Morphological instruction and Chinese character acquisition in CSL
The nation-wide increasing popularity of learning Chinese as a foreign/second language in college has not only accelerated the enrollment in Chinese language courses, but also has inspired more and more research on Chinese as a Second Language Acquisition. Conventionally and stereotypically, the pronunciation and writing system in Chinese are considered a barricade to western learners who hesitate to learn the language or who start but are too frustrated to continue. The writing system, in particular, seems irregular and unpredictable to phonetic language speakers. Drawing upon psycholinguistic research on Chinese literacy, cognitive psychology and foreign language pedagogy, this paper will focus on Chinese character instruction in a college curriculum. Starting with a report on a survey done in the first two weeks of a course in Elementary Chinese (for true beginners) in a college, I will talk about how learners of Chinese who do not have previous exposure to Mandarin and who have not yet formally received character instruction interpreted Chinese characters. Unlike Chinese native speakers, the beginning CSL students are not aware of the internal structure of Chinese characters and thus are not able to encode and/or decode characters in terms of chunks representing major character components. Since more than 90% of modern day Chinese characters are comprised of semantic-phonetic compounds, it is essential for students of Chinese to learn about the most commonly used radicals (‘bushou’) as well as the phonetic elements which are characters themselves. Based on these linguistic phenomena, the author believes that character instruction should make use of this feature and systematically introduce the morphological structure of the characters used in the textbook. By constantly noticing those characters in the textbook which are ‘xingsheng’ or semantic phonetic compound characters and systematically learning the morphological structure of those characters, the learners, hopefully, will gradually develop morphological awareness and the pronunciation-guessing ability. Backed up by research on morphological instruction in first language learning, I will discuss character instruction with regard to curriculum design and teaching materials that are created for Integrated Chinese Level I, Part I (Yao et al., 1997). Examples of those characters and the exercises designed for character instruction will be introduced. This paper will conclude with a post-survey on the result of morphological instruction as well as suggesting other strategies to improve character instruction.