New ideas about literacy learning

Reading depends on writing

Word recognition depends on an integration of phonology (sound), orthography (print) and semantics (meaning). Both Chinese and English written spelling facilitate the integration of these three components.

Unlike Mainland China and Taiwan, where pinyin and zhuyinfuhao are used to assist children’s Chinese learning in the early years, respectively, there is no consistent phonological coding system used to enhance Hong Kong children’s learning of Chinese print. Instead, the ‘look and say’ method is the most common way to teach children Chinese in Hong Kong. Teachers first demonstrate the writing of a character, usually in front of the class, on a whiteboard, and then children copy the character multiple times. Stroke order is always emphasized during the learning process.


According to the Education Bureau of Hong Kong, children should not learn to write until they attend primary school. This is because children’s muscle control, especially in relation to fine motor skill, has not been fully developed. Too many demands of repeated copying could be detrimental to muscle development as well as learning motivation. However, most Hong Kong parents worry that their children will fall behind, and so they start teaching them how to write Chinese, and sometimes English as well, at a very young age.


Given all of the facts above, we have several suggestions. First, activities or games, such as figure puzzle games and drawing, help children to develop visual analysis skills and visual-motor integration, and prepare children for later handwriting activities in primary school. Why not emphasize children’s participation in these fun activities more and formal writing less? Second, for kindergartens, teachers and parents can provide some drawing or writing opportunities. Instead of emphasizing the handwriting accuracy and beauty, they should focus on increasing children’s level of confidence and motivation in writing, and in consolidating the connections between phonology, orthography, and semantics. This can be done by, for example, reading aloud the word to children, explaining its meaning in context, and then asking children to copy it. Third, invented spelling of pinyin or zhuyinfuhao can encourage children’s early attempts in spelling. Also, teaching children radical knowledge (i.e., identification and positioning of phonetic and semantic radical knowledge) and stroke order principles can benefit their early spelling. Finally, the use of multi-media might increase children’s learning motivation and reduce the load of motor control, especially among young children. While traditional handwriting activities can make kindergartners tired, bored, or frustrated, typing on a computer or using a touch pad would greatly reduce the motor control required for children to learn how to write. More importantly, a combination of figures, music, and feedback/rewards can catch children’s attention and keep them motivated. There are a lot of multi-media spelling games in English (for example, see that teachers and parents can use. On the other hand, teachers can also think of developing their own spelling games in Chinese.



McBride-Chang, C., Lin, D., Liu, P. D., Aram, D., Levin, I., Cho, J. R., ... & Zhang, Y. (2012). The ABC’s of Chinese: Maternal mediation of Pinyin for Chinese children’s early literacy skills. Reading and Writing, 25(1), 283-300.

Ng, M. L., & Rao, N. (2013). Teaching English in Hong Kong kindergartens: A survey of practices. International Journal of Literacies.

Tan, L. H., Spinks, J. A., Eden, G. F., Perfetti, C. A., & Siok, W. T. (2005). Reading depends on writing, in Chinese. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 102(24), 8781-8785.

Wang, Y., McBride-Chang, C., & Chan, S. F. (2014). Correlates of Chinese kindergarteners’ word reading and writing: the unique role of copying skills?. Reading and Writing, 27(7), 1281-1302.


This article was written by our guest blogger Dr. Mo Jianhong. Dr. Mo is currently a part-time research assistant in the Life Span Development Laboratory of The Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Our Guest Blogger

Dr. Mo Jianhong

Part-time Research Assistant, Life Span Development Laboratory

Department of Psychology, The Chinese University of Hong Kong