Acquiring topic structures in Mandarin Chinese

Feng-hsi Liu

Abstract: Previous studies suggest that Chinese topic structures, especially base-generated structures, are difficult for L1 English L2 Chinese learners, and only at the very advanced stage do learners perform at the target-like level. Yuan (1995) hypothesizes that non-advanced L2 learners may have difficulty adding a topic node to the subject-predicate structure and that they tend to interpret the topic as the subject. The present study tests this hypothesis and seeks to find out if structure building is accessible to L2 learners before they reach an advanced stage. A grammatical judgment experiment was conducted on several types of topic structures. Results show that lower-level subjects behaved on a par with native speakers on certain types of topic structures. This result suggests that L2 learners are able to build new structures at an early stage.

Keywords: Mandarin Chinese; topic structures; base-generated; L2 acquisition


Cognition-based multimedia classifier learning

Jenny Yichun Kuo

Abstract: In a classifier language like Chinese, all the noun phrases with numerals or demonstratives must go with classifiers, for example, liǎng zhī bǐ 兩枝筆 ‘two CL pen.’ Classifiers vary depending on the nouns. This poses a big challenge for learners of Chinese as second language. Cognition-based multimedia and paper materials for Chinese material classifiers were developed and proved to be effective for learners of Chinese as a second language. The experimental group (N = 15) used the multimedia program and the control group (N= 20) received the same information on paper. Both groups made significant progress after a 10-week treatment. The results suggest cognitive principles are helpful for classifier learning in either multimedia or paper format.

Keywords: Mandarin; classifier; Chinese as a second language; multimedia


Investigating the roles of vocabulary knowledge and word recognition speed in Chinese language listening

Wei Cai

Abstract: This study examines the roles of vocabulary knowledge and word recognition speed in Chinese listening proficiency. A standardized listening proficiency test and a self-designed vocabulary knowledge test were used to measure participants’ listening proficiency and vocabulary knowledge respectively. The gating method was used to examine participants’ word recognition speed. The result shows a high correlation between vocabulary knowledge and listening proficiency and a high medium correlation between word recognition speed and listening proficiency. In terms of the contributions of vocabulary knowledge and word recognition speed to listening proficiency, the result shows that vocabulary knowledge contributes to 77.1% of listening proficiency and is a stronger predictor of listening proficiency. In contrast, word recognition speed does not contribute over or beyond vocabulary knowledge to listening proficiency.

Keywords: vocabulary knowledge; word recognition speed; listening; Chinese; gating


A measure of Chinese language learning anxiety: Scale development and preliminary validation

Han Luo

Abstract: As the Foreign Language Classroom Anxiety Scale (FLCAS), the most widely used measure for foreign language anxiety, is a generic instrument that mainly addresses speaking anxiety and does not take into consideration of the characteristics of target languages, this study attempts to develop a Chinese Language Learning Anxiety Scale reflective of anxieties associated with the four skills. The initial pool of items approved by five experts were administered to 447 Chinese language learners from two large public universities in the U.S. Exploratory factor analyses yielded a three-factor solution of the scale, i.e., Speaking Anxiety, Listening Anxiety, and Reading & Writing Anxiety, lending support to the construct validity of the scale. Results of reliability analysis and correlation analyses indicated that the Chinese Language Learning Anxiety Scale and its three sub-scales have good internal consistency reliability, convergent and discriminant validity, and criterion-related validity.

Keywords: Chinese as a foreign language (CFL); Chinese language learning anxiety; foreign language anxiety; scale development 


The interactional achievements of repair and correction in a Mandarin language classroom

Tsui-Ping Cheng

Abstract: This study examines the different interactional achievements of repair and correction in a Mandarin language classroom from a conversation analysis perspective. The sequential analysis of teacher-initiated repair and correction shows that while repair indicates participants' relative epistemic stance and makes visible the contingent process of securing intersubjectivity, correction serves to monitor students' language production and accomplish teaching. By means of various repair practices, teacher and students are able to maintain and restore a shared understanding of the instructional activity that they are doing together. This intersubjectivity is the foundation upon which a space for teaching and learning is created, maintained, and defended. In correction sequences, the practices of repetition and overlap underscore teacher and students' alignment with a pedagogical focus of linguistic accuracy and make relevant their situated institutional identities. Regardless of the distinctive achievements in interaction, repair and correction are both practical resources that enable and sustain classroom instruction.

