Using Pinyin to Enable Early Reading

Alongside the extensive approach is the proposal of using pinyin to enable early development of reading and writing the characters (i.e., 注音識字,提前讀寫(using pinyin to enable early reading)).

The need to acquire numerous characters within a short period of time is considered as the major obstacle to learning Chinese. To overcome this problem, pinyin is introduced to allow children to read unknown characters annotated with their pronunciations in a text such that extensive reading can possibly start an earlier time. Pinyin is viewed as only “crutches,” not a replacement for the learning of the characters. Once the children can “walk on their own feet” (i.e., can read the actual characters), they can put aside the pinyin “crutches.” Accordingly, the children begin to read texts completely in pinyin, moving on to texts with both pinyin and characters. After that, only those difficult characters are given pinyin and eventually the texts are learned entirely in characters. In the same way, the children are allowed to write in such a way as “高高的鼻梁[de bíliáng]上架著一副[fù]眼鏡(On top of the high bridge of the nose hangs the glasses) ” as a transitional stage before they can manage to write all of the characters in the sentence.

On the basis of this, 李楠Li in 黑龍江[Heilongjiang] implemented the pinyin approach in 3 schools respectively at 拜泉 Baiquan, 汭河[Ruihe] and 佳木斯[Jiamusi]. The children entering school were taught to speak standard Putonghua and to use pinyin in the first few weeks. They were required to read aloud the pinyin instantly instead of slowly articulating the consonants and vowels together (i.e., 直呼音節(direct articulation of the sound)). After that, only a limited 350 characters were directly taught in detail. The children had to learn other characters all by themselves through extensive reading, where there was no strict requirement on which and how many characters they needed to learn. After two years, the children in the 3 schools were found to have read texts of about 1,326,600, 1,535,000 and 1,000,000 characters respectively. Besides this, they could recognize on average 2509, 2291 and 2289 characters and could write in dictation 1712, 1823 and 1557 characters.

Instead of using roman alphabets, 肖長杰[Xiao] developed a similar scheme called 漢字標音(characters annotated with sounds) that uses simple characters to transcribe the sounds of more difficult characters; for example, “清(青-) 早起(七ˇ),做(左ˋ)早操(草-).(wake up early and do morning exercises) ” Note the same sounds of the characters 清[qīng] and 青[qīng], 起[qǐ] and 七[qī], 做[zuò] and 左[zuǒ], and 操[cāo] and 草[cǎo]. “-”, “ˇ” and “ˋ” denote the first, third and fourth tone in Putonghua respectively.