Mandarin-speaking preschoolers’ pitch discrimination, prosodic and phonological awareness, and the relation with their reading abilities in first grade

Mandarin-speaking preschoolers’ pitch discrimination, prosodic and phonological awareness, and the relation with their reading abilities in first grade

First Author: Wei-Lun Chung -- National Taipei University of Education
Keywords: Prosody, Phonological awareness, Word reading, Reading comprehension, Chinese
Abstract / Summary: 

Purpose
A previous study revealed that prosodic awareness predicted Chinese character recognition more than phonological awareness in Taiwanese fourth graders. However, the unique contributions of prosodic awareness to Chinese character recognition might be influenced by the instruction in phonetic symbols (for Mandarin phonemes and tones) they received in first grade as an aid of character pronunciation. Thus, the current study aimed to examine preschoolers’ pitch discrimination, prosodic and phonological awareness before they learned Mandarin phonetic symbols and the relation with their later reading abilities in first grade.

Method
In kindergarten, forty-nine Mandarin-speaking children were recruited and given (1)two pitch discrimination tasks: pitch contour (patterns of rises and falls) and pitch interval (frequency separation between tones); (2)one prosodic awareness task: Mandarin tone perception; (3)three phonological awareness tasks: sound deletion, onset and rhyme contrast. After one year, these children in first grade received two reading tasks: Chinese character recognition and reading comprehension.

Results
Pitch contour discrimination, independent of age, made significant contributions to Chinese character recognition. Mandarin prosodic awareness, independent of age, predicted Chinese character recognition and reading comprehension more than phonological awareness.

Conclusions
Pitch contour discrimination is an important predictor of Mandarin word reading. Prosodic awareness appears to be more important to Mandarin word reading and reading comprehension than phonological awareness. Together, pitch contour discrimination and prosodic awareness, both of which were measured before the instruction in phonetic symbols in first grade, are important to learning to read Mandarin.