Pinyin resurgent

« previous post | next post »


Some exciting news.

A member of the PRC's National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (the yearly meeting of which is taking place in Beijing right now) is urging schools to increase the time spent teaching Pinyin (currently 4-6 weeks) to a semester or even longer to help ensure more students have a solid foundation in this skill. Intriguingly, there's also a mention of using more "texts."

Here's an account of what's happening:

"Schools should spend more time teaching Pinyin: PRC politician", Pinyin News (3/7/24)

Xu Xudong (徐旭東/徐旭东), a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and a professor at Central China Normal University in Wuhan, is advocating that public schools in China allocate substantially more time to the teaching of Hanyu Pinyin.

“Gōnglì yòu’éryuán bù jiāo Hànyǔ Pīnyīn, ér xiǎoxué yī-niánjí Hànyǔ Pīnyīn zhī jiāo yī dào yī gè bànyuè, háizi nányǐ gēnshang. Zhè yī wèntí pǔbiàn cúnzài, fǎnyìng qiángliè,” he said.
(“Public kindergartens don’t teach Hanyu Pinyin, and the first grade of primary school teaches Hanyu Pinyin for only one to one and a half months, making it difficult for children to keep up. The problem is widespread and the repercussions are strong.”)

The article does not mention this being in part a class problem, probably because the PRC supposedly does not have such things. But what has been happening is that parents with money tend to send their kids to private preschools where they learn Pinyin and otherwise get a head start on the school curriculum. Or the parents simply teach their youngsters themselves.

Students who don’t get this early boost often fall behind, which is a real problem for something so fundamental. As a result, Xu is proposing that schools spend a semester or even longer teaching Pinyin. The article, which is from a CCP mouthpiece and so should be regarded as representing an official position by at least some influential figures, calls this an easily overlooked but very important issue in basic education.

Intriguingly, Xu also mentions interspersing the teaching of Pinyin with “texts” (kèwén jiàoxué jiāochā jìnxíng / 課文教學交叉進行). The greater use of Pinyin texts in schools — if that’s indeed what is meant — could be a great boon to Pinyin education.

Xú Xùdōng wěiyuán: jiànlì gèng fúhé értóng tèdiǎn de Pīnyīn jiàoxué móshì (徐旭東委員:建立更符合兒童特點的拼音教學模式), People’s Daily, March 5, 2024.

Let’s hope that this presages a return to and expansion of the successful program called “Zhùyīn shízì tíqián dúxiě 注音識字提前讀寫” (“Phonetically Annotated Character Recognition Speeds Up Reading and Writing”), or “Z.T.” for short, that was carried out in scattered locations across the country (but mostly in the Northeast [Dongbei; Manchuria]) during the 80s and 90s.  See the last paragraph of this early Language Log post: “How to learn to read Chinese” (5/25/08).

Selected readings

[Thanks to Mark Swofford]


  1. Victor Mair said,

    March 7, 2024 @ 12:57 pm

    From a colleague:

    If a great many kids are having so much trouble with a few dozen letters, what does that say about the state of their hanzi knowledge?

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    March 8, 2024 @ 2:12 am

    Some readers may be interested in my article "The 'Z.T.' experiment in the P.R.C.' in the
    January 1996 issue of the Journal of the Chinese Teacher's Language Association.

  3. John Rohsenow said,

    March 8, 2024 @ 2:21 am

    AND also my "The present status of digraphia in China", (January 2001) International Journal of the Sociology of Language 2001(150):pp.125-140.

  4. Victor Mair said,

    March 8, 2024 @ 9:10 am

    Good to have those references from John Rohsenow, because he's the one who did the foundational research on the ZT experiment and the development of digraphia in China.

  5. Wayne Wong said,

    March 8, 2024 @ 5:35 pm

    Hopefully this will lead to positive change and help people better appreciate the value and potential of Pinyin, in spite of the prevailing characters orthodoxy.

    Are the articles mentioned by John Rohsenow available online? Is it possible for links to be provided?

RSS feed for comments on this post