China’s popular language input system and neurodevelopment of reading

Explore how children’s literacy learning has become susceptible to the usage of electronic devices in our new article "Children’s neurodevelopment of reading is affected by China’s language input system in the information era" published by npj Science of Learning | 2 min read

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What was the main aim of your research?

Our team is interested in exploring how children’s literacy learning has become susceptible to frequent typewriting due to the popularization of electronic devices and learning platforms. The main aim of our study was to investigate whether children’s neurodevelopment of reading is affected by China’s language input system in the information era.

Why did you decide to investigate this?

The rise of digital technology has changed the traditional mode of communication and learning. Children are encouraged to read through digital learning platforms and required to learn typewriting skills. Chinese reading acquisition demands intensive visuo-orthographic and visuo-spatial processing of Chinese characters. Yet, the most popular input method used in China—the pinyin method, is pronunciation-based and does not require appropriate orthographic information to generate characters. This study raises concerns about the costs of children’s reliance on digital technology.

What were the key findings from the study? 

Our study has demonstrated that intermediate Chinese readers (age 9-11) with more time (spending > 15 minutes each day) on pinyin typing had lower scores in character and word reading tests than those with less time (spending < 15 minutes each day) on pinyin typing. More frequent usage of pinyin typing and digital devices was associated with overall weaker cortical activations, weaker functional connections, and less gray matter volume within the reading cortical network as compared with less frequent usage of pinyin typing.

The brain activations in reading comprehension for more frequent pinyin typing users, less frequent pinyin typing users, and their difference.

What does this mean?

Our results suggest that the frequent usage of the pinyin input method affects Chinese children’s reading development. Chinese children are facing literacy challenges in the digital age. To preserve visuo-orthographic encoding of Chinese characters, we would recommend to restrict the use of pinyin input, and promote orthography-based input methods including handwriting.

What is the future for the field?

We believe that the usage of e-devices can enrich the learning environment but the strengths and weaknesses should be carefully examined to optimize its role in learning to read. In future, we hope to examine the effect of the handwriting-based input method on reading and its application to reading and writing intervention.

Wei Zhou

Associate Professsor, Capital Normal University