As a critical component of literacy curriculum, alphabetic Pinyin can be introduced to Mandarin immersion (MI) students either at Grade 1, Grade 2, or Grade 3, together with another two orthographies: Chinese characters and English. When to introduce Pinyin and how to use Pinyin has been a practical and theoretical issue that matters to thousands of MI students in the US. However, very few studies have been conducted to investigate Pinyin literacy development and its relationship with Chinese character literacy development in young Chinese L2 learners. Using a three-paper dissertation format, this project included three interrelated studies to examine (1) the extent to which Pinyin spelling skills predict Chinese word reading after controlling for a set of Pinyin literacy and Chinese character literacy related skills, (2) whether Pinyin captions in reading materials facilitate or hinder the learning of Chinese words in meaningful reading activities, and (3) the extent to which MI students have acquired Chinese sounds in absence of Pinyin instruction and developed Pinyin spelling skills after learning Pinyin for almost an academic year. Seventy-six English proficient third graders were recruited as participants from an early total MI program. Students learn the school subject matters via the medium of Chinese since kindergarten with 90% of instructional time allocated in Chinese. Students receive seven English language arts classes per week since Grade 2 and Pinyin instruction begins at Grade 3. Study 1 is a correlational study that collected data from a set of Pinyin literacy and Chinese character literacy related measures. Hierarchical linear regression analyses suggested that the holistic Pinyin spelling or the separate Pinyin onset-rime spelling made a significant and unique contribution to Chinese word reading above and beyond other identified variables. Study 2 is an experimental study that employed a crossover design to compare MI students’ Chinese word learning with and without Pinyin. Contrast analyses and multilevel model analyses showed that students learned the Chinese words better without Pinyin, but the differences were not beyond significance level. Study 3 examined Chinese phonology acquisition and Pinyin spelling. Speech and spelling error analyses suggested that MI students could achieve high accuracy in pronunciation, but exhibited challenges in Pinyin spelling, mostly due to the negative transfer from L1 English literacy knowledge, insufficient phonological sensitivity, and incomplete Pinyin letter knowledge. Although Pinyin spelling skills can predict Chinese word reading, it does not mean Pinyin instruction, seen as phonological training, could promote Chinese word reading, which requires the experimental design. In fact, the use of Pinyin may interfere with the learning of Chinese words in teacher-involved reading activities. Additionally, there might be cognitive constraints for young Chinese L2 learners to learn Pinyin. More importantly, Chinese reading acquisition may depend on meaning. The findings together suggested to allocate precious instructional time in early academic grades to develop MI students’ character knowledge and oral vocabulary knowledge, especially the more abstract Tier 2 words. Furthermore, Pinyin captions should be avoided in whole group reading activities where the teacher can provide instructions on the new words. In all, late Pinyin introduction should be encouraged in most MI programs. The findings are of importance for MI educators to make curricular decisions on when to teach Pinyin and how to use Pinyin for English L1 young learners of Chinese.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. August 2019. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Martha Bigelow. 1 computer file (PDF); x, 181 pages.
Elementary Mandarin Immersion Students Learning Alphabetic Pinyin and Using Pinyin to Learn Chinese Characters.
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