A New Way to Teach Chinese Characters: Using Meaningful Interpretation Xiaoqiu Xu Stanford University
Background • The Importance and Expansion of CFL • Chinese Being a Difficult Language • Chinese Character Being one of the Most Difficult Elements in Chinese Language • The most commonly-used strategy in learning and teaching Chinese characters
Unraveling the Hidden Story: Chinese Characters Are Not Random Symbols • Although Chinese is termed as logography, in fact its characters present both meaning and phonology and accordingly can be said to be morphophonological (Leong, 1997) or “logographic-phonetic” (DeFrancis as cited in Everson, 1989) or that a character be termed a “morpheme-syllable” (Hoosain, 1991). • Linguistically, the composition of Chinese characters are categorized into six types: pictograms (象形), simple ideograms (指事), ideogrammic compounds (会意), phono-semantic compound characters (形声), phonetic loan characters (假借), and derivative cognates (转注)(Wang 1993; Boltz, 1994). • Among those, 80%-90% are phono-semantic compounds (形声字); less than 1% are phonetic loan characters (假借)and derivative cognates (转注).
Theoretical Framework • Anderson (2005) • Memory for detail is available initially but is forgotten rapidly, whereas memory for meaning is retained. • Rote practice cannot significantly improve memory. • Levels of Processing (Craik & Lockhart, 1972; Brainerd, 2005) • Deep processing refers to fully analyzing information in terms of its meaning and importance. Shallow processing refers to processing information only in terms of its surface structure. • Deep processing results in significantly better long-term memory as compared to shallow processing. • Bransford (1989) • Wisdom cannot be told. Self-manipulation is more effective than teacher indoctrination in terms of acquiring knowledge, problem-solving abilities and memory maintenance.
Research Questions • Will the experimental group who learn to interpret the Chinese characters in a meaningful way have a better immediate learning outcome than the control group who do not obtain this knowledge? • Do activities related to Chinese characters mediate and reduce the effect of meaningful interpretation of Chinese characters? • Will the experimental group have a better retention of Chinese characters than the control group? • Teacher instruction and student self-manipulation, which way is more effective in terms of employing this method (meaningful interpretation) in character learning?
Experimental Design • Subjects • High School students, aged from 15 to 17 years old • 14 in control group and 14 in experimental group • Pretest (STAMP): Chinese proficiency level ranged between novice mid to intermediate mid, with most students falling into the category of novice high
Linguistic Knowledge Taught: Composition of Chinese Characters 1. Pictograms (象形xiàng xíng "form imitation") Thought to be the oldest types of characters, pictographs were originally pictures of things. During the past 5,000 years or so they have become simplified and stylised. e.g., 火，山，日，月，人 2. Simple ideograms (指事zhǐ shì "indication") Express an abstract idea through an iconic form, including iconic modification of pictographic characters. e.g., 一， 二，三， 本，末 本běn, "root" - a tree (木mù) with the base indicated by an extra stroke. 末mò, "apex" - the reverse of 本(běn), a tree with the top highlighted by an extra stroke. 3. Ideogrammic compounds (会意 huì yì "joined meaning") Two or more pictographic or ideographic characters are combined to suggest a third meaning. 4. Phono-semantic compound characters （形声 xíng shēng "form and sound") These are often called radical-phonetic characters. They form the majority of Chinese characters by far— about 90%. A 形声 character is composed of phonetic element and a meaning element (“radical”, 部首 bu shou).
Results The experimental group who learn to interpret the Chinese characters in a meaningful way have a better immediate learning outcome than the control group who do not obtain this knowledge. Table 1: Means (and Standard Deviations) for Quizzes Immediately after Learning the Characters (Total of Writing=8; Total of Meaning=8).
Results • Activities related to Chinese characters do mediate and reduce the effect of meaningful interpretation of Chinese characters, but not in the student self-manipulation condition. Table 2: Means (and Standard Deviations) for Quizzes Immediately after the Activity
Results Table 3: Means (and standard Deviations) for Retention Test Four Days Later (Total of Writing=24; Total of Meaning=24). • The experimental group have a better retention of Chinese characters than the control group, but the significant difference only lies in meaning, not writing.
Results • Another interesting finding: people have different short-term and long-term memories in terms of meaning and writing. • Table 1: both groups did a better job in meaning than writing in all three days • Table 2: both groups did a better job in writing than meaning in all three days. • Table 3: students, again, remember meaning better than writing. • Explanation: • Students’ better performance in meaning than writing in the quiz immediate after they learn the characters is due to the different difficulty level of the writing and meaning of Chinese character. Within a small amount of time, people remember the easy things better than difficult things. • Secondly, Students’ better performance in writing than meaning in the quiz immediate after the activity is because during practice, their attention was drawn to the harder element of knowledge. Paying attention to the details made them do a better job in writing than the ignored meaning part. • Finally, no matter how well people have this short-memory in details (character writing), their long-term memory is more likely to remember the meaning rather than details. That’s why they did better in meaning than writing four days later.
Things I’d Like to Fix • Continue the experiment for another two days by making the experimental group repeat what they did on Day 3 • Choose comparable character sets each day instead of selecting characters from Lesson 2 • Study the question on most appropriate proficiency level for introduction of the knowledge and method
Future Research: A Revised Design Based on a Randomized Sample