Character and word reading in Chinese : why and how they should be considered uniquely vis-à-vis literacy development

Dora Jue PAN, Xiujie YANG, Kelvin Fai Hong LUI, Jason Chor Ming LO, Catherine MCBRIDE*, Connie Suk-han HO

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Two correlational studies from the same data set demonstrated the distinctiveness of character and word reading for Chinese reading development among 337 Hong Kong Chinese children in grades 1–3. Study 1 examined the cognitive-linguistic correlates of single-character reading and two-character word reading. Rapid automatized naming, morphological awareness and visual-orthographic skill independently explained variance in both character and word reading beyond age, grade, nonverbal IQ and vocabulary knowledge. Importantly, rapid automatized naming and morphological awareness additionally explained variance in word reading even after statistically controlling for character reading; there were no such unique correlates for character reading beyond word reading. Study 2 investigated the roles of character and word reading in reading comprehension. Both were individually significantly associated with reading comprehension even when a multifaceted measure of language comprehension was statistically controlled. Moreover, character reading and language comprehension significantly explained variance in reading comprehension through word reading; word reading and language comprehension uniquely contributed to reading comprehension in the model. Results suggest that character and word reading likely reflect slightly different processes in Chinese literacy: Theoretically, these results underscore the importance of models of reading that integrate unique features of Chinese. Practically, these results suggest that character and word reading may depend on different cognitive-linguistic processes which can be cultivated when teaching them, separately or together.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101961
Number of pages11
JournalContemporary Educational Psychology
Early online date26 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2021
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information: This research was funded by the Collaborative Research Fund from the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Research Grants Council (C4054-17W) awarded to Catherine McBride.


  • Character reading
  • Language comprehension
  • Morphological awareness
  • Reading comprehension
  • Word reading


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