Keywords: conversation analysis; repair; correction; Mandarin pedagogy 


Factors accounting for acquisition of polysemous shàng ‘to go up’-phrases in Chinese as a second language (CSL)

Haiyan Liang

Abstract: This study looks into how factors such as Chinese L1 prototypicality, imageability, concreteness, literalness and frequency account for Chinese L2 acquisition of polysemous shàng ‘to go up’-phrases. As the first step, Chinese L1 speakers (N = 92) were instructed to produce five sentences with the verb shàng ‘to go up’. The production prototypicality pattern was achieved. This led to the selection of a list of 20 test items. In the second step the list of items were used to measure Chinese L2 learners' acquisition of them with a translation task (N = 96). Following this another four independent groups of Chinese L1 participants were asked to rank the test items according to their perceptions of teaching sequence in CSL (N = 95) and rate them based on their perceptions of imageability (N = 68), concreteness (N = 52) and literalness (N = 63). The same set of data was also checked in two Chinese corpora for the objective frequency in language use. The analyses indicate that L1 perceptions are reliable in predicting the acquisition sequence of the target shàng-phrases in CSL. The sequence correlates significantly with the prototypicality patterns but not with concreteness, imageability or literalness rating patterns. No conclusion, however, can be drawn about how objective frequency in corpora contributes to the acquisition pattern because of discrepancy between the two corpora. The results of the study support the cognitive reality of prototypicality and have implications for prototypicality-based L2 research and teaching practice.

Keywords: second language acquisition; Chinese; polysemy; phrase; prototypicality; frequency 


The effects of single and dual coded multimedia instructional methods on Chinese character learning

Ling Wang

Abstract: This study investigated the effects of single and dual coded instructional methods using computer-based multimedia on Chinese character learning. 42 college students with no prior knowledge of Chinese language were randomly assigned to a single coded group (text-only and animation-only) and a dual coded group (animation plus text and animation plus narration) to learn 12 concrete (pictograph) Chinese characters and 12 abstract (ideograph) Chinese characters. The results showed there was a significant difference between the single coded and the dual coded instructional methods and there was also a main effect in the character type. In addition, the findings indicated that within the single coded group, there was a significant difference between two character types and a significant difference between two single coded methods with the animation-only method leading to better achievement score than the text-only method. For the dual coded group, the results revealed a significant difference between two character types as well and a significant difference between two dual coded methods with the animation plus narration method outperforming the animation plus text method.

Keywords: dual coding; multimedia learning; animation; foreign language; Chinese


The interface of linguistic difficulty and task type on the use of the Chinese ba construction by L2 learners

Xiaoping Gao

Abstract: This study investigates the effects of linguistic difficulty and task type on the use of Chinese ba construction by second language learners. One hundred and ten adult learners completed four tasks orally (i.e., an oral production task prompted by video clips, an oral imitation task, a grammaticality judgement task and a correction task), as well as a background questionnaire and a one-on-one post-task interview. Twenty-two native speakers of Chinese served as baseline. Results demonstrate that the variable type of the Chinese ba construction which is subject to functional constraints is harder to learn than the obligatory type which is subject to obligatory syntactic constraints, and that the oral tasks were more challenging to perform than the metalinguistic tasks. The findings suggest that a series of factors including functional value and discourse context contribute to the linguistic difficulty of Chinese grammar features. The processing constraints of completing tasks and their interaction with linguistic characteristics explain the learning difficulty of the two types of the ba construction.

Keywords: Chinese ba construction; variation; linguistic difficulty; task type; oral and metalinguistic tasks


The acquisition of comparative constructions by English learners of Chinese: An explorative study from a college Chinese language classroom

Seunghun J. Lee / Xiao Li

Abstract: This explorative study reports how three types of comparative constructions in Mandarin Chinese, namely adjectival, adverbial and differential comparatives, are acquired by English learners in a college Chinese-language classroom. We start with a hypothesis that the syntactic structures of the adverbial comparative and the differential comparative will be a potential challenge to learners because these two constructions are neutralized in English comparatives. However, the results of the three in-class tests we conducted indicate that learners have more difficulty with the adjectival comparative and the adverbial comparative than the differential comparative. Based on these results, we discuss effects of L1 transfer, difficulties in acquiring structures that involve optional components, and differences between heritage and non-heritage learners in learning Chinese as a second language.

Keywords: comparative constructions; adjectival comparatives; adverbial comparatives; differential comparatives;Chinese language acquisition; L1 transfer; heritage learners


CFL learners' productions of relative clauses with demonstratives: From theory to empirical research

Yi Xu

Abstract: Relative clauses (RCs), with their typological universality and structural complexity, have always been central to inquiries in generative linguistics and language acquisition. Although recent years witness a growing interest in psycholinguistic and acquisition research in Chinese RCs, few studies have attempted to make connections between psycholinguistic theories and Chinese as a second language learning and teaching. This paper tries to bridge the gap and uses an interdisciplinary approach to address the comparative difficulty of Chinese subject and object RCs in their interaction with demonstratives. Chinese L1 and L2 participants completed a written sentence completion task. More productions in a certain type of RC, when observed in both participant groups, were interpreted as evidence of structural preference, and differences between L1 and L2 patterns were analyzed as competence issues. It was found that both groups prefer subject RCs when the structure begins with a demonstrative, and this result corresponds to corpus studies of Chinese RCs as well as findings in previous acquisition research. At the same time, there was no asymmetry between the subject and object RCs produced when the demonstrative follows the RC. A multi-constraint model in which a “perspective” factor (MacWhinney 1977, 1982, MacWhinney and Pleh 1988) and a word order factor simultaneously contribute to production cost can explain the data. Meanwhile, L2 participants' errors were often related to neglecting the obligatory gap within the RC. Pedagogical implications were put forward.

Keywords: Chinese relative clauses; demonstrative; structural preference; psycholinguistic theory; learner errors


Effect of home background on advanced heritage language learning

Yun Xiao

Abstract: Using a detection test and an essay writing task, this study investigates the effect of home background on Chinese heritage language (CHL) learning and attainment at the advanced level. By examining the participants' use of target morphological marker le and discourse features, the study shows that, compared with their non-HL counterparts, advanced college CHL learners used the morphological marker le more frequently and more appropriately, and older CHL arrivals performed better than younger arrivals. Results of the essay writing task show that, compared with their non-HL counterparts, the older CHL arrivals did significantly better, while the younger arrivals did marginally better. The data support previous findings that early exposure to a language has undeniable positive effect on subsequent learning and that immigrant HL learners' age of arrival is an important indicator of attainment of competence at the advanced level.

Keywords: home background; discourse device; topic chain; zero pronouns; Chinese heritage-language students; non-heritage-language students; birth place; arrival age; language exposure


Acquiring the pitch patterns of L2 Mandarin Chinese

Chunsheng Yang

Abstract: This study examines the acquisition of utterance-level pitch patterns in Mandarin Chinese by American second language (L2) learners. It is an exploratory study with the goal of identifying the utterance-level prosody in L2 Mandarin Chinese. The focus of this study is not on the pitch patterns of individual learners but those of subject groups. The analysis shows that the pitch patterns between two syntactic structures for the same tone sequence vary with the tone sequence and the subject group. The biggest difference between first language (L1) and L2 Mandarin Chinese lies in the frequency of target undershoot in L2 speech. The infrequent tone target undershoot in L2 speech, especially among the intermediate learners, was attributed to the incomplete acquisition of L2 prosody. It was argued that the infrequent tone target undershoot may render L2 speech more staccato or robot-like, which contributes to the perception of a foreign accent in L2 Mandarin Chinese.

