Title: Teaching and learning Chiense as a foreign language in the United States: To delay or not to delay the character introduction

Author: Lijuan Ye

Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy,George State University, 2011. 

Abstract: The study explored whether or not to delay introducing Chinese characters as part of first year Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL) courses in post-secondary institutions in the U.S. Topics investigated: a) timing structures of current CFL programs in the U.S.; b) CFL teachers' and students’ beliefs and rationales of an appropriate timing to introduce characters; c) CFL teachers' and students'beliefs about the importance and difficulty of different Chinese language skills; and d) CFL teachers’ and students’ beliefs about the requirement of handwriting in beginninglevel CFL courses. Data were collected through a large-scale online student survey with 914 students and a large-scale online teacher survey with 192 teachers. At the same time, a total of 21 students and five teachers from a delayed character introduction (DCI) program and an immediate character introduction (ICI) program were interviewed. Both quantitative and qualitative methods were used to analyze the data. Results indicate that the majority of CFL programs did not delay teaching characters; most of teachers and students believed that speaking and listening were the most important skills and reading and especially writing characters were the most difficult skills; and most of teachers and students did not favor alternative methods to replace the handwriting of characters even though they considered handwriting to be the most difficult skill. With few studies carried out to investigate the timing issue of character aching,results from the study provided foundational knowledge for CFL educators to better understand CFL teaching and learning in general, along with the teaching and learning of written Chinese characters, in particular.

Keyword: Chinese; Chinese characters; Character teaching; Chinese as a foreign language (CFL); Teacher beliefs; Student beliefs; Delayed Character Introduction (DCI); Immediate Character Introduction (ICI)

URL: http://scholarworks.gsu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1021&context=alesl_diss


Title: A Study of L2 Chinese Learners' Motivational Self System

Author: Yang Liu

Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy, University of Wisconsin-Madison. 2014

Abstract: The present study investigated the L2 Motivational Self System formulated by Dörnyei (2005) in the context of L2 Chinese teaching and learning. One hundred and thirty American university L2 Chinese learners of various levels participated in the study. The study adopted a mixed-methods approach, using a sequential mixed-methods strategy (a paper-based survey followed by individual interviews). The study not only generated results that were comparable to the results of previous studies of the L2 self-system conducted in EFL contexts, but also explored the relationship between theoretical components of the L2 self-system, compared the motivational make-up of L2 Chinese learners of different levels, and examined the interactions between L2 Chinese learners' self-perceived and desired identities and their L2 Chinese learning motivation. The findings of the current study highlight the necessity, feasibility, and benefits of a re-interpretation of L2 motivation from a self perspective, and lead to significant pedagogical implications that can be utilized to enhance the L2 Chinese teaching and learning practices. 

URL: http://search.proquest.com/docview/1541541052



Title: The Study of Modern Chinese Core Vocabulary for the Second Language Acquisition

Author: Yinghua Zhai

Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy, Wuhan University 2012

Abstract: Core vocabulary is the main component of speech in a language. It is the most basic,most widely used group of words in the process of information exchange. In a language of diverging linguistic fields and differing linguistic styles, these words are the common core of the vocabulary, may it be common speech or the literary form. Therefore, they have rightfully become the core of the Lexical Semantics System. From a rhetorical point of view, the core vocabulary is a set of words completely comprehensible and functional for an adult native speaker of a specific language. If we were to go beyond the realm of cultural communication, it can be said that to an extent, core vocabulary is the "universal vocabulary" of a certain language. Whereas, on the basis of the sequences in second language acquisition, core vocabulary is the set of words that are suitable for the beginners level while studying a foreign language. It is the estimated limit of words to be learned for basic, everyday communication. 

There is no clear boundary between the core vocabulary and the non-core vocabulary. Both have an intermediary relation with each other. The integral vocabulary system is the gradual transition of the core vocabulary to the non-core vocabulary. This is why the core vocabulary is divided into two categories, viz. Classic category and Marginal category. Hence, it is more apt to describe the core vocabulary in terms of degree of affinity towards the core of a language.

The core vocabulary list for Teaching Chinese as a Second Language has been constructed on the basis of Modern Chinese Core Vocabulary Index. The target of this lexicon is any beginner learner for whom Chinese is a second language. Apart from this, it is essential to consider the factors like age, nationality, social status, objective of learning, learning atmosphere (target language country or non-target language country), and learning style (Standard School training or self-study) of the student, for the extensive applicability and suitability of the core vocabulary.

In a Zipfian distribution, the most common item has twice as many occurrences as the second most common, three times as many as the third, a hundred times as many as the hundredth, a thousand times as many as the thousandth, and a million times as many as the millionth. This shows that as long as one masters a small proportion of the most frequent terminologies in a language, it is possible to understand a considerable amount of the content of a language. Modern Chinese Vocabulary Distribution law indicates that the appropriate value of core vocabulary for Modern Chinese is 3000 terminologies. It covers about 75% of the total corpus. Hereafter, the growth of the integral language coverage frequency decelerates remarkably.

Title: Second Language Acquisition of Mandarin Aspect Markers by Native Swedish Adults

Author: Luying Wang

Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden, 2012.

Abstract: This experimental study investigates the second language acquisition of the four Mandarin aspect markers -le, -guo, -zhe, and zai- by native Swedish university students enrolled in Chinese language courses in Sweden. The main points of inquiry are acquisition order, the Aspect Hypothesis, the Distributional Bias Hypothesis, and the Prototype Model. The study contains a cross-sectional study and a longitudinal study. Both written and spoken data are collected. The tasks in the cross-sectional study include film-retelling, picture-retelling, grammaticality judgment, fill-in-the-blank questions and comprehension. The longitudinal study includes written data produced by seven students in their tri-monthly journal. The study shows that perfective markers are produced before imperfective markers. The results of the experiments are consistent with the Aspect Hypothesis. The Distributional Bias Hypothesis can account for most of the Aspect Hypothesis but there are exceptions that indicate that other factors could also influence the acquisition process, such as L1 transfer. The Prototype Model cannot be conclusively proven. Apart from contributing to second-language acquisition theories on cross-linguistic tense-aspect morphology, this study can provide empirical evidence with significant pedagogical implications for the second-language learning classroom.

Keyword: Second language acquisition, Mandarin, Swedish, aspect-tense morphology,aspect marker, grammatical aspect, lexical aspect, acquisition order, the Aspect Hypothesis, the Distributional Bias Hypothesis, the Prototype Model.

Title: Developmental stages in reading Chinese as a second language

Author: Kim Suna-A

Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 2010. 


This dissertation investigated whether adult second language (L2) learners of Chinese go through stages when learning to read Chinese characters. A study conducted with preschoolers to 6th graders in China (Chen, 2004) had demonstrated that children whose native language (L1) is Chinese pass through three reading stages (i.e., visual, phonetic, and orthographic) when they learn to read Chinese. These stages are interpreted as analogous to the developmental stages of L1 English readers (i.e., logographic, alphabetic, and orthographic) posited by Ehri (1991).

The two research questions of this study are as follows: (a) Do adult L2 learners of Chinese undergo stages in learning to read Chinese? (b) If so, do the reading stages of adult L2 learners parallel those of L1 Chinesechildren? These questions were examined by conducting two computer-based experiments with 70 college students enrolled in beginning/intermediate Chinese classes in a major US university. In experiment 1, participants learned to read 18 novel Chinese characters divided into three levels of visual distinctiveness of characters: distinctive, normal, and similar sets. In the distinctive set, individual strokes of characters were enhanced to make the characters visually distinctive. The normal set consisted of normal characters, and the similar set consisted of character pairs whose members were visually similar to each other. Experiment 2 required participants to learn 18 new Chinese characters that belong to three different levels of phonetic family consistency: consistent, semi-consistent, and inconsistent.

Logit mixed modeling (Jaeger, 2008) analysis of the data revealed effects of individual participants' working memory spans in experiment 1, such that subjects who had higher working memory spans were better able to learn characters. In experiment 2, an interaction effect between character knowledge and phonetic consistency was found, in which subjects who knew more characters learned the consistent families better than the semi-consistent or the inconsistent families.

