New ideas about literacy learning

Distinguishing sounds of morphemes game

Along with lexical compounding, another essential skill for Chinese learners to master is the ability to distinguish morphemes that sound the same but have different meanings from those that sound the same and have different meanings (and are written using different characters).

For example, 下 (M:xià /C: haa6) in 下樓 (M:xià lóu /C: haa6 lau4) is the same as the 下 (M:xià /C: haa6) in 下雨 (M:xià yǔ /C: haa6 jyu5)but it is different from the 夏 (M:xià /C: haa6) in夏天 (M:xià tiān/C: tin1), despite the fact that both characters are pronounced identically in speech.


Pronunciation: M:xià /C: haa6

Meaning: "down"



Pronunciation: M:xià lóu /C: haa6 lau4

Meaning: "going downstairs"



Pronunciation: M:xià yǔ /C: haa6 jyu5

Meaning: "pouring rain"


Pronunciation: M:xià /C: haa6

Meaning: "Summer"


Even very young children understand the idea of homophones, and games that make explicit the fact that some characters are the same across words and some characters are different across words even if they sound the same help learners of Chinese read more efficiently. Here are some simple examples of two-character words that all contain the same character vs. those that contain a homophone of that character:


Examples of the same character with the meaning in different words:


Meaning: Book, Schoolbag, Read, Study

Mandarin: shū běn,shū bāo,kàn shū,dú shū

Cantonese: syu1 bun2,syu1 baau1,hon3 syu1,duk6 syu1


Examples of different characters with different meanings in different words:


Meaning: Comfortable, Express, Transport, Pivot

Mandarin: shū fú,shū fā,shū sòng,shū zhóu

Cantonese: syu1 fuk6,syu1 faat3,syu1 sung3,syu1 zau6