Properties of School Chinese: Implications for Learning to Read

Hua Shu, Xi Chen, Richard C. Andersen, Ningning Wu, Yue Xuan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The properties of the 2,570 Chinese characters explicitly taught in Chinese elementary schools were systematically investigated, including types of characters, visual complexity, spatial structure, phonetic regularity and consistency, semantic transparency, independent and bound components, and phonetic and semantic families. Among the findings are that the visual complexity, phonetic regularity, and semantic transparency of the Chinese characters taught in elementary school increase from the early grades to the later grades: Characters introduced in the 1st or 2nd grade typically contain fewer strokes, but are less likely to be regular or transparent, than characters introduced in the 5th or 6th grade. The inverse relation holds when characters are stratified by frequency. Low-frequency characters tend to be visually complex, phonetically regular, and semantically transparent whereas high-frequency characters tend to be the opposite. Combined with other findings, the analysis suggests that written Chinese has a logic that children can understand and use.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-47
Number of pages21
JournalChild development
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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