Orthographic facilitation in oral vocabulary learning: effects of language backgrounds and orthographic type

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Two experiments investigated whether exposure to Chinese characters and pinyin would facilitate oral vocabulary learning for Chinese as a first (L1) and second (L2) language learners. In Experiment 1, 48 second Chinese graders studied 15 made-up associations between spoken labels and pictures accompanied either by no orthography, by pinyin, or regular characters in a repeated measures design. Pictures prompted recall of spoken labels without orthography present on tests. Results showed that both regular characters and pinyin boosted recall over no orthography. In Experiment 2, 19 American undergraduates as Chinese foreign language learners learned the same 15 label-picture associations in a similar design. Results showed pinyin facilitation, but no character facilitation. The findings highlight the influence of L1 on the role of orthography in oral vocabulary learning in L2, and have implications for vocabulary instruction in Chinese as L1 and L2 learners.

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This research project was supported by grants from Western Kentucky University Office of Research to the first author, Beijing Natural Science Foundation (5172020) and project sponsored by the Ministry of Education of the People’s Republic of China (17YJA190009) to the corresponding author. We acknowledge all participating teachers, students, and parents.

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Correspondence to Hong Li.

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See Table 6.

Table 6 All item of pronunciations, pictures, and orthography of three counterbalanced versions of vocabulary words taught to participants in Experiment 1 and Experiment 2

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Zhang, J., Li, H., Liu, Y. et al. Orthographic facilitation in oral vocabulary learning: effects of language backgrounds and orthographic type. Read Writ 33, 187–206 (2020).

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  • Orthography
  • Pinyin
  • Vocabulary learning
  • Chinese as a first and second language