ALLANIC Bernard: The "missing link" in the teaching of chinese characters as a foreign language
We intend to present the results of research for a PHD thesis, pursued under the direction of Professor Joël BELLASSEN, on the teaching of chinese characters in both chinese as maternal language and foreign language.
The main question we asked was : how many characters at least does a foreign student need to recognize to be able to read (without to much difficulties) an authentic Chinese document (as newspaper's articles or letters from pen friends...)? To answer this question, and because the Chinese children also face the same problem in primary schools, we have made a general survey of the diferent ways chinese characters have been taught to the chinese pupils since the Han dynasty until contemporary China. About the number of the "basic characters" that a person has to learn at first, the analysis of the main school books used in China for nearly 2000 years was very fruitful : at the primary level, they used to be and there is still now in China an intensive training for the recognition of approximately 1500 characters. These "1500 basic characters" could be compared to the 26 letters of the alphabet that occidentals pupils need to know perfectly well if they want to read any text.
Because the didactics of the teaching of chinese characters as a foreign language never refered to this number of basic characters as a real pedagogical objective, we call it the "missing link" of our teaching methods. Therefore, it was to fill this gap that we have drawn up a list of the most useful characters for foreign students who wish to reach quickly the first level of reading comprehension of authentic Chinese documents. That list came from the comparison of five previous statistic of characters' frequency in ordinary publications and others previous basic teaching programs for foreigners.
For the time being, this new list contains 1440 characters. A few statistic surveys of the frequency of these characters in some authentic Chinese documents have revealed that they cover nearly 94 % of all the characters of these publications, which therefore proves its scientific value : if a foreign student knows these 1440 basic characters, he will be able to read the most part of any Chinese documents. Doing this, he will therefore have the opportunity to consolidate and to extend his vocabulary and the number of the characters he knows. That's why we hope that this list will be useful to them who want to improve the teaching (and the learning) of the Chinese characters to the foreigners, especially at the intermediate level... (end)