ISSN 0439-755X
CN 11-1911/B

Acta Psychologica Sinica ›› 2016, Vol. 48 ›› Issue (10): 1258-1269.doi: 10.3724/SP.J.1041.2016.01258

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Chinese character practice: Comparison between children using handwriting and Pinyin keyboarding

CHEN Jingjun1; XU Lei2,3; CHENG Xiaorong2; LIU Huashan2   

  1. (1 Department of Psychology, Hunan University of Science and Technology, Xiangtan 411201, China) (2 School of Psychology, Central China Normal University, Wuhan 430079, China) (3 School of Education, Jianghan University, Wuhan 430056, China)
  • Received:2015-08-10 Published:2016-10-25 Online:2016-10-25
  • Contact: LIU Huashan, E-mail:


A long-standing point is that the operational motion of handwriting has a special role in word encoding and retrieving, indicating that word representation may consist of a handwriting movement component. If so, highly frequent use of keyboarding may change the mental representation of words and further affect word learning. Thus, it is highly possible that performance in learning new Chinese characters with Pinyin keyboarding (which is widely used among Chinese teenagers) is worse than with handwriting. Further, the movement memory codes of learned characters may be weakened because of long-time Pinyin keyboarding and lack of handwriting track feedback. In addition, the glyphs of Chinese characters will be more likely to be forgotten when reviewed with Pinyin input than with handwriting. To test the above propositions, we compared Chinese character learning and retention between two groups of 6 graders, with one group using paper-pen writing and the other using Pinyin keyboarding. First, we used the traditional method to teach 2 classes of students 30 low-frequency characters in classrooms and participants were labeled as “mastered” or “un-mastered” according to their dictation performances. Then, these 2 classes were assigned randomly to practice with handwriting or Pinyin input. Thereafter, participants were instructed to practice with handwriting or Pinyin input once a week for six weeks and then tested in recognition and writing twice, one week and three months after the practice. We found that, in the first test, for the un-mastered group, the positive effects from the two practice methods were similar in recognition, but the writing performance after the handwriting practice was significantly better than that after the Pinyin keyboarding practice. For the mastered group, performances in recognition and writing after the two kinds of practices were similar and dictation and writing performances before and after the practice were also similar. In the second test, children’s performances were similar after handwriting and Pinyin keyboarding practices in both recognition and writing. The results suggested that Chinese characters learned with Pinyin keyboarding practice were not more likely to be forgotten than characters learned with handwriting practice. In conclusion, although handwriting and Pinyin keyboarding practices have different positive effects on learning Chinese characters, i.e., similar positive effects in recognition but a greater effect for handwriting than Pinyin keyboarding in writing, they have the same positive effects on reviewing characters. This suggests that compared with English words, Chinese characters learning is more dependent on the feedback of handwriting movement, which may be related to spacial features of Chinese characters. These results also suggest that we may use Pinyin input to teach children to read Chinese characters and use traditional handwriting to teach them to write. In addition, memory retention of the mastered characters after the two practices are similar after an interval without practice, suggesting that character amnesia may not be caused by the Pinyin keyboarding specifically, but by a weakened orthographic code due to lack of practice of handwriting or Pinyin input on a long-term basis.

Key words: handwriting, Pinyin keyboarding, Chinese characters, recognition, writing, character amnesia