The Role of Functional Radicals – A Report
Research is limited on the benefits of explicit teaching of Chinese second language (CSL) adult learners about the functions of radical components of Chinese characters. The following research, analysis, and discourse provides how CSL adult learners indeed benefit from the explicit instruction of all components of the radicals of Chinese characters at the onset of their learning. This connects to providing them a better understanding of the Chinese language as a non-alphabetical based framework especially for those students with English as their primary language. The following findings researched how a better understanding of such aspects of radicals including phonetic and semantics. As in any learning of a second language the importance of having instruction providing access to the framework of the language according to the varieties of characteristics that connect to speaking and reading remains a pragmatic assumption. Typically, teaching Chinese has adhered to implicit methods while the explicit use of instruction is proving the benefits for the CSL adult learner.
The Role of Functional Radicals
Adult Chinese second language (CSL) students understanding of the functional role of radicals provides a fundamental framework for better learning outcomes of the function and meaning of critical components of Chinese language characters when explicitly taught as revealed in research expressly defining this hypothesis. According to the following report discussion about research supporting the above thesis, outcomes provide understanding of the role of radicals in CSL adult learning about the complexity of Chinese characters and how they exhibit specific positions, phonology, and semantic regularities (Tong & Yip, 2014). However, studies on knowledge of radicals are generally limited and the intention of the following research, analysis, and discussion focuses on the existing literature findings the substantiate the correlation between explicit instruction of radicals and the benefit to the CSL adult students’ acquiring skill in the Chinese language.
Instruction for the CSL adult student understanding of radicals includes decomposing the square-shaped characters of the Chinese writing system into both semantic as well as phonetic radicals that have both positional and functional regularities (Taft & Chung, 1999). This aligns to CSL adult students acquiring understanding of visual character recognition with understanding for both the positional and functional radical sensitivity to a non-alphabetical second language (Wang, Liu, & Perfetti, 2014). The following academic investigation reviews and discusses the research outcomes of how CSL students understanding of the functional role of semantic radicals provides a fundamental framework for better outcomes if the function and meaning of semantic radicals is explicitly taught (Keyser, 2008; Dunlap, Perfetti, Liu, & Wu, 2011). The discussion begins with a brief description of radicals.
Radical Components of the Cited Research
Radicals consist of nearly 200 semantic and about 800 to 1,100 phonetics. In their study Su and Kim (2014) provide better understanding of the radicals of Chinese language defining them as the semantic or phonetic role of the smallest and meaningful orthographic units of the compound characters in Chinese writing. “In other words, radicals are recurring structural patterns that convey both semantic and phonetic information.” The CSL adult learners’ understanding of the semantic radicals gives them clues to the related category of the compound characters capable of decomposing into radical character sections. The phonetic radicals provide the CSL adult learner with different clues about the correct pronunciation of the compound Chinese characters, “although meaning of the whole character and the semantic radical, and the pronunciation of the whole character and the phonetic radical do not always match (p. 131).”
The radical composed characters are called compounds with more than 80 percent of modern Chinese characters consist of these type radicals. Consequently, the CSL adult learner’s acquisition of understanding the radicals of the Chinese characters suggests a positive correlation to the depth of a learner’s Chinese language reading skills. Su and Kim (2014) literature provides outcomes of their research addressing the relationship of receptive, productive, positional, and functional knowledge of radicals for CSL adult learners successfully benefitting from this instruction in acquiring the ability to recognize Chinese characters for reading.
The work accomplished by Su and Kim (2014) specifically connects to their focus on showing how teaching radicals assists CSL adult learners achieving desired levels of spelling and reading as a fundamental requirement in memorizing “the orthographic, phonological, and semantic constituents of words.” Abundant literature shows the significance of the links between these aspects especial to the connection between the orthographic and phonological components of languages employing languages based on alphabetical writing systems while recent studies focus on the semantic processing in word reading (p. 132).
The results of their study show Su and Kim (2014) providing more insight to the relationship between a CSL adult learner understanding of semantic radicals connection to word reading providing how radicals or part of the Chinese language specific orthographic units. The CSL adult learner gaining understanding from explicit instruction on the importance of radicals as part of the orthographic, phonetic, and semantic aspects of Chinese character words provides them benefits in learning the Chinese language as the following discussion provides further evidence to base such an outcome.
