New ideas about literacy learning

“The Buyer”-An Interesting Way to Help Children to Learn Chinese Characters

“Daddy, can I buy candies?” “Mommy, I want to buy toys!” Buying and selling represent everyday behaviors that everyone experiences, and young children are very familiar with such interactions. An interesting educational game, 收買佬) integrates this daily exchange behavior with Chinese character learning to enhance children’s Chinese literacy ability.

In The Buyer, children are instructed to be the sellers and parents/teachers are the buyers. The products for sale are character cards of Phono-semantic compounds (形聲字), which will be given to children prior to the game. The buyers (parents/teachers) will then come to the store to buy cards with certain radicals (e.g. “Can I buy cards containing the wood木 radical?”) The seller (children) thus need to find characters with certain radicals (e.g. 松, 林) and give them to the buyers. Buyers are encouraged to elaborate further regarding the radical if sellers have difficulties in finding them (e.g. “The wood radical is something related to nature…”). The game helps children to identify characters with the same radicals and to enhance children’s Chinese literacy ability by supplementing parents’/teachers’ explanations of phonetic and semantic radicals. In Hong Kong, several schools include “The Buyer” in their curriculum and apply the game in different contexts as well as in different subjects.


The Chinese radical learning method has long been investigated and demonstrated to be helpful in learning Chinese characters. By increasing students’ knowledge of a character’s orthographic structure, the awareness of character morphology rises. As a result, students’ abilities in writing Chinese characters improve (Packard et al., 2006). Furthermore, this method not only benefits Chinese-as-a-first-language learners but also Chinese-as-a-Foreign-Language (CFL) learners. One study demonstrated that applying a radical-derived teaching approach boosts CFL learners’ phonetic and semantic knowledge of Chinese characters (Chen, Hsu, Chang, Chang, & Sung, 2013). Integrating games with radical-related methods to learn Chinese words is an effective way of learning and may trigger children’s interest to a greater extent.

Chinese characters


Packard, J., Chen, X., Li, W.L., Wu, X., Gaffney, J., Li, H. & Anderson, R. (2006). Explicit instruction in orthographic structure and word morphology helps Chinese children learn to write characters. Reading and Writing, 19(5), 457-487.

Chen, H.-C., Hsu, C.-C., Chang, L.-Y., Chang, K.-E. & Sung, Y.-T. (2013). Using a radical-derived character e-learning platform to increase learner knowledge of Chinese characters. Language, Learning & Technology, 17(1), 89.


This article was written by our guest blogger Miss. Merrisa Lin.  Miss. Lin is currently an intern in the Life Span Development Laboratory of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Our Guest Blogger

Miss. Merrisa Lin

Research & Social Media Intern, Life Span Development Laboratory

Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong