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An Integrative Perceptual Approach for Teaching Chinese Characters

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ISAIJLS Volume 35, Number 5, ISSN 0020-4277


This paper is concerned with an innovative approach to teaching Chinese characters. Traditionally, pupils learn Chinese characters by repeatedly copying them until they can reproduce their form and pronunciation from memory. Most of the characters pupils are required to learn are selected on the basis of their frequency in adult written communications rather in everyday child usage. The process takes many years and is perceived by pupils as laborious and boring. The writers of the paper developed an approach based on the phenomenographic approach to learning and on various pioneering ways of teaching Chinese characters. Learning starts with the pupils' own language and characters are introduced and used in contexts meaningful to the pupil, attention being drawn systematically to structural features, written form and pronunciation. Characters are learnt in relational clusters, similarities and variations among related characters in the clusters being used by teachers to highlight and emphasise crucial aspects of Chinese characters and words. The learning mastered serves as a foundation for subsequent learning. After an in-depth discussion of theory and pedagogy, the writers report an investigation in four primary schools in Hong Kong that yields strong support for the efficacy of the approach.


Tse, S.K., Marton, F., Ki, W.W. & Ka Yee Loh, E. (2007). An Integrative Perceptual Approach for Teaching Chinese Characters. Instructional Science: An International Journal of the Learning Sciences, 35(5), 375-406. Retrieved March 6, 2021 from .

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