Computer-mediated Materials for Chinese Character Learning

Posted: December 21, 2010 in CALL related literature

Hui-Mei Hsu
Liwei Gao
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Four sets of computer mediated materials for Chinese character learning, Write Chinese, Chinese Characters Primer, Animated Chinese Characters and USC Chinese Character Page are well known to teachers of Chinese. Write Chinese and Chinese Characters Primer are CD-ROMs published by the two major publishers of East Asian languages. The web sites Animated Chinese Characters and USC Chinese Character Page are referenced in the Learning Chinese On-line resource web site ( Tables 1 and 2 summarize the authorship, hardware requirements, content information, and learning components of the four sets of materials.

Table 1

Overview of the Computer-mediated Materials

0x01 graphic


Table 2

Learning Components of the Computer-mediated Materials

0x01 graphic

The Write Chinese program includes character animation, meaning, and pronunciation as well as pronunciation recording and comparison, audio feedback, and user control over content display; it is organized in the order of the lessons in Read Chinese Book One. Like Write Chinese, Chinese Characters Primer is a HyperCard program for Macintosh. The courseware incorporates activities such as listening, character animation, and writing and covers 76 characters—all radicals. The presentation sequence is organized by stroke number. The Animated Chinese Characters program provides two character sets, traditional Chinese and simplified Chinese, and contains about 530 characters in each set.1 The characters

are organized in the alphabetical order of their Pinyin transliterations. The main activity of the web site involves clicking on the desired characters and viewing the animations stroke by stroke. The USC Chinese Character Page is a web site that includes character animation, radical information, sound clips, and character usage ( Characters are arranged according to the alphabetical order of their Pinyin transliterations as well as in the order of


the lessons appearing in the textbook, Integrated Chinese Level One. In total, there are about 720 characters covered in this site. In addition, the web site provides links for downloading the whole animation package which enables users to study the materials off line.

The four sets of courseware are fairly easy to use. The two CD-ROM courseware packages, Write Chinese and Chinese Characters Primer, do not require any plugin software such as NJ Star Communicator or Chinese character fonts. The Animated Chinese Characters and USC Chinese Character Page do require plugin software or Chinese fonts; however, the two web sites can run across platforms and Internet browsers.

Though the materials reviewed are well designed and technically adequate, some improvements would be desirable. The currently favored analytical character teaching approach (Astor, 1970), in which radical information is not connected to characters, formation is not used in any of these materials. If radical information were used effectively, a phonetic-inductive approach could be incorporated into the materials to help users associate characters in a meaningful way. Second, mnemonic devices such as character imagery have been widely used in classroom practice; however, among the reviewed materials, only Chinese Characters Primer provides text and images about character origins. Incorporating material-imposed or users’ spontaneous mnemonic devices should be the future direction of Chinese character software development. Finally, only Chinese Characters Primer includes a character writing mechanism for scaffolding the production of high density characters, recommended in studies conducted by Chin (1973) and Ke (1996).

The materials reviewed have great potential for incorporation into Chinese character learning. With the accumulation of relevant Chinese as a foreign language research and teaching pedagogies, computer-mediated materials can not only serve as an input mechanism but also create a meaningful and interactive environment for language learners.


1 The traditional Chinese version can be found at, and the simplified Chinese version at


Astor, W. G. (1970). A Phonetic-inductive approach to Chinese character recognition. Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, 5 (2), 30-66.


Chin, T. (1973). Is it necessary to require writing in learning characters? Journal of the Chinese Language Teachers Association, 8 (3), 167-170.

Ke, C. (1996). An empirical study on the relationship between Chinese character recognition and production. Modern Language Journal, 80 (3), 340-350.


Hui-Mei Hsu is a graduate student in Curriculum and Instruction at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She interested in technology-related issues such as CALL, philosophy of technology, and educational policy on technology use.

Liwei Gao is a graduate student in Linguistics at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. His research interests are language change, electronic language, and second language acquisition.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s