Radical repetition effects in beginning learners of Chinese as a foreign language reading

The aim of the present study was to examine whether repetition of radicals during training of Chinese characters leads to better word acquisition performance in beginning learners of Chinese as a foreign language. Thirty Dutch university students were trained on 36 Chinese one-character words for their pronunciations and meanings. They were also exposed to the specifics of the radicals, that is, for phonetic radicals, the associated pronunciation was explained, and for semantic radicals the associated categorical meanings were explained. Results showed that repeated exposure to phonetic and semantic radicals through character pronunciation and meaning trainings indeed induced better understanding of those radicals that were shared among different characters. Furthermore, characters in the training set that shared phonetic radicals were pronounced better than those that did not. Repetition of semantic radicals across different characters, however, hindered the learning of exact meanings. Students generally confused the meanings of other characters that shared the semantic radical. The study shows that in the initial stage of learning, overlapping information of the shared radicals are effectively learned. Acquisition of the specifics of individual characters, however, requires more training.
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