Title: Multimedia mediation and Chinese orthographic character learning among non-heritage CFL beginners

Author: Chen-Hui Tsai 

Year and Degree: 2014 Doctor of Philosophy, University of Iowa


Logographic character handwriting, such as Hanzi in Chinese, Kanji in Japanese, or Hanja in Korean, is notoriously challenging for foreign language learners. Fortunately, computer-assisted learning systems for handwriting are being improved to meet the instructional needs of teachers and learners in foreign language education. However, the effect of computer-assisted language learning in logographic handwriting has never been explored. To anchor the inquiry of the current study, the extensive complementarity approach was adopted, in which SLA research complements L2 instruction by studying the impact of a theory-based instructional method on the learning of an aspect of the L2.

The present study explores the orthographic development at the initial stage of character learning among non-heritage, beginning-level learners of Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) by investigating the effect of Interactionist-instructed mediations on orthographic attrition and maintenance and by examining the relationships among awareness of internal formation sequencing, character recognition and production. Data was collected from 167 first-year CFL students in a Chinese program at a large research university in North America. In phase one, 63 students completed all the six-week lab writing tasks. In phase two, 125 students completed all the end-of-semester correlation tasks in their first semester of learning Chinese.

The findings of the study are multifold. First, by closely examining the roles of input, output, and feedback in the Interactionist model, the results show that, to maximize orthographic retention and reduce attrition, the effect of working memory needs to be taken into consideration in the design of instruction for immediate kinesthetic skill training and for better development of orthographic awareness among CFL non-heritage beginners. Second, the effect of multimedia input enhancements along with handwriting output on reducing variations of character formation in character learning is also significant. Third, the effect of the handwriting feedback is not found to be significant when compared to its counterpart without feedback in computer-assisted handwriting instruction; however, its influence on the participants' writing motivations and learning objectives were observed and addressed in the study. Finally, the CFL non-heritage beginning learners' awareness of internal formation sequencing was found to be correlated with their performance in character recognition and reproduction. The pedagogical implications are discussed. 

Title: The Development of Aspect Marking in L2 Chinese by English Native Speakers

Author: Limin Jin

Year and Degree: 2003, Doctor of philosophy, University of Cambridge


The thesis presents a cross-sectional study of the development of aspect marking in L2 Chinese by English native speakers. By using an acceptability judgement test, a storytelling task and a multiple-choice test, the study addresses three research questions: (1) What is the developmental sequence in the acquisition of four aspect markers in Chinese: the perfective markers guo and le, and the imperfective markers zai and zhe? (2) Does the development of the L2 Chinese aspectual system follow the predictions of the Aspect Hypothesis (AH), which has gained considerable support from research in L2 Indo-European languages? (3) What factors may account for the observed patterns of aspect marking in L2 Chinese? Moreover, since Chinese native speakers have also participated in the investigation, their data will corroborate and, more importantly, extend our knowledge of the Chinese aspectual system. 

Results from the study show that although it may be possible to identify an order in the emergence of these aspect markers in the interlanguage, it is hard to conclude on a clear sequence in the acquisition of them. The L2 learners seem to experience specific and unique problems associated with each marker at different stages of the acquisition process. As for the associations between situation and viewpoint aspects, the patterns in the production data of the lower-intermediate (LI) learners, more or less, confirm the predictions of the AH about the early L2 tense and aspectual systems, although analyses of the acceptability judgement data show that the LI learners, incorrectly, accept the combination of the perfective marker VF-le with all situation types, indicating a strong influence from the learners’ L1. With progress in learners’ L2 proficiency, the interlanguage aspectual system does gradually approximate the target, though not along the path predicted by the AH. The patterns in the use of aspect markers by the upper-intermediate learners are more compatible with the predicted initial patterns in L2 acquisition, which are also the patterns found in the native speaker data. Based on these results, a proposal for rephrasing the AH has been made. With regard to the factors that may influence the L2 acquisition of Chinese aspect markers, the developmental data in the present study suggest that the restructuring of the aspectual system may result from an interaction of L1 interference, exposure to the input, and frequency and semantic complexity of the aspect markers in question.