The fundamental benefit to CSL adult students’ learning including explicit instruction of the function of radicals provides a positive link to novel character learning and radical awareness learning. Studies give positive outcomes how learning radical knowledge provides better understanding of Chinese character learning than the typical practice of disregarding such instruction methodologies. Instruction for CSL students including assurances they understand having radical knowledge of Chinese compound characters lends to more productive learning outcomes when learners memorize the compound characters. Such methods of instruction provided CSL students according to Wang and Koda (2014), reveals how the “ most effective method of teaching radicals is to emphasize the radical structure of a character at the time (the) character is first encountered, when the links between character and radicals can be readily constructed.” The outcomes show teaching the radical components of Chinese language characters provide students with increased radical perception skills after two years of study using the explicit method than those students receiving instruction not using the explicit methodology.
“The study indicated that radical knowledge (and its) application do not develop synchronously across learning levels but radical knowledge application skills and Chinese word acquisition are positively correlated (p. 164).”
An example of teaching components of the radicals looks at teaching semantic radicals. According to Wang and Koda (2013) despite semantic radicals only providing learners with partial information about the meaning of whole Chinese characters, nonetheless the outcomes of their study shows it assisted the research participants with the acquisition of character knowledge as presented both in context and isolation. Further to the results of their study, outcomes provide how learners’ understanding of semantic transparency contributed to their learning about novel characters providing again, how teaching CSL adult learners about radical components of characters proves more effective than the holistic method typically used for Chinese language instruction. Improving CSL adult learners’ awareness of radicals assists them, becoming independent learners.
Further, according to research by Wang and Koda (2013) pedagogical implications of their findings of explicit instruction of radicals in Chinese language acquisition by students including the process of teaching components of the compound characters suggest a more effective methodology than the typical instruction applying holistic methods. This is due the knowledge gained from radical components of the compound characters assisting the adult CSL student having a better knowledge base of the characters. Thus, in devoting applications of instruction to radical awareness of the components of characters further suggests better learning outcomes than solely focusing on the characters themselves. “In addition, the result that radicals of transparent characters contribute more to unknown character meaning inference than those of semitransparent characters also suggests that teachers should treat transparent and semitransparent compound characters differently, and that teaching transparent (components of) characters may be more beneficial to learners of Chinese.” Suggested further research in this areas suggests looking to whether (components of) semitransparent characters should be (directly) taught (Wang & Koda, 2013, p. 171).” Other language learning studies found using the explicit instructions of radicals for learning Chinese reported the benefits to learners when teaching semantic radical knowledge. Wang, Liu, and Perfetti (2014) explain how explicit teaching of Chinese radicals indeed simplified individuals' character learning connected to the initial learning stage. “These findings on learning Chinese characters are also in line with a claim among second-language researchers about the effectiveness of explicit teaching in general.” Among the arguments among second-language researchers continues about how explicit Chinese language instruction of radicals can show learning outcomes having measurable target-oriented gains showing long lasting effectiveness (p. 375).
Teaching Components of Radicals
As provided above, the Wang et al (2014) study about the effectiveness of teaching the semantic component of radicals explicitly from the onset of instructing CSL adult learners correlates to the findings of similar studies including Su and Kim (2014). They explain how “productive knowledge of semantic radicals was the only significant unique predictor of word reading in Chinese after accounting for the effects of other radical knowledge measures and language proficiency.” The implications of their findings provide the suggested benefits of breaking down the components of the different types of radicals and providing explicit instruction for each of them enhances the learning process of adult learners (p. 143). Other studies look at the benefit of learning radicals in connection to the complexities of learning a second language.
According to Liu, Wang, and Perfetti (2014), “Learning to read a second language in a new writing system presents complex challenges.” Particular to the English language speaker learning Chinese requires acquisition of understanding the visual forms of characters as well as knowledge about the mapping of these in connection to meaning, pronunciation, as well as knowledge of the framework of the language itself. Adult CSL learners’ participation in research provides implications how acquiring first of these components—learning the visual form of characters—remains fairly rapid. Findings show how the first 4 months of classroom instruction show learners’ ability discriminating the novel legal characters from illegal ones within at least the first 4 months of classroom learning. Moving beyond learning of form, proves a question of the CSL adult learner acquiring knowledge of character representations including orthographic, phonological, and the semantic constituents needing activated by the Chinese character form (p. 471).