Keywords: prosody acquisition; Mandarin Chinese; L2 learners; F0; tones; tone target undershoot


Identification of Mandarin coarticulated tones by inexperienced and experienced English learners of Mandarin

Yunjuan He/ Ratree Wayland

Abstract: Two groups of native English speakers, relatively inexperienced (N = 14) with 3 months of Mandarin study and relatively more experienced (N = 14) with 12 months of study, were asked to identify coarticulated Mandarin lexical tones in disyllabic words. The results show that 1) the experienced learners were better at identifying Mandarin tones than the inexperienced learners, 2) Tones in coarticulation were more difficult to identify than tones in isolation, 3) tonal context and syllable position affected tonal perception, and 4) experienced learners committed fewer tonal direction errors than inexperienced learners. However, experienced learners still made a considerable amount of tonal height errors.

Keywords: perception; Mandarin tones; language experience; tonal context


Production of formulaic expressions in L2 Chinese: A developmental investigation in a study abroad context

Naoko Taguchi / Shuai Li / Feng Xiao

Abstract: This study investigated the development of L2 Chinese formulaic competence in a study abroad context. Participants were 31 American students studying Chinese in a university in China (intermediate-level). They completed a computerized speaking test consisting of 24 formulae-use situations twice during their semester-long study abroad in China. The learners produced a formulaic expression according to each situation, and their production was evaluated on appropriateness (rated on a four-point scale by native speakers) and planning time. In addition, a survey was administered to gather information about the learners' perceived frequency of encounter with formulae-use situations. The learners showed significant gains on appropriateness and fluency. Reported frequency of encounter with target formulae-use situations did not correlate with the gains in formulae production, except for the learners with lower pretest score. Qualitative analysis revealed four patterns of change: (1) change toward target formulae, (2) change toward target-like slot-and-frame patterns, (3) change toward non-target formulae; and (4) stabilized non-target formulae use.

Keywords: L2 Chinese; formulaic competence; formulae production; interlanguage pragmatics; study abroad context;longitudinal


Target language use by teachers co-teaching tomorrow's teachers of Chinese

Jane Medwell / Katherine Richardson / Li Li

Abstract: This paper reports an exploratory study of a Native Speaker Teacher (NST) of Mandarin Chinese and a Primary Languages Teacher (PLT) teaching Chinese to English pre-service primary school teachers, and is particularly focused on the use of target language (TL) by these two co-teachers.

Although some studies of TL use have compared the use of target language by native and non-native speakers teaching individually, there are no studies which examine target language use in a native and non-native co-teaching situation, or relate this to the background experience of the teachers. The data collected in this study included observations of planning meetings between both teachers, observations of the teaching of the program, and interviews with both teachers.

This paper focuses upon the use of target language by the Chinese Native speaker teacher (NST) and the English Primary Languages Teacher (PLT) and the ways in which this changed and developed across the teaching sessions, as well as the relationship between their TL use, background and beliefs about language teaching in the program. Findings of this study show that, even in a co-teaching situation, target language use by the native speaker teacher and the primary languages teacher differed substantially in terms of their practices of and their beliefs about use of target language, and both were influenced by their own cultures of learning. The results also suggest that working together changed the teaching behavior of both teachers and enabled them to reflect critically on their prior assumptions.

Keywords: target language; native speakers; co-teaching



L2 acquisition of the progressive marker zai in Mandarin Chinese

Feng-hsi Liu


Two studies on L2 acquisition of the progressive marker zai in Mandarin Chinese by native English speakers were conducted to investigate the interaction between L1 influence and the congruence of lexical aspect and tense-aspect morphology, as formulated in the aspect hypothesis. The two factors make opposite predictions with respect to the early stage and the acquisition process. The findings from a judgment task and a production task show that the observed pattern is neither predicted by the aspect hypothesis alone nor entirely conditioned by L1 influence. Rather, it is the result of both forces at work. At the early stage zai is associated with activities and accomplishments involving goal or distance. In the acquisition process, both widening and narrowing of predicate types are observed. The findings also show that the L1 effect does not disappear at the same time, but proceeds in stages. In the case of zai marking, the L1 effect weakening process is governed by the strength of event ending that is part of the meaning of the predicates.