Title: The Acquisition of Mandarin Prosody by American Learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL)

Author: Chunsheng Yang 

Year and Degree: 2011, Doctor of Philosophy, Ohio State University, East Asian Languages and Literatures.


This dissertation examines the acquisition of Mandarin prosody by American learners of Chinese as a Foreign Language (CFL). Specifically, it examines the four aspects of Mandarin prosody: (1) the prosodic phrasing (i.e., breaking up of utterances into smaller units); (2) the surface F0 and duration patterns of prosodic phrasing in a group of sentence productions elicited from L1 and L2 speakers of Mandarin Chinese; (3) the patterns of tones errors in L2 Mandarin productions; and (4) the relationship between tone errors and prosodic phrasing in L2 Mandarin. The analysis of prosodic phrasing in the corpus shows that prosodic phrasing is closely related to syntactic structure in both L1 and L2 Mandarin productions. Moreover, results show that the syntactic structure in a prosodic phrase does not influence the prosodic structure of that constituent in either the learner group or the native group. Analysis of the duration patterns in the L1 and L2 Mandarin corpus shows that the most consistent duration pattern that indexes prosodic phrasing is phrase-final lengthening. In addition, the duration analysis shows that the native group shows phrase-initial lengthening, the intermediate learner group shows phrase-initial shortening, and the advanced learner group shows no effect of phrasing on phrase-initial duration. This pattern of phrase-initial lengthening/shortening indicates a learning effect in that the advanced learner group patterned more similarly to the native group. We also observed the transfer of L1 English stress patterns, such as the weak versus strong alternating stress patterns in the L2 corpus. With respect to the F0 patterns of prosodic phrasing, it was found that the conflicting tone sequences (the sequences in which the target at the offset of a preceding tone and the target at the onset of the following tone are identical) posed more difficulty for learners than the compatible tone sequences (the sequences in which the target at the offset of a preceding tone and the target at the onset of a following tone are different). Specifically, the productions by the native speakers involved more target undershoot (namely, the tone targets are not fully realized) than those by the L2 learners.

It was also found that the tone target undershoot mostly occurred in the first prosodic phrase of an utterance. The transfer of English intonation patterns was also observed, such as the transfer of a high phrase accent at the end of a prosodic phrase. Analysis of tone errors shows that the low and rising tones were the most frequent tone errors produced by the two groups of learners in their L2 Mandarin productions, regardless of the underlying tones. The patterns of tone errors in different tone sequences suggest that the learners not only had difficulty in changing the tone targets quickly in the conflicting tone sequences, they also had difficulty in changing the F0 direction quickly in the compatible tone sequences. It is argued that these tone errors were produced as a consequence of the superimposition of the L1 English utterance-level prosody over tone production by L2 learners.

Title: A web-based approach to learning expressions of gratitude in Chinese as a foreign language

Author: Li Yang 

Year and Degree: 2013 Doctor of Philosophy, University of Iowa


This study investigates the effects of instruction delivered via a learner-centered, self-access website on the learning of expressions of gratitude by L2 Chinese learners across proficiency levels. Three research questions are addressed: (1) whether the web-based instruction facilitates students' learning of Chinese expressions of gratitude, (2) whether the effects of instruction vary across proficiency levels, and (3) how L2 learners regard the use of the website as a learning tool.

Based on the noticing hypothesis and the pragmatic consciousness-raising approach, a pragmatics website was developed that provided explicit instruction on how to appropriately express gratitude in Chinese and offered awareness-raising exercises and activities for practice. It was structured in eight instructional units and two review sessions.

