How Clavis Sinica can help you to learn Mandarin?

How Clavis Sinica can help you to learn Mandarin?

There are many ways to advance the teaching and learning of Chinese characters. But for students, the first and most important thing is that if they realize certain general common aspects that exist among the various characters, their capabilities of learning other characters in the future should be enhanced.

There are many ways to advance the teaching and learning of Chinese characters. But for students, the first and most important thing is that if they realize certain general common aspects that exist among the various characters, their capabilities of learning other characters in the future should be enhanced.

In fact, we have plenty of evidence that children do not learn the characters one after another in isolation. Rather, apart from specific knowledge of each individual character, they also have gained general knowledge of the orthographic aspects common to all characters. For example, they know that characters with the component 木([mù], tree), such as 林([lín], forest), 樹([shù], tree), 橙([chéng], orange) and 桃([táo], peach), have a meaning related to[tree]. However, not all students solely by themselves are able to fully figure out these orthographic aspects through sheer immersion in many characters. Thus, helping students to learn to recognize these orthographic aspects should benefit their learning of the characters. For example, one day when they come across an unknown character with the component 木[tree] in reading, at least they can realize that the character has to do with 木([mù], tree).

Developing Orthographic Awareness

How we can help children to develop such a powerful way of seeing or experiencing the characters, According to the Clavis Sinica theory, the children must discern the critical orthographic aspects so that they are likely to see other characters (whether the characters are familiar to them or not) in terms of these orthographic aspects. To discern these aspects, children must simultaneously (in a diachronic sense) experience how each of these aspects vary in different characters. To do this, characters should not be taught in an individual manner but in pairs or sets with variation in a certain orthographic aspect.

Teachers in everyday practice do show children sets of characters that share common semantic or phonetic components. they might present pairs or a list of characters with the same semantic component 女([nǚ], female) such as 媽([mā] mother), 妹([mèi], younger sister), 姊([zǐ], elder sister) and 她([tā], she), and say that these characters all have to do with 女([nǚ], female). However, this is not enough.

Teaching part-whole relation. Take as an example the teaching of the characters’ part-whole relation. That is, a component of a character signifies the semantic field to which the character belongs. As such, the object of learning is to help children to recognize that characters having the component 木([mù], tree) are likely to have a meaning

associated with 木([mù], tree), but not 水([shuǐ], water) or others. The following Table illustrates two ways of teaching this with the use of the same eight characters paired in different ways.

No.

Paris of characters shown to children

Explanation of teacher

 

Instruction (a)

Question: whether the two characters are related to the meaning of 木([mù], tree)?

1

椰 揶

Answer: The first one is related to木([mù], tree) while the second is not because only the first has the component 木([mù], tree)

2

挑 桃

Answer: The second one is related to木([mù], tree) while the first is not because only the second has the component 木([mù], tree)

3

揚 楊

Answer: The second one is related to木([mù], tree) while the first is not because only the second has the component 木([mù], tree)

4

棒 捧

Answer: The first one is related to木([mù], tree) while the second is not because only the first has the component 木([mù], tree)

 

Instruction (b)

Question: whether the two characters are related to the meaning of木([mù], tree)?

1

椰 桃

Answer: Both of them are related to木([mù], tree) because both of them have the component木([mù], tree)

2

揶 挑

Answer: None of them are related to木([mù], tree) because none of them have the component木([mù], tree)

3

楊 棒

Answer: Both of them are related to木([mù], tree) because both of them have the component木([mù], tree)

4

揚 捧

Answer: None of them are related to木([mù], tree) because none of them have the component木([mù], tree)

Two ways of teaching the meaning that the component 木 signifies in a character

Each of the four pairs in (a) contrasts characters in different semantic fields due to a difference in the component on the left but the other components of the pair are identical. In contrast, the characters in each of the (b) pairs are both in the same semantic field owing to an identical component on the left but the other components of the pair are different.

  According to the theory of variation, one will predict a better learning outcome of those children receiving instruction (a) than those receiving instruction (b), with all other things being equal. In (a), each pair of characters varies in the orthographic aspect of the component on the left of the characters (i.e., 木–[tree] and 扌– not [tree]). This focuses the children’s attention on what varies, that is the semantic components of the characters. This helps the children to connect whether a character belongs to the semantic field of 木([mù], tree) to whether the character contains the component 木([mù], tree). On the contrary, there is no variation of this sort in each of the (b) pairs. Instead, what vary are the components on the right of the characters, which are the phonetic components of the characters. The children’s attention will be focused on these components that do not contribute to the meanings of the characters. Therefore, if the object of learning is about the meanings of characters, children who learn from instruction (a) should outperform those who learn from instruction (b).

