese IV students each learned 44 characters. A similar application test consisting of the perception and meaning components of those characters was given to students in both the control and treatment groups. To make their scores comparable, the percentage of correct scores for data analysis was used.

The means of both the perception (M = 50.72%, SE = 1.62%) and meaning components (M = 59.22%, SE = 1.07%) for the treatment group were higher than the means of the control group (for the perception component M = 49.37%, SE = 1.06%; for the meaning component M = 57.49%, SE = 1.02%), but these differences were not significant. For the perception component, F(1, 102) = .13, p > 0.05, and for the meaning component, F(1, 102) = .09, p > 0.05. This result indicates that the treatment effect of the MIC method disappeared in the application test given two months later.

Level and Heritage Effect

Level was significant in both the immediate and the retention tests, F(2, 106) = 7.03, p < 0.01, and F(2, 106) = 10.63, p < 0.001, respectively. Higher-level students performed better than lower-level students on both the immediate and retention tests. Furthermore, the analyses revealed that, compared to Chinese III and Chinese IV students, Chinese II students lagged behind to a greater extent on perception tasks when compared to meaning tasks in the tests.

Heritage was a significant factor in both the immediate and retention tests, F(1, 106) = 22.73, p < 0.001, and F(1, 106) = 45.31, p < 0.001, respectively. Heritage students not only performed better than non-heritage students on both tests, but the former also showed less of a performance decrement in the retention tests. Similar to the level variable, compared to heritage students, non-heritage students lagged behind more on perception tasks than on meaning tasks in the tests.

Discussion

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

Immediate Learning and Retention

The results of the study support a cognitive interpretation of the role of MIC in immediate recall and retention of information (Anderson, 2005; Chase & Simon, 1973; Gobet, Retschitzki, & de Voogt, 2004; Gobet & Simon, 1998; Mandler & Ritchey, 1977). In converting Chinese characters into more meaningful material, the MIC method first informed students that Chinese characters are not random symbols but are grounded upon historical stories and possess meaningful interpretation. In this sense, meaningful interpretation provided students with a framework and contextual clues to learn and retain Chinese characters. The other element of the MIC method, chunking and association between chunks, was also supported by the results of the study. When learning compound Chinese characters, students in the treatment group first decomposed the characters into familiar chunks (bujian) and then proceeded to unite the characters by connecting the writing and meaning. As Taft and Forster (1975) claimed, the obvious advantage of this kind of decomposition procedure is an economy of memory storage. Instead of memorizing more than 10 strokes, students only need to retain two or three chunks. Although the initial process may be more tedious for students who are still in the process of learning the chunks, the task becomes easier as students become exposed to and remember chunks.

The effectiveness of the MIC method is also consistent with studies that investigated the relationship between radical knowledge and Chinese character acquisition (Shen, 2000; Shen & Ke, 2007; Taft & Chung, 1999; Wang et al., 2004). Although there is no literature on the MIC method in particular, teaching radical knowledge mirrors the MIC method because a radical is a type of Chinese character chunk with meaning or sound indications. The findings of the MIC method are not only consistent with radical knowledge theory but also extend its benefits to retaining the pronunciation and meaning of Chinese characters.

The findings reported here also demonstrate that students are better at learning and retaining the meaning components of characters as compared to the perception component. This is consistent with Shen (2010), who reported that students had more difficulty learning the sounds and shapes of characters than they did learning the character's meanings. One conclusion that can be drawn from this finding is that language instruction should aim to have students attend to strategies for internalizing the sound and writing of Chinese characters.

Long-Term Effects

A puzzling problem to emerge from the study was the absence of a significant long-term effect of the MIC method when students were given an application test two months following the experimental manipulation. It is not clear why students did not retain and transfer the benefits of the MIC method when learning new Chinese characters. It is possible that, for long-term memory to be maintained, some level of rehearsal of the material is needed (Atkinson & Shiffrin, 1968; Baddeley, 1986; Bower, 1982). During the two-month interval between the experiment and the application test, the Chinese classroom teachers continued to use the traditional stroke-order rote memorization method to teach Chinese characters and thus no overt rehearsal had taken place. Thus it is conceivable that the waning of the MIC method in the application test could be attributable to both a lack of rehearsal and, possibly, to interference from the rehearsal of an opposing method of learning. The other possibility could be that the short duration of the experiment was not sufficient to effect a change in students' strategic learning orientation, something that would have to be nurtured over time through principled pedagogical interventions. Therefore, it is important that the teacher consistently act as a facilitator to encourage students to incorporate the MIC method in their Chinese character learning. Support for this can be found in Everson (2011), who stated in his synthesis of the literature on learning character languages:

