2012 Conference

China and Inner Asia Session 191

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The Teaching and Acquisition of Chinese Vocabulary and Characters – Discussions in a Modern Context - Sponsored by the Chinese Languagte Teachers Association

Organizer and Chair: De Bao Xu, Hamilton College, USA

Discussant: Yi Xu, University of Pittsburgh, USA

The logographic nature of the Chinese writing system is considered a great hurdle for beginning Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL) learners to acquire vocabulary knowledge and to rapidly develop language competence at the initial stage. This panel focuses on the learning and the teaching of vocabulary, including character teaching and acquisition. We maintain that effective teaching methods in today’s context must take into consideration both the current trend in foreign language teaching methods as well as the uniqueness of Chinese language. For instance, the Communicative Teaching Approach is favored by pedagogy specialists, but how do in-service teachers apply this approach in beginning level vocabulary teaching, while paying attention to both the form and semantic functions of Chinese characters? One of the papers in this panel addresses this question. Another important issue now starting to draw researchers’ attention is the difference in language development for regular CFL learners and heritage learners. Another paper in this panel compares the role of radical awareness between those two learner groups. Finally, the third paper will report findings from empirical studies that compare the effectiveness of learning characters through reading, writing, and with the aid of stroke animation software. Using a variety of research methods including synthesis, surveys, and psycholinguistic experiments, and reporting both qualitative and quantitative data, we hope to inform audience of the practices adopted by peer teachers and researchers, and discuss the relative effectiveness of various options available to teachers and learners.

Radical Awareness and Children’s Literacy Development in Chinese: A Synthesis of Studies
Yan Liu, Carnegie Mellon University, USA

The paper synthesizes 22 studies on radical awareness among children, including Chinese as a first language (L1) children and heritage learners of school age. From a review of literature, contributions of radical awareness to children’s literacy development are discussed: First, radical awareness is found to be important in L1 children’s character learning and literacy development. However, no systematic relationship is found between heritage learners’ radical awareness and their Chinese literacy development. Secondly, radical awareness is recognized as knowledge encompassing different facets. Three major components of the radical awareness have been studies in literature, including awareness of the structural properties, semantic properties, and functional properties of semantic radicals. Finally, heritage learners and L1 children in China are similar in their understanding of the structural properties of semantic radical, but they perform differently in their abilities to use semantic radicals to infer character meaning. Moreover, heritage learners have very limited knowledge of the subtle meaning difference between a single-unit character and a semantic radical of the same form. Based on these findings, future research directions are discussed.

A Survey of Methods and Techniques in L2 Beginning Chinese Vocabulary Instruction
Juchun Wei, University of Pittsburgh, USA

There have been different approaches to vocabulary instruction in the field of foreign language education. Some educators advocate that vocabulary is implicitly learned; therefore explicit instruction is not necessary. However, other researchers have presented the efficacy of explicit instruction. Many methods and techniques have also evolved from these two approaches. How do teachers teaching beginning Chinese vocabulary balance between these two approaches, considering the trend in Communicative Language Teaching and the logographic nature of Chinese orthography which lacks correspondence between the sound and the graph? This is a question that pre-service teachers often ask. Therefore, to explore the practices of in-service teachers and to understand their attitude toward vocabulary teaching, a survey of beginning Chinese vocabulary pedagogy was conducted. Questionnaires were distributed to the first-year Chinese instructors in universities in the United States. The collected methods and techniques were categorized into three categories, decontextualized, semi-contextualized and contextualized instruction. Merits and demerits of various methods were analyzed qualitatively based on learning theories. Recommendations and suggestions will be made in designing vocabulary pedagogy.

Instructional Instruments for Character Acquisition - Traditions and Applications of New Technologies
Yi Xu, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Pedagogy specialists have attributed beginning learners’ difficulty in learning Chinese to their instant retrieval and retention of the character’s form, meaning, and sound. This idea coincides with the Lexical Constituent Model in cognitive science. This paper will first report findings from a project that compares the learning effectiveness of three training conditions: passive reading, active writing, and the presentation of chunking (i.e. bujian, or building blocks of a character). Learners acquired the ability of character recognition best through the training of writing. This is because writing characters helps learners establish the spatial configuration of strokes and radicals, which along with temporal sequence of motor movements associated with stroke composition, completely defines the shape of the character. Chunking presentation is also found to be effective. Based on the theoretical implications in this earlier project, the proposer will conduct a new experiment in Fall 2011 using three training conditions, reading, writing, and stroke animation. Experiments will be conducted on mobile devices (i.e. Iphones) and a Latin square design will be used. From the theoretical perspective, the experiment result can assess to what extent the motor memory system could be activated in similar ways when one is presented with stroke animations as when one is asked to write; from the empirical perspective, this study can point to the effectiveness of applying language learning technologies in teaching. We expect stroke animation and writing on screen to be effective in establishing orthographic representation and strengthening the form-meaning link.