Above: Copybook can be used to improve children's Chinese writing skill while games in morphological awareness can be used to improve children's Chinese reading skill.
Are the processes of learning to read and to write Chinese words the same or different? How?
We have carried out some studies to identify the differences of learning to read and write at the beginning stage. We considered the idea that thinking skills (reasoning), language skills (like children's abilities to understand the meanings of new words), and visuo-motor skills (e.g., how well they hold a pencil and copy something unfamiliar) might all be important for learning to read and to write.
To young children, Chinese reading is the process of linking the sounds to the print forms of characters. They learn the whole characters when they begin to read Chinese. On the other hand, Chinese writing is a process of converting oral language to visually complex forms. Children need to learn to write each stroke according to the structure of the characters. Therefore, our research team suspected that learning to read and write Chinese might involve different mental processes and unique skills. Wang, McBride-Chang and Chan found that three skills were particularly strongly related to Chinese word reading in Chinese kindergartners in Mainland China. These were morphological awareness, speeded naming, and Pinyin knowledge. Morphological awareness here refers to how well a child could manipulate morphemes, or the smallest units of language, in language games. An example is asking the child to solve a "riddle" of sorts, something like "What do we call a tree that grows telephones? A telephone tree!" Asking children to answer such questions about made up concepts helps children to improve their focus on meaning in language. Tasks of speeded naming require children to say some visually presented stimuli aloud as quickly as possible. What is of interest in this test is that some children who can name the stimuli (such as numbers or color blocks or common objects) most quickly tend to be better readers. In contrast, researchers found that only "pure" copying skill (i.e., how well a Chinese child could copy unfamiliar funny visual shapes like Korean or Hebrew words, which the children had never seen) was related to Chinese writing in kindergartners. A follow-up study showed similar findings and further demonstrated that children’s performances in Chinese word reading and writing were not related when they were at age 5 but became strongly related when they were tested one year later. These results show some differences in word reading and word writing in young children.
From these studies, we understand that there are rapid changes in early Chinese word reading and word writing development. What are the practical implications of these findings? Parents and teachers should particularly encourage children to write in copybooks in order to improve their writing skills but provide practice in morphological awareness and vocabulary games when focusing on their Chinese reading skills. With development, children’s reading and writing abilities might affect each other. Automatic writing of learned characters may facilitate children’s learning and memorization of new characters. Children can then practice writing new characters at a later stage. This practice may help children to better prepare for both word recognition and word writing, skills that overlap but are not the same, in school.
For examples of morphological awareness and vocabulary games, you may look up the “learning implication” section in our website (e.g. lexical compounding – morpheme chains and create word lists with common characters).
This article was written by our guest blogger Dr. WANG, Ying. Dr. Wang is currently a post-doctoral fellow of the Division of Learning, Development and Diversity in the University of Hong Kong. Her areas of expertise are early childhood development and education; early literacy development; developmental and educational psychology.
Dr. WANG, Ying
M.Phil. (BNU), Ph.D (CUHK)
Division of Learning, Development and Diversity
Faculty of Education, University of Hong Kong Tel: (852) 3917 7608
我們的研究小組過往已進行一系列的研究去找出書寫和閱讀中文之間的相異之處。我們認為思考能力（推論能力）﹑語言能力 (例如孩子理解新字詞的能力) 和眼手協調能力 （visuo-motor skills）（例如孩子握筆並抄寫不熟悉的文字之能力）對學習讀寫是非常重要的。
一個由王瑩博士﹑ Catherine McBride-Chang教授和陳盛芳助理領導的研究發現 ，語素意識 （morphological awareness）﹑快速命名（speeded naming）和拼音知識（Pinyin knowledge）這三項技能與中國內地幼稚園生的中文詞語閱讀能力有很大的關係。語素意識是指孩子在語言遊戲中使用語素（morphemes）― 即最小的語言單位的能力。在進行研究的過程中，我們會請小朋友解答各種問題，例如：「我們會怎樣叫一棵會長電話的樹？（電話樹）」。透過解答這類需要組合不同概念的問題，可以提升小朋友他們對字義方面的了解。快速命名測試則需要小朋友以最快的速度大聲朗讀數字﹑物件的顏色或是常見物件的名稱。能夠以較快速度朗讀這些項目的小朋友通常在閱讀能力方面也是比較優秀的。與閱讀中文相反，研究小組發現只有外語抄寫能力（即兒童照樣抄寫不熟悉的外語文字時的表現，例如韓文與希伯來文）是與幼稚園生的書寫中文能力有關的。其後的一個跟進研究亦有類似的結果並顯示雖然在孩子５歲的時候，他們閱讀和書寫中文的能力並沒有很大關連，但在一年後的測試中卻發現兩者間變成有著密切的關係。以上的研究結果均指出年幼兒童的閱讀和書寫能力有著某程度上的差異。
M.Phil. (北京師範大學), Ph.D (香港中文大學)
博士後研究生 香港大學教育學院 學習、發展及多元教育部
電話: (852) 3917 7608