To address the three research questions, this study adopted a pretest-posttest design to include two groups of learners who differed in their proficiency in the Chinese language. The two groups of learners received pragmatics instruction delivered via the self-access website over five weeks. Two weeks prior to the instruction, all learners were asked to complete (1) the language contact profile (LCP) for eliciting their demographic information and their contact with Chinese outside the classroom, (2) a local standardized Chinese proficiency test (CPT) for assessing their proficiency in Chinese, (3) discourse completion tasks/tests (DCT) for soliciting their production of Chinese expressions of gratitude, (4) metapragmatic assessment tasks (MAT) for eliciting their metapragmatic assessment of thanking responses provided, and (5) retrospective interviews for soliciting learners' explanations of their assessments in the MAT. On a weekly basis during the treatment period, learners wrote reflective e-journals in response to prompt questions provided by the researcher, which helped track learners' self-access study progress and their on-going perceptions of the website. One week after the online instruction, all learners were also asked to complete the same types of questionnaires (i.e., the DCT and the MAT) and retrospective interviews for assessing their pragmatic development.

Results showed that after receiving the web-based instruction, all learners produced more appropriate expressions of gratitude and used more varied thanking strategies in their responses, regardless of their proficiency. Learners' assessments of Chinese expressions of gratitude became more target-like and their metapragmatic awareness was also promoted. However, higher-level learners seemed to have benefited more from the instruction in their production of Chinese expressions of gratitude than lower-level participants, and the higher-level group demonstrated an overall higher level of pragmatic awareness than the lower-level group after the online instruction. But no significant difference was found between the two groups in terms of learners' metapragmatic assessments. In addition, participants responded positively to the website and put forward constructive suggestions to improve it.

Finally, this study interpreted the findings based on cognitive processing theories, proposed both theoretical and pedagogical implications, and discussed the limitations of this study and directions for future research. Read more ...

Title: Behaviors of wh-elements in English and Russian learners’ L2 Chinese

Author: Dugarova, Esuna

Year and Degree: 2010 Doctor of Philosophy, University of Cambridge 


The present study investigates the behaviors of wh-elements in English and Russian speakers’ L2 Chinese single and multiple wh-questions and aims to find out whether learners are able to attain target-like knowledge of these structures. In single wh-questions, English requires wh-movement, while Russian requires wh-focalisation. Although a wh-element generally stays in-situ in Chinese, it can undergo topicalisation on the condition that the wh-question in which it occurs s linked with discourse. If a wh-topic in Chinese is derived by movement, it should be subject to various syntactic constraints. It is also observed that an intervention effect arises in Chinese wh-questions when negative, focusing or quantification elements precede wh-adverbs, while this type of intervention effect is not applicable to English and Russian.

Title: The Acquisition of Long-Distance Reflexives in Chinese as an Interlanguage: An experimental study

Author: Darcy Sperlich

Year and Degree: 2013 Doctor of Philosophy, University of Auckland


This thesis is concerned with the distinction between syntactic and pragmatic modes of communication, along the lines proposed by Givón (1979). More specifically Huang (2000) suggested that such a line be drawn between languages depending on how they regulate their anaphora. To test this distinction in my research, I assess the predictions of syntactic and pragmatic theories of anaphora against how learners of Chinese, from English and Korean backgrounds, acquire the Chinese simplex reflexive ziji. In terms of anaphora, English is a syntactically oriented language whilst Korean is pragmatically orientated, thus creating highly relevant experimental conditions when assessing for positive and negative transfer in their Chinese, which in turn regulates its anaphora largely by pragmatics. This is conducted via an experimental approach, making use of newly developed second language acquisition research methodology to investigate a learner's interlanguage, yielding very robust data. The results demonstrate that the English learners of Chinese transfer their syntactic strategies, which hinders their acquisition of ziji (negative transfer), while the Korean learners of Chinese transfer their pragmatic strategies, which assists their acquisition of ziji (positive transfer).

The results also confirm that Chinese and Korean are indeed languages which heavily regulate their reflexives by pragmatics, and English via syntax—but even in English it is also shown pragmatics has a role to play. Ultimately, the investigation conducted along an experimental approach shows that theoretically, pragmatic approaches to anaphora suit pragmatic languages better, and syntactic approaches suit syntactic languages better, which in turn confirms the distinction between syntactic and pragmatic languages in their anaphora along the lines of Huang (2000), and also adding further credence to Givón's (1979) original proposal.