As well, given the variable nature of students' ability to actually use these components successfully, it appears this is no longer nice-to-know information to be taught from a cultural or historical perspective, but information that must be woven systematically into the fabric of Chinese reading classroom pedagogy. (pp. 263–264)

Day Effect

Generally speaking, Day 2 and Day 4 were ranked at the top in both the immediate-recall and retention tests, which indicates that teacher-cued instruction and familiar independent learning were more effective for learning Chinese characters in this study. This conclusion is consistent with Bransford, Franks, Vye, and Sherwood's theory (1989) of “Wisdom can't be told.” According to Bransford et al. (1989), when students were instructed on knowledge and problem-solving models for learning, students could think of the knowledge and the models mechanically but were not able to transfer the knowledge or model creatively to new situations. The more effective method, as discussed by Bransford et al. (1989), was the problem-oriented acquisition procedure, in which students, under a teacher's tutelage, receive extensive opportunities to manipulate objects and problems by themselves. Shen's study (2007) on learning Chinese characters also reinforced this result, showing that, after being introduced to the method of deep processing, student self-motivated elaboration could be as effective as teacher-guided elaboration in the long run.

Subgroup Effects

No significant interaction was found between level and heritage and treatment. In addition, the results indicated that the MIC method was equally effective both for lower-level and higher-level learners as well as for heritage and non-heritage learners. On the other hand, the results of the subgroup analyses also demonstrated that lower-level and non-heritage students showed the largest performance decrement on the immediate test of Day 3, when they were required to conduct independent learning of the characters for the first time. Another finding was that lower-level and non-heritage students lagged behind on the perception tasks rather than on the meaning tasks when compared to the higher-level and heritage students. Thus, when using the MIC method to teach Chinese characters, teachers should provide more scaffolding to lower-level and non-heritage students and pay particular attention to improving students' abilities on perception tasks (pronouncing and writing the characters).

Implications for Teaching Practices

This study provides a number of suggestions for teaching Chinese characters and possibly has implications for teaching other languages that use logographic characters (e.g., Japanese). First of all, the MIC method differs from other methods that use radical knowledge in teaching Chinese characters—although it integrates the knowledge of radicals as a way to ensure meaningful interpretation, it embeds the following three key elements: (1) meaningful background knowledge (origination and types of Chinese characters, radical knowledge); (2) chunking (bujian); and (3) association among characters consisting of the same radicals or chunks.

Second, when using the MIC method in teaching Chinese characters, the teacher takes on the role of facilitator. To be more specific, the following suggestions emerge:

  1. Teachers need to clearly introduce the MIC method and demonstrate to students through abundant examples how the method can aid in memorizing Chinese characters.
  2. When a radical or a bujian first appears in a character, teachers should highlight it so that students can store this information as nodes in a memory net and later activate these memory nodes when encountering characters with the same radical or bujian.
  3. In daily lessons, teachers can instruct students on how to connect Chinese characters with similar radicals or bujian together, thus enabling the activation of prior knowledge, the radical or bujian that students have learned and stored in a memory net.
  4. Teachers should not impose their own interpretation of every character on students as this inhibits students' critical thinking skills and deep processing of characters. In this sense, teachers should encourage students to independently use the MIC method to learn characters and provide scaffolding to students when needed.
  5. Students need constant exposure to and rehearsal in using the MIC method. Teachers need to provide ample opportunities for students to use this method in class as well as in self-study at home.

Third, with regard to when to introduce the MIC method and how to provide differentiated instruction among students, results of the study indicated that this method could be introduced to students by their second year of Chinese instruction. It is presumed that, by learning the MIC method at an earlier stage of their acquisition of Chinese characters, students could also benefit in their overall learning of characters.

Limitations and Implications for Future Research

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies

This study has several limitations. First, from the first day of the study, students knew that they were participating in an experiment. Although they remained in their original classrooms, they had a new teacher, new material to learn, and a new structure of lessons that only focused on character learning. Second, due to the possible interference of the method for learning characters that was used by the students' regular teacher, MIC's long-term effects could not be demonstrated.

