Oral vocabulary affects children’s orthographic learning in Chinese

Luan Li*, Eva Marinus, Anne Castles, Hua Chen Wang

*Corresponding author for this work

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1 Citation (Scopus)
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While research has established a close relationship between children’s oral vocabulary and reading ability in Chinese, the nature of this relationship is not clear. This study aims to examine if vocabulary knowledge of Chinese words facilitates learning novel orthographic forms during independent reading. We also investigate whether such oral vocabulary is to complement phonological decoding, which has been considered the primary underpinning of orthographic learning, or whether it makes a unique contribution to the acquisition of novel orthographic representations in Chinese. Data from two studies (Li et al. in Cognition 176:184–194, 2018; Li et al. in Sci Stud Read. https://doi.org/10.1080/10888438.2020.1781863) were re-analysed (total N = 164). In these studies, children learned the oral vocabulary of some novel Chinese words and subsequently saw their written forms as pseudocharacters in short stories. The phonetic regularity of the pseudocharacters was manipulated such that half of them could be reliably decoded via the phonetic radical (regular) and the other half could not (irregular). The results showed that oral vocabulary learning was significantly associated with orthographic learning and pseudocharacter reading in natural text. Importantly, item-specific oral vocabulary knowledge predicted the success of orthographic learning and reading accuracy of both regular and irregular pseudocharacters. These results provide evidence that oral vocabulary makes a unique contribution to children’s orthographic learning in Chinese during independent reading.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1369-1385
Number of pages17
JournalReading and Writing
Issue number6
Early online date16 Jan 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2021


  • orthographic learning
  • oral vocabulary
  • phonological decoding
  • reading
  • Chinese


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