Integrated Learning of Chinese

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Summary table

  • Node Title: Integrated Learning of Chinese: reading, perception and production
  • Researchers: Ying Liu, Charles Perfetti, Qun (Connie) Guan, Suemei Wu, Min Wang
  • PIs: Ying Liu, Charles Perfetti
  • Others who have contributed 160 hours or more:
  • Post-Docs: Connie Guan
  • Graduate Students: Derek Chan
  • Study Start Date Jan 1, 2008
  • Study End Date July 31, 2009
  • LearnLab Site and Courses , CMU Chinese (Classroom and Online)
  • Number of Students: 100
  • Planned Participant Hours for the study: 300
  • Data in the Data Shop: experiments have not started yet


  • Learning second language is a challenge to learners. It is more so for English speakers to learn Chinese. The unique Chinese character writing system and tonal features are fundamentally different from English and thus presents a unique obstacle to learning by English speakers. In our model of reading Chinese, orthography, phonology and meaning are universal constituents and critical knowledge components that should be learned and integrated (Perfetti, Liu, and Tan, 2005). Working together with the CMU Chinese online course, the present studies will explore how to facilitate the integration by training both perception and production skills. The specific methods to be tested will be using multiple learning systems including learning orthography, pronunciation and meaning together through complementary visual, auditory and motor modalities. Integration factors affect the learning curve are examined in three studies.


Integration; Constituents; Orthography; Phonology; Meaning

Research question

  • How does integration of language constituents lead to robust learning?
  • Does writing Chinese lead to better integration and more robust Chinese reading?
  • Does the combination of writing and typing lead to more robust learning via better integration?


  • Our previous work on Chinese learning has focused separately on character reading (Liu, Wang, and Perfetti, 2007; Liu, Perfetti, and Wang, 2006), tone perception (Wang et al, under review), syllable production with “talking head” (Massaro, Liu, Chen, & Perfetti, 2006), and cotraining of characters (Liu, Perfetti, and Mitchell, in preparation). Most of above studies were implemented through PSLC Chinese online course, and we will continue to do so for all studies in the present project plan.
  • There have been various findings from above studies. The character reading study found that explicit learning of radicals facilitates the learning of character meaning. Tone perception study found that visual contour plus pinyin provided the best learning curve over one semester. Syllable production study suggested that the synthetic talking head “Bao” provided larger improvement on vowel production than audio only. The cotraining study showed significant advantage for “paired” learning, in which both visual font and auditory sound of a character were presented sequentially in one trial.

Dependent variables

  • Accuracy rates of the lexical decision task
  • Accuracy rates on the partial-cue character recognition task
  • Learning gains (Pretest vs. Posttest) on meaning translation, pinyin and tone

Independent variables

  • Integration of reading and writing vs. reading only


  • Production with automated feedback, production only, vs. no production
  • Early integration vs. late integration


  • General: Instructional Events that integrate receptive and productive components lead to robust representations of Chinese characters.
  • Specific: Writing characters provides a perceptual motor representation of graphic form that further supports the recognition of these forms.


  • The accuracy rates of the lexical decision task on the learned characters showed a significant main effect of learning condition [F (2, 56) = 4.79, MSE = .11, p = .01]. There was also a significant presentation order by learning condition interaction [F (2, 56) = 4.79, MSE = .11, p = .01]. The partial character recognition task did not show a learning condition main effect, but a significant presentation order by learning condition interaction. [F (2, 56) = 9.59, MSE = .05, p < .001]. When encountering the reading only condition first, the participants’ accuracy rate on the characters learned in the writing condition were 11% higher than reading only condition [t (13) = 3.75, p = .01, 2-tailed].


  • A second study is being designed at this moment to continue exploring the integration hypothesis. It will compare three methods: handwriting, Pinyin based computer typing, and both. Handwriting focuses on the semantic-orthography connections, whereas pinyin typing focuses on the semantic-phonology connection. We hypothesize that the combination of handwriting and pinyin typing can facilitate the integration of constituents. Theoretical framework and practical suggestions will be given on the learning of Chinese handwriting and typing in a modern technology rich learning environment.


  • These studies test hypotheses about the effectiveness of targeted integrated instruction which are based theories from both Refinement and fluency cluster and Coordinative cluster. Each study has a specific rationale. (That is, integration is not a general virtue, but inherits effectiveness according to specific assumptions about the relation of component knowledge to specific tasks of reading, perception, and production.) The studies share a general approach in the use of the Integrated Chinese Tutor (ITC). In terms of the assistance dimension, our assumption is the initial learning of a novel orthography along with a new phonological system places high demands on novice learners. The decomposition strategy represents a high level of assistance at this stage of learning. We are not testing the implication that, at advanced stages of learning, students might benefit from less assistance in the form of non-decomposed language units.
  • The current results suggested that writing conditions provided better learning than reading only conditions because of better orthography-semantic integration. The proposed project will continue to test the hypothesis of constituency integration by including both handwriting and pinyin typing in learning.



Further information

  • Perfetti, C.A., Liu, Y., & Tan, L.H (2005). The Lexical Constituency Model: Some Implications of Research on Chinese for General Theories of Reading. Psychological Review, 112, 43-59.
  • Liu, Y., Wang, M., Perfetti, C.A. (2007) Threshold-Style Processing of Chinese Characters for Adult Second Language Learners. Memory and Cognition, .
  • Liu, Perfetti, C.A., & Wang, M. (2006) Visual Analysis and Lexical Access of Chinese characters by Chinese as Second Language Readers. Linguistic and Language, 7(3), 637-657.
  • Massaro, D. W., Liu, Y., Chen, T. H., & Perfetti, C. A. (2006). A Multilingual Embodied Conversational Agent for Tutoring Speech and Language Learning. Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Spoken Language Processing (Interspeech 2006 - ICSLP, September, Pittsburgh, PA), 825-828.Universität Bonn, Bonn, Germany.

Updated Sep 28, 2008