The effect of radical-based grouping in character learning in chinese as a foreign language

Yi Xu, Li Yun Chang, Charles A. Perfetti

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


The logographic nature of the Chinese writing system creates a huge hurdle for Chinese as a foreign language (CFL) learners. Existing literature (e.g., Shen, Taft & Chung, ) suggests that radical knowledge facilitates character learning. In this project, we selected 48 compound characters in eight radical groups and examined how grouping characters based on their radicals affected the form, sound, and meaning representations of characters and radical knowledge development. We found that for beginning learners, learning radical-sharing characters in groups consistently led to better recall and better radical generalization than learning in distribution. For intermediate level learners, the grouping factor did not lead to significant differences, while participants in both conditions made improvement in radical perception and radical semantic awareness generalization. We concluded that there is a benefit to presenting learners with recurring radicals in compound characters in groups in character learning and in the autonomous generalization of radical knowledge. We also noted the differences between beginning and intermediate learners in their character perception and learning, and put forward implications for CFL pedagogy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)773-793
Number of pages21
JournalModern Language Journal
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Sept 1
Externally publishedYes


  • Character
  • Chinese as a foreign language
  • Orthography
  • Proficiency
  • Radical knowledge

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


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