  This prediction is not obvious and in fact is falsifiable. One can argue that instruction (b) should yield a better result as the children can recognize the part-whole relation by analogical reasoning. Indeed, character pairs, such as 嫂([sǎo], elder brother’s wife) and 媳([xí], daughter-in-law), and later found that the children could successfully draw analogies from the characters in identifying the semantic field of unknown characters with a 女([nǚ], female) on the left. Thus, it is not impossible that instruction (b) can be found to be more effective than instruction (a).

  Indeed, in classroom practice, most teachers tend to adopt an approach in line with instruction (b). For instance, as mentioned previously, to illustrate the nature of the semantic component 女, teachers commonly give examples of characters with a 女, such as 媽([mā], mother), 妹([mèi], younger sister), 姊([zǐ] elder sister) and 她([tā], she) and explain that the persons referred to by these characters are all female. The rationale underlying this agrees with that of instruction (b), i.e., children learn by making analogies. This raises the question of whether the theory of variation does apply to the learning of characters given that the intuitive practice of teachers appeared to have worked well.

One could argue that instruction (a) tells the children that the two adjacent characters are different in some valuable aspect, and asks them to identify which aspect changes across the two characters. That is, it requires them to look for what varies in what appears to be similar (同中求異[tóng zhōng qiú yì]). In contrast to this, the children in (b) are told that the two different characters have an important aspect being the same, and thus the children look for such an aspect that is the same in both characters. That is, it requires them to look for what is invariant in what appears to be different (異中求同[yì zhōng qiú tóng]).

Teaching part-part relation. Suppose that the object of learning is the characters’ part-part relation, i.e., which components are part of the same constituent components to the characters. Again, there are two possible ways of teaching this with four pairs of the same eight characters as shown below in Table

No.

Paris of characters
shown to children

Explanation of teacher

 

Instruction (a)

Question: whether the two characters are related to the meaning category in brackets?

1

椰    蜥
(樹木)  (樹木)

Answer: The first character is related to 樹木[tree] while the second character is not. In the first character, the component 木 is located on the leftmost of the character and thus functions as a semantic component, while in the second character, the component 木 is part of the radical 析 on the right and thus loses its semantic function.

2

渺    瞅
(眼睛)  (眼睛)

Answer: The second character is related to 眼睛[eye] while the first character is not. In the second character, the component 目 is located on the leftmost of the character and thus functions as a semantic component, while in the first character, the component 目 is part of the component 眇 on the right and thus loses its semantic function.

3

裟    溶
(水)    (水)

Answer: The second character is related to 水[water] while the first character is not. In the second character, the component 氵 is located on the left of the character and thus functions as a semantic component, while in the first character, the component 氵 is part of the radical 沙 at the top and thus loses its semantic function.

4

傭    煲
(人)    (人)

Answer: The first character is related to 人[people] while the second character is not. In the first character, the component 亻 is located on the left of the character and thus functions as a semantic component, while in the second character, the component 亻 is part of the component 保 at the top and thus loses its semantic function.

 

Instruction (b)

Question: whether the two characters are related to the meaning category in brackets?

1

椰    瞅
(樹木)  (眼睛)

Answer: The two characters are related to 樹木[tree] and 眼睛[eye] respectively. Both of the components 木 and 目 are located on the leftmost of the characters and thus function as semantic components.

2

蜥    渺
(樹木)  (眼睛)

Answer: The two characters are not related to 樹木[tree] and 眼睛[eye] respectively. The components 木 and 目 are part of the components 析 and 眇 respectively on the right and thus lose their semantic functions.

3

溶    傭
(水)    (人)

Answer: The two characters are related to 水[water] and 人[people] respectively. Both of the components 氵 and 亻 are located on the left of the characters and thus function as semantic components.

4

裟    煲
(水)    (人)

Answer: The two characters are not related to 水[water] and 人[people] respectively. The components 氵 and 亻 are part of the components 沙 and 保 respectively at the top and thus lose their semantic functions.

Two ways of teaching the orthographic structures of the characters

In each of the (a) pairs, the same component varies in its location and in whether it functions as a semantic component in the two characters. For example, the component 木([mù], tree) functions as a semantic component on the leftmost of 椰([yē], coconut) but not in the middle of 蜥([xī], lizard).In contrast to this, both characters in each (b) pair (called Generalization Pair) have the components in question located at the same place and function (or not function) as a semantic component at the same time. For example, the components 木([mù], tree) and 目([mù], eye) both function as a semantic component on the leftmost of 椰([yē], coconut) and 瞅([chǒu] to cast a look) respectively.

According to the theory of variation, one will predict a better performance of those children who receive instruction (a) than those who receive instruction (b). The two instructions are analyzed as follows. In order to understand why the character 椰([yē], coconut) is related to the meaning of 木([mù], tree) but the 蜥([xī], lizard) is not, children must simultaneously (in a synchronic sense) discern and attend to both the part-whole and part-part relations. This means that children must know the part-whole relation that the component 木([mù], tree) signifies a meaning of “tree” in a character. Moreover, they must also realize the part-part relation that when a component is not located on the leftmost part of a character of a left-right configuration, it becomes part of a constituent component to the character (i.e., a sub-component and not a constituent component in the orthographic structure) and loses its semantic function in relation to the character.