Explicit instruction for CSL adult learners provides how the Chinese language differs from English as connected to the orthographies included in the radical aspects of the Chinese characters in comparison to the English alphabet. Chinese remains considered a morph syllabic or a single syllable language comprised of radical components where the units of characters link
According to Liu et al (2014), “The typical Chinese character is a square-shaped symbol that, with some exceptions, represents one pronunciation and one morpheme.” As already pointed out, radicals make up the Chinese characters with some of them characters by themselves. “Characters containing only one radical are called simple characters, and those containing more than one radical are called compound” (as previously pointed out). It is the explicit teaching methodology of radicals that frames a better understanding of the Chinese language form that benefits the CSL adult learner acquiring the fundamentals toward becoming a Chinese language learner (p. 471).
Research by Wang et al (2014) shows specifically how the frequency of exposure in their instruction of radicals shows some implicit outcomes. Their findings suggest how increased frequency of student exposure to the orthographic components of the Chinese language including the radical aspects of characters expressing specific functions, then the increased probability occurs for them extracting the regular functions of the components. Comparing the aspects of the frequency of exposure to how the outcomes of this type of implicit instruction of both Chinese and English provides the probability of such that implicit learning might be sufficient for acquiring basic visual-orthographic structures of a writing system. Nonetheless, “it is important to emphasize the difference between Chinese visual-orthographic learning and alphabetic orthographic learning” in how, the orthographic structure of Chinese characters contrasts sharply with that of English words.” Consequently, the results of their findings further substantiate how having a fundamental understanding that radical-based composition and positional constraints found in the Chinese characters provide a benefit for faster learning for the CSL adult learner than relying in the implicit methodology of instruction (p. 374).
As posited in the introduction of the above discussion, the research and analysis of the literature show adult CSL students understanding of the functional role of radicals provides a fundamental framework for better learning outcomes of both the function and meaning of critical components of Chinese language characters when explicitly taught. The limited literature all show conclusive benefits of explicit instruction of the function of radicals in learning Chinese.
DeKeyser, R. (2008). Implicit and Explicit Learning. In C. J. Doughty & M.H. Long (Eds). The Handbook of Second Language Acquisition. pp. 313-348. Blackwell Publishing Ltd: Oxford, UK.
Dunlap, S., Perfetti, C. A., Liu, Y., & Wu, S.-M. (2011). Learning vocabulary in Chinese as a foreign language: Effects of explicit instruction and semantic cue reliability. Retrieved from http://www.pitt.edu/~perfetti/PDF/DunlapLearningVocabulary.pdf
Liu, Y., Wang, M., & Perfetti, C. A. (2007). Threshold-style processing of Chinese characters for adult second-language learners. Memory & Cognition. 35(3). P. 471-480.
Su, X., & Kim, Y.S. (2014). Semantic radical knowledge and word recognition in Chinese for Chinese as foreign language learners. Reading in a Foreign Language. 26(1). p. 131-152
Taft, M., & Chung, K. (1999). Using radicals in teaching Chinese characters to second language learners. Psychologia, 42, 243-251. Retrieved from http://www2.psy.unsw.edu.au/Users/mtaft/TaftANDChung1999.PDF
Tong, X. & Yip, J. H. Y. (2014). Cracking the Chinese character: radical sensitivity in learners of Chinese as a foreign language and its relationship to Chinese word reading. Reading and Writing. 28(2) p. 159-181
Wang, J., & Koda, K. (2013). Does Partial Radical Information Help in the Learning of Chinese Characters? Retrieved from http://www.lingref.com/cpp/slrf/2011/paper2914.pdf
Wang, M., Liu, Y., & Perfetti, C. A. (2014). The Implicit and Explicit Learning of Orthographic Structure and Function of a New Writing System. Scientific Studies of Reading. 8(4) p. 357-379