Title: Properties of the (Shi)...de Focus Construction in Adult L2 Acquisition and Heritage Language Acquisition of Mandarin Chinese

Author: Ziyin Mai

Year and Degree: 2012, Doctor of philosophy, University of Cambridge


The thesis aims to test the Interface Hypothesis (IH, Sorace and Filiaci 2006, Sorace 2011) by investigating properties of the (shi)...de focus construction in adult L2 acquisition and heritage language acquisition of Mandarin Chinese. Conventionally, linked with the English it-cleft construction (Cheng 2008, Paul and Whitman 2008, Hole 2011), the (shi)...de focus construction differs from the it-clefts in many aspect. In this thesis, it is assumed that shi is a verbal element heading a Focus Phrase and selects an Aspect Phrase headed by de. 

Title: Radical Awareness Among Chinese-As-A-Foreign-Language Learners

Author: Xiaoxiang Su 

Degree and Year: Doctor of Philosophy, Florida State University, 2010.

Abstract: This study examined radical awareness among college students who learned Chinese as a foreign language (CFL). Radicals are subcomponents of characters. They follow positional constraints and they have meaning-cueing and pronunciation-cueing functions. Radical awareness, the knowledge about the positional and functional regularities of radicals has been found closely related to Chinese word reading and word writing among developing readers in first language literacy acquisition (Chan & Nunes, 1998; Ho, Ng, & Ng, 2003; Packard et al., 2006). The instruction on improving radical awareness was proved beneficial in character recognition, semantic categorization and character writing (Ho, Wong & Chan, 1999; Packard et al, 2006). Despite the wide interests in radical awareness in L1 literacy acquisition, relevant research in second language/foreign language is scant.

Three objectives guided the present study: 1) to determine radical awareness levels among CFL learners who differ in their Chinese proficiency levels; 2) to explore the relation between radical awareness and word recognition among CFL learners and to determine whether this relationship differ between advanced and beginning CFL learners; 3) to explore the shared and unique relations of radical awareness with word recognition in Chinese.

Ninety-seven CFL learners at a US southeastern university participated in the study. They were categorized as either beginning or advanced CFL learners based on a Latent Class analysis. A word recognition test and three tasks were created for the present study. These three tasks included a character legality decision task, a character-meaning matching task, and a character writing task. The character legality decision task was aimed at measuring learners’ implicit positional radical awareness; the character-meaning matching task was aimed at measuring learners’ implicit semantic radical awareness; the character writing task was used to measure the explicit radical awareness (both radical positional awareness and semantic radical awareness). ANOVA and multiple regressions were utilized as statistical analysis methods to answer the three research questions.

The results of the study showed that advanced CFL learners had higher levels of radical awareness than beginning CFL learners. They also yielded significant relations between implicit positional radical awareness, explicit positional radical awareness and explicit functional semantic radical awareness and word recognition among CFL learners and that this significant relationship did not vary between advanced and beginning CFL learners. The third finding from this study was that explicit functional semantic radical awareness was the unique predictor of word recognition among CFL learners.

The present study is unique in several aspects. First, the present study extended the previous studies by exploring the relation between language proficiency and radical awareness among CFL learners. For the few that explored the radical awareness among CFL learners, exposure time was the only factor that has been considered. Second, this study systematically examined explicit and implicit radical awareness for two types of radical awareness (i.e., positional and semantic) to explore the nature of the relation between radical awareness and word recognition comprehensively. Third, this study investigated the shared and unique relations of various radical awareness tasks to word recognition in Chinese.

The present study also has pedagogical implications. It has the potential to inform the Chinese textbook writers and classroom teachers to have a better understanding as to how to teach characters in a more efficient way. For example, the results may inform teachers about the importance of explicitly teaching radicals, and approximately when to introduce the concept of radicals in language study.

Recommended Citation:

Su, Xiaoxiang, "Radical Awareness Among Chinese-As-A-Foreign-Language Learners" (2010). Electronic Theses, Treatises and Dissertations. Paper 1524.