Students should realize that whether or not a character is related to the meaning of[tree] somehow has to do with the component 木([mù], tree) in the character. On the basis of this, in instruction (a), what varies of the component 木([mù], tree) in the characters 椰([yē], coconut) and 蜥([xī], lizard) is in its location in the orthographic structure of the two characters. This focuses the children’s attention on the difference in the location of the component 木([mù], tree). That is, when the component 木([mù], tree) is located on the leftmost, it functions as a semantic component. The character 椰([yē], coconut) is thus related to the meaning of “tree”. When the 木([mù], tree) is located in the middle of the character 蜥([xī], lizard), it becomes part of the component 析 which functions as a phonetic component, and the 木([mù], tree) loses its semantic function. The character 蜥([xī], lizard) is thus not related to that of[tree]. In other words, in the (a) pair of 椰([yē], coconut)and 蜥([xī], lizard), the children can simultaneously experience the variation in the location of the component 木([mù], tree) in the orthographic structure.

In contrast to the (a) pair, the (b) pair such as 椰([yē], coconut) and 瞅([chǒu] to cast a look) has respectively the components 木([mù], tree) and 目([mù], eye) located in the same way on the left most of the characters. Instead, what vary of the components 木([mù], tree) and 目([mù], eye) in the two characters are the components themselves. They are two different semantic components. This focuses the children’s attention on this difference of the components, which is however not helpful to realizing the significance of the location of the components in the orthographic structure (i.e., the components are both located on the leftmost and both function as a semantic component.). In other words, since there is no variation in the location of the component 木([mù], tree) or 目([mù], eye), the children cannot simultaneously experience how the component varies in its location in the (b) pair.

Taken together, what the theory of variation predicts is that children who learn from instruction (a) should have a greater improvement than those who learn from instruction (b) regarding their capability of analyzing the orthographic structures of the characters. Since this kind of investigation has never been done before in the literature of the teaching of Chinese characters, we need empirical evidence to see how powerful the theory of variation is in explaining the effectiveness of the two instructions.

There is a third kind of instruction (called Analogous Pair) where children are presented with pairs of characters like 蜥([xī], lizard) and 淅([xī], the sound of raining) (See Table below). Each (c) pair is very much like a (b) pair in the sense that the two characters have something in common that children can make generalization. But, different from that of the (b) pair, in the (c) pair, the common components are all constituent components, and the pairs vary by one of the constituent components which is either a semantic component or a phonetic component. The intention is to highlight the similarity in the orthographic structures of the characters. For example, the two characters 蜥([xī], lizard) and 淅([xī], the sound of raining) have in common the constituent component 析([xī], analysis), and the characters 煲([bāo], cooker) and 堡([bǎo], castle) have in common the constituent component 保([bǎo], protect).

No.

Paris shown to children

Explanation of teacher

 

Instruction (c)

Question: whether the two characters are related to the meaning category in brackets?

1

蜥    淅
(樹木)  (樹木)

Answer: None of the two characters are related to 樹木 [tree]. In the two characters, the component 木 is part of the component 析 on the right and thus loses its semantic function.

2

瞅    眺
(眼睛)  (眼睛)

Answer: Both of the two characters are related to 眼睛 [eye]. In the two characters, the component 目 is located on the leftmost of the characters and thus functions as a semantic component.

3

溶    淹
(水)    (水)

Answer: Both of the two characters are related to 水 [water]. In the two characters, the component 氵 is located on the left of the characters and thus functions as a semantic component.

4

煲    堡
(人)    (人)

Answer: None of the two characters are related to 人 [people]. In the two characters, the component 亻 is part of the component 保 at the top and thus loses its semantic function.

The third way of teaching the orthographic structures of the characters

Note that the characters here cannot be controlled to be the same as those of instructions (a) and (b). Only four out of the eight characters are in common with those in the previous two instructions.

Like instruction (b), one will predict that instruction (c) is not very effective. What vary in the (c) pair 蜥([xī], lizard) and 淅([xī], the sound of raining) are the leftmost components 虫(insect) and 氵(water), to which the children's attention is directed. But this does not help to explain why both of the characters 蜥([xī], lizard) and 淅([xī], the sound of raining) are not related to the meaning of 木(tree). Put it in another way, there is no variation in the location of the component 木(tree) in the two characters, i.e., the 木(tree) are in the same way located in the middle of both 蜥([xī], lizard) and 淅([xī], the sound of raining). Thus, the children may not be able to simultaneously experience how the location of the component varies.


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