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A Social View on the Chinese Language

Jerome L. Packard

A Social View on the Chinese Language is intended to be a general linguistic introduction to the Chinese language for the general reader and can be used in beginning-level Chinese linguistics courses. It is different from other Chinese linguistics surveys because, in addition to the usual areas of interest (such as the Chinese dialects, the history of the language, the characters and the grammar), it offers a view into linguistic phenomena that are also related to human behavior and society, such as how Chinese children and US college students learn Chinese, how the brain processes Chinese, the genetic origins of Chinese, language disorders and language loss in Chinese, differences in Chinese language use in different social groups, studies of Chinese reading and psycholinguistic aspects of Chinese language use.
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5 Learning Chinese



Learning Chinese

Learning a language like Chinese is said to be notoriously difficult, but of course it must be recognized that Chinese children have no more difficulty learning their native language than do children who are native speakers of English. So how do we explain the belief that Chinese is so hard to learn? Spoken Chinese is not difficult to learn, but Chinese writing is another matter entirely, and people tend to conflate the learning of the written language with the learning of the spoken language. Two additional factors are that Chinese is a language with few cognates in English, and Chinese is a tone language in contrast with English which is a stress language.

Chinese Children Learning to Read and Write

Considering the stages of reading acquisition for children learning to read, there are posited to be three stages for a child learning an alphabetic writing system: the first stage is called the visual stage, the second stage is called the phonetic stage and the third stage is called the orthographic stage.

The first reading stage is called the visual stage, because the child visually recognizes a word and assigns a pronunciation to the word and they don’t assign a pronunciation to the individual letters of the word. This stage is like using brute force memorization because in essence learners are memorizing the shape of the whole word rather than decoding the sounds of the individual letters. So...

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