Tan, L. H., Xu, M., Chang, C. Q., & Siok, W. T. (2013). China’s language input system in the digital age affects children’s reading development. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110(3), 1119-1123.
Written Chinese as a logographic system was developed over 3,000 years ago. Historically, Chinese children have learned to read by learning to associate the visuo-graphic properties of Chinese characters with lexical meaning, typically through handwriting. In recent years, however, many Chinese children have learned to use electronic communication devices based on the pinyin input method, which associates phonemes and English letters with characters. When children use pinyin to key in letters, their spelling no longer depends on reproducing the visuo-graphic properties of characters that are indispensable to Chinese reading, and, thus, typing in pinyin may conﬂict with the traditional learning processes for written Chinese. We found that the overall incidence rate of severe reading difﬁculty appears to be much higher than ever reported on Chinese reading. Crucially, we found that children’s reading scores were signiﬁcantly negatively correlated with their use of the pinyin input method, suggesting that pinyin typing on e-devices hinders Chinese reading development. The Chinese language has survived the technological challenges of the digital era, but the beneﬁts of communicating digitally may come with a cost in proﬁcient learning of written Chinese.
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