Learning to read Chinese might make us visually smarter! | 閱讀中文能提高語言視覺技巧,使我們變得更聰明!

Top: comparing the shape of a word to a semantically related picture could be helpful for Chinese learners who have just started out. Bottom: pointing out which radicals different characters share in common could be more helpful for people who have studied Chinese for more than 12 months.

People often wonder about how important visual skills are for learning to read Chinese. Many researchers have devoted substantial efforts to understanding how simple visual skills, like being able to distinguish one 3-dimensional pattern with geometric shapes or designs (but NOT print) might explain children's subsequent reading skills. Evidence is mixed and not very strong. For children and adults who are just getting exposed to Chinese at the very beginning, basic visual skills are somewhat associated with Chinese word reading and writing. However, this effect does not seem to last too long. Once readers start to understand the basic structures of Chinese by the radicals that comprise them, their basic visual skills are no longer uniquely important for learning to read Chinese. Instead, Chinese orthographic skills related to character structure are particularly useful. If you have a child or adult who is just starting out, it will be great to tell him or her that 大 (Cantonese: /daai6/; Mandarin /dà/) looks like a person with his arms held wide or 口 (Cantonese: /hau2/; Mandarin /kǒu/) looks like a box. However, after the student has been studying for more than about 12 months, such techniques might not be so helpful anymore. Rather, pointing out which radicals different characters share in common might help more.

One other interesting finding from our research and that of others (e.g., Professor Andreas Demetriou from Cypress) is that once children have learned Chinese for a couple of years, compared to children learning alphabetic orthographies, they tend to develop better visual basic skills. That is, compared to alphabetic readers, Chinese children tend to have superior visual skills in relation to visual designs (again, shapes or designs; we are not talking about print). In a sense, we seem to have found that learning to read Chinese makes us visually smarter!


語言學專家一直致力研究視覺技能與中文閱讀能力之間的關係-包括一些基本視覺技能(區分不同三維圖形的能力等)能否預測閱讀發展等等。過往的研究結果發現,視覺技能對不同階段的中文學習者的影響並不一致。基本視覺技巧或會影響孩子及中文初學者的閱讀及寫作能力,但此影響會在他們掌握字形結構概念後減退。及後,掌握字形結構的能力對更中文學習更有幫助。因此,教授中文的方法應針對學生的學習階段而定。用類比手法突顯文字與圖畫之間的關係會對幼兒和其他中文初學者較為有效(例如指出 /口/看起來像盒子或指出/大/看起來像一個展開手腳的人),但此教學方法對於已學習中文多於一年的學生作用不大,反而著重突顯意旁和聲旁的教學手法會更為有效。


另外,Demetriou教授有一研究發現,孩子只要學習中文數年,視覺技巧就會超越只會字母文字(alphabetic orthographies,例如英文及法文)的兒童。換句話說,學習中文可以促進視覺技巧的發展,使我們變得更聰明!