Keywords: Mandarin Chinese; aspect; progressive; L1 influence; aspect hypothesis


 A study on Chinese-character learning strategies and character learning performance among American learners of Chinese

Ko-Yin Sung


This study investigated Chinese-character learning strategies employed by 74 first-year American college learners of Chinese. This study attempted to answer the following research questions: (1) what Chinese-character learning strategies are most frequently used by first-year Chinese language learners?; (2) what are the factors underlying the most frequently used strategies?; and (3) are there any linear trends between the most frequently used strategies and character learning performance?. The results found seven most frequently used strategies. Furthermore, four of these strategies were stroke-orthographic-knowledge-based while the remaining three were phonological-semantics-knowledge-based. The stroke-orthographic-knowledge-based strategies accounted for 6.8% of the learners' character learning performance.

Keywords: Chinese Writing; Chinese-Character Learning Strategies; Chinese-Character Learning Performance


 When in China, do as the Chinese do? Learning compliment responding in a study abroad program

Li Jin


Recent years have witnessed an increasing number of English-speaking students studying abroad in China. Whether these students can learn and reflect in their behaviors certain uniquely Chinese-style speech acts during their sojourn in China merits investigation. This paper reports on a case study investigating what and how four American university-level students developed knowledge and skills of compliment responding in Mandarin Chinese when they were participating in an 8-week intensive summer language program in Shanghai. Among the four participants, two were from a 2nd-year Mandarin Chinese class and two from a 3rd-year class. The qualitative data were collected from one pre-study questionnaire, weekly semi-structured interviews (a total of 6 for each participant), participants' weekly reflective blogs, and the researcher's observation of participants' social interaction with native speakers of Mandarin Chinese. The results showed that despite their similar academic, linguistic, and cultural background, each participant experienced a heterogeneous and dynamic developmental process and developed different awareness and skills of compliment responding in Mandarin Chinese throughout the study abroad program. The researcher discussed how each participant's agency and individual social interaction with native speakers of Mandarin Chinese as well as local Chinese residents' socialization efforts during the study abroad program intertwiningly shaped what and how the participants learned about Mandarin Chinese compliment responding strategies.

Keywords: study abroad; Mandarin Chinese compliment responding strategies; agency; socialization; social interaction


CASLAR Journal: Volume 1, Issue 1 (July 2012)

Aspectual marking among English and Korean learners of Mandarin Chinese

Wai Lan Tsang

Abstract: The present study reports on a small-scale investigation of Mandarin aspectual marking among two groups of pre-intermediate learners of Mandarin Chinese: native English speakers and native Korean speakers. The use of -le, -guo, and -zhe in the learners' written work was examined, with particular attention to three variables: (i) overall frequency of aspectual marking, (ii) frequency of occurrence of each marker, and (iii) interaction between these markers and situation types (Smith 1997). The learners' patterns were also compared with those of a group of native Mandarin speakers and analysed in terms of the postulates of the Aspect Hypothesis (Andersen & Shirai 1996, Bardovi-Harlig 2000). The overall analysis discerned both similarities and differences in the usage of the three markers among the learners. Such patterns are likely to be related to the distinctive nature of the markers, type of genre, the learners' L1 aspectual systems, and classroom/textbook input. 


The gap between the perception and production of tones by American learners of Mandarin – An intralingual perspective

Bei Yang

Abstract: Linguists have predominantly maintained that perception precedes production (Dinnsen 1983), an assertion also accepted by those studying second language acquisition (Flege 1995). However, an observation of acquisition of tones in Chinese as a second language suggests that American learners make different tonal mistakes in perception and production. This study explores tonal perception and production referring to the sound system of Mandarin, since a tone has a close relationship with an initial that is an onset and a final that is a rhyme within a syllable in Mandarin. The research instrument has 84 monosyllables that are representative according to the relationship among initials, finals and tones. Twenty-five American learners of Chinese in second-semester Chinese class and 11 learners of Chinese in fourth-semester Chinese class participated in this study. A two-way mixed ANOVA is the main statistical method used to analyze the acquisition data. The results reveal that tonal production is better than tonal perception. The error distribution of perception is influenced not only by tonal features, but also by initial features and final structures. For production, however, initial and final features do not influence tones. Therefore, the paper argues that tones are perceived at the phonological level and produced at the phonetic level and it takes L2 learners longer time to acquire phonological features of tones.