To overcome the above limitations, instead of randomly assigning students to different conditions, future research could assign teachers to different treatment and control conditions. Teachers in the treatment group could be trained on the MIC method, and teachers in the control group could be directed to only use a traditional method to teach Chinese characters. Students in both groups could then be tracked longitudinally to measure their performance in learning Chinese characters. This research design simulates a real-life classroom setting and could reveal whether the MIC method has long-term effects on Chinese character learning.

Finally, this study did not investigate the relationship between types of Chinese characters and the intervention effect. For example, because the MIC method emphasizes meaningful interpretation, the method may be more effective for transparent Chinese characters, which can be interpreted more easily than nontransparent Chinese characters. Other characteristics of Chinese characters that may influence the effect of the intervention include number of strokes, frequency, and whether they are introduced in context. Furthermore, only simplified characters were selected in this study. As simplified and traditional characters bear strong resemblance to each other, our hypothesis is that the MIC method can also promote the learning of traditional characters. However, this should be studied to ensure that there is no differential effect of MIC instruction between simplified and traditional character learning.

References

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies
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APPENDIX A

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies
Meaningful Interpretation and Chunking (MIC)

Part I: Composition of Chinese Characters

Note: As the phonetic loan characters and derivative cognates make up less than 1% of Chinese characters, they were excluded from instruction and handout for the experimental group.

  1. Pictograms (flan12039-gra-0024 xiàng xíng “form imitation”)

    Thought to be the oldest types of characters, pictographs were originally pictures of things. During the past 5,000 years or so they have become simplified and stylized.

    e.g., flan12039-gra-0025

  2. Simple ideograms (flan12039-gra-0026 zhǐ shì “indication”)

    Ideograms express an abstract idea through an iconic form, including iconic modification of pictographic characters.

    e.g., flan12039-gra-0027

    flan12039-gra-0028 běn, “root”—a tree (flan12039-gra-0029 ) with the base indicated by an extra stroke.

    flan12039-gra-0030 , “apex”—the reverse of flan12039-gra-0031 (běn), a tree with the top highlighted by an extra stroke.

  3. Ideogrammic compounds (flan12039-gra-0032 huì yì “joined meaning”)

    In ideogrammic compounds, two or more pictographic or ideographic characters are combined to suggest a third meaning.

    flan12039-gra-0033 × 2 = flan12039-gra-0034flan12039-gra-0035 × 3 = flan12039-gra-0036flan12039-gra-0037 + flan12039-gra-0038 = flan12039-gra-0039
    línsēnxiū
    two trees [RIGHTWARDS ARROW] grovethree trees [RIGHTWARDS ARROW] foresta man leaning against a tree [RIGHTWARDS ARROW] rest
  4. Phono-semantic compound characters flan12039-gra-0040 xíng shēng “form and sound”)

    These are often called radical-phonetic characters. A phono-semantic character is composed of a phonetic and a meaning radical.

    MeaningPronunciationCompound
    flan12039-gra-0041 stoneflan12039-gra-0042 zhuānflan12039-gra-0043 zhuān “brick”
    flan12039-gra-0044 vehicleflan12039-gra-0045 zhuānflan12039-gra-0046 zhuǎn “turn”
    flan12039-gra-0047 handflan12039-gra-0048flan12039-gra-0049 “hold, grasp”
    flan12039-gra-0050 handflan12039-gra-0051 báiflan12039-gra-0052* pāi “clap, hit”

    *Note: The pronunciation of flan12039-gra-0053 does not exactly match the pronunciation of the phonetic radical flan12039-gra-0054, but they share the same final ai.

  5. Phonetic loan characters (flan12039-gra-0055 jiǎjiè “borrowing; making use of”)

    Phonetic loan characters are characters that are “borrowed” to write another homophonous or near-homophonous morpheme.

    Pictograph or ideographOriginal wordSecondary wordNew character for original word
    flan12039-gra-0056běi “north”bèi “back (of the body)”flan12039-gra-0057
    flan12039-gra-0058yào “to want”yāo “waist”flan12039-gra-0059
    flan12039-gra-0060shǎo “few”shā “sand”flan12039-gra-0061
  6. Derivative cognates (flan12039-gra-0062 zhuǎn zhù “reciprocal meaning”)

    It may refer to characters that have similar meanings and often the same etymological root but have diverged in pronunciation and meaning. For example, the characters flan12039-gra-0063 lǎo “old” and flan12039-gra-0064 kǎo “a test” derive from a common etymological root and the characters differ only in the modification of one part.

