RICHARDSON, Timothy W.: Chinese Character Memorization and Literacy: Theoretical and Empirical Perspectives on an Old, but Potentially Useful, Strategy
It is well known that the Chinese writing system presents an extraordinary memorization challenge for beginning Western-language students of Chinese, and that many of these students remain unable to meaningfully read for a very long time, if at all. Language professionals, having long recognized the need for improved ways of dealing with this memorization challenge, have developed (and are developing) new materials and tools—many of them technology based—to help students more quickly and effectively progress toward literacy.
An older approach to the problem of character memorization—one spontaneously used by many students and sometimes encouraged by teachers—encounters a great deal of resistance among some professionals in the field. I am referring to the use of character-specific mnemonic ‘stories,’ and the resistance is understandable. In connection with just one of the objections that can be brought against the use of such stories, I have personally seen mnemonics that seemed so silly that I have wondered if any advantage in recall could possibly compensate for having to think in the terms they suggested.
Still, what if character-specific stories can actually help create precise orthographic representations in memory, allow earlier and more extensive exposure to print, and contribute to the automaticity of word recognition needed for reading? This paper will examine theoretical and empirical reasons for thinking that for many learners such stories, if systematized so as to maximally aid memory, may be able to do just that.