A study of situation-bound utterances in Modern Chinese

Hong-hui Zhou

Abstract: Situation-Bound Utterances (SBUs), as a typical kind of idiomatic expression, have been well studied mainly in English, but to date have been little studied in Mandarin. What are the unique characteristics of Mandarin SBUs? What lies behind this uniqueness? To answer these questions requires uncovering the psychological reality of SBUs among Mandarin speakers and filtering out samples based on a clear definition. In this study, the socio-cognitive approach is taken. This approach synthesizes the advantages of a pragmatic and cognitive view of language communication in which concept and lexicon are viewed as two inter-related but mutually independent entities. SBUs act as an appropriate tangent point to illustrate the relationship between concepts and linguistic forms. Under such a perspective, the study of Mandarin SBUs in this paper will reinforce and complement the cognition of this unique linguistic phenomenon. This paper first defines SBUs according to certain maxims and then demonstrates various kinds of idiomatic expressions in Mandarin and clarifies the relationships among these expressions and SBUs. Thirty samples are filtered out through three approaches: individual reflection, collective contribution and reference consulting. The paper then sets three tests to confirm and reconfirm the selected thirty quasi-SBUs. Finally, following a discussion of Mandarin SBUs vis-à-vis linguistic form, language policy and social-cultural factors, conclusions are posited as to why Mandarin SBUs are somewhat different from their English counterparts.

CASLAR (Chinese as a Second Language Research) is a bilingual, peer-reviewed journal that publishes papers both in Chinese and English. It is the first bilingual journal (Chinese - English) published by a Western publisher. The journal will publish 3 papers in Chinese and 3 papers in English in each issue starting with 2 issues in 2012. Each paper in the journal will have a summary in both Chinese and English. The goal of the journal is twofold: It will a provide a forum for scholars interested in Chinese as a Second Language Research, and it will function as a unique outlet that publishes cutting edge research with content and structure in a format that reflects the rapidly growing interest in Chinese as a Second Language (CSL) accessible to researchers both in Chinese speaking countries and areas as well as the Western world. The journal focuses on research on the acquisition, development and use of CSL. It supports interaction and scholarly debate between researchers representing different subfields of linguistics with a focus on CSL.

The journal intends to be a forum for researchers who are looking for new tools and methods to investigate and better understand CSL. We are especially interested in publishing articles and research papers that - address major issues of second language acquisition from the perspective of CSL, - explore the implications of CSL research for theoretical developments and practical applications, - focus on the acquisition and use of varieties of CSL, - study the nature of interaction between native speakers and non-native speakers of Chinese, - investigate how empirical findings of CSL can advance and develop better Chinese language teaching methodologies, - analyze the ways in which language is both shaped by culture and is the medium through which culture is created.

Please send inquiries and submissions in English to Prof. Dr. Istvan Kecskes: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Please send inquiries and submissions in Chinese to Prof. Dr. Lizhen Peng: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Editor-in-Chief: Istvan Kecskes, State University of New York, Albany, USA Co-Editor: Lizhen Peng, Zhejiang University, Hangzhou, China Assistant Editor: Ned Danison, State University of New York, Albany, USA

For more information, please refer to the website of the journal:

(CASLAR – 汉语作为第二语言研究)

主编:Istvan Kecskes





1) 从汉语作为第二语言角度对第二语言习得的主要问题进行的研究 

2) 关于汉语作为第二语言研究对于理论发展和实际应用之意义的探讨;

3) 专注于汉语作为第二语言的各个方面的习得和使用的研究;

4) 关于汉语母语者和非母语者之间互动之性质的研究;

5) 关于汉语作为第二语言的实验结果如何促进汉语教学方法得到更好发展的研究;

6) 关于语言如何受文化的影响而语言又是如何作为文化创造之媒介的研究。

 英文咨询和投稿,请寄Istvan Kecskes教授、博士,This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

中文咨询和投稿,请寄彭利贞教授、博士,This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.