Part II: Chunking

The 132 most common bujian (chunks) used in 3,500 frequently used Chinese characters (Chinese Linguistics Bureau, 2005):

flan12039-gra-0065

Part III: Associations Between Radicals and Chunks

Read the following Chinese character sets and circle the common radicals or chunks shared by the characters. Can you add another character sharing the same radical or chunk?

flan12039-gra-0066

Tip

The big secret here is: Meaningful Interpretation + Chunking! Also, there is no right or wrong in using this method. Whatever works for you works best. Sometimes, you can create your own way to memorize the character. And associating characters consisting of the same radicals or chunks can further improve your memory.

APPENDIX B

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies
Character Selection Criteria

Characters learned each day of the experiment were selected based on the following criteria:

  1. Human Memory Capacity

    Rationale: Humans are able to hold 7 ± 2 items in memory (Miller, 1956). Therefore, we chose eight characters to teach per day.

  2. Number of Strokes/Density

    Rationale: According to the Dictionary of Modern Chinese Characters (2005, p. 155), the number of average strokes of the 1,000 most frequent characters is 7.958. Therefore, for each character set, I selected four characters at seven strokes and below, and four characters at eight strokes and above. There are two characters for each category: five strokes and below, six to seven strokes, eight to nine strokes, and 10 strokes and above.

  3. Frequency

    Rationale: Modern Chinese Character Frequency List (http://lingua.mtsu.edu/chinese-computing/statistics/char/list.php?Which=MO)

    Characters are all selected from Nihao IV, and most are among the 1,000 most frequent characters (more than 60% are among the 500 most frequent characters). In each character set,*

    • Frequency top 100 and below: one character
    • Frequency top 101–500: four characters
    • Frequency top 501–1000: two characters
    • Frequency top 1001–2000: one character

    *Note: There is an exception on day 2. On day 2, there is no character ranking beyond 1,000, but flan12039-gra-0067, ranking 988th, is very close to 1000th.

  4. Transparency of Phonetic-Semantic Compounds

    Two to three characters in each set are not transparent and hard to analyze (highlighted)

  5. Learning in context

    In each character set, there are four characters that can make up two words (each word of two characters). The other four characters are introduced not in a word set, but individually.

APPENDIX C

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies
Quiz

Section 1: Please write down the characters you hear and their meanings in English.

____________________________________________________________________

Section 2: Please write down the pinyin and meaning of each character

CharacterPinyinMeaning
flan12039-gra-0068  
flan12039-gra-0069  
flan12039-gra-0070  
flan12039-gra-0071  
flan12039-gra-0072  
flan12039-gra-0073  
flan12039-gra-0074  
flan12039-gra-0075  
Notes
  1. 1

    There are two types of Chinese characters, simplified and traditional, with the former used mainly in Mainland China and Singapore, and the latter used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau. Simplified characters originated from the traditional characters, and they bear a strong resemblance to each other. As the majority of the Chinese-speaking population uses simplified characters as the written language, this study also used the simplified characters in every aspect of the experiment.

  2. 2

    Transparent characters refer to characters where meaning and sound radicals match with the meanings and sounds of the characters (see Appendix A, Part I, for examples of phono-semantic compound characters).

  3. 3

    Mandarin Chinese has four pitched tones plus a “toneless” tone. Identical pronunciations that carry different tones in Chinese represent different characters and convey differences in meaning.

  4. 4

    Definitions of the language levels are provided at http://www.languagetesting.com/scale.htm#novice_low.

  5. 5

    Humans are able to hold 7 ± 2 items in memory (Miller, 1956). Therefore, we chose eight characters to teach per day.

  6. 6

    There were three different instructional differences used across four days: teacher total instruction (Day 1), teacher-cued instruction (Day 2), and student self-manipulation (Days 3 and 4). Although on Days 3 and 4 the instructional strategies were both student self-manipulation, the effects could be different, as on Day 4 students might feel more comfortable and familiar with independent work after Day 3's exposure. Therefore, Day 3 and Day 4 were treated separately as two levels of the variable.

Biographies

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. Introduction
  4. Literature Review
  5. Research Questions
  6. Methods
  7. Results
  8. Discussion
  9. Limitations and Implications for Future Research
  10. References
  11. APPENDIX A
  12. APPENDIX B
  13. APPENDIX C
  14. Biographies
  • Xiaoqiu Xu (PhD, Stanford University) is a test development specialist at Pearson Knowledge Technologies, Sunnyvale, CA.

  • Amado M. Padilla (PhD, University of New Mexico) is Professor of Psychological Studies in Education, Stanford University, Stanford, CA.