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Language learning in the early years has long-term impacts on children’s later literacy achievement. Learning Chinese in the preschool years is particularly important for non-Chinese ethnic minorities from low-income families in Hong Kong, as Chinese is the language of instruction in government-funded preschools and primary schools. Most ethnic minority children in Hong Kong are from South Asia. They often face difficulties learning Chinese as it is very different from their home languages and many of their parents do not have sufficient Chinese literacy to support their studies at home (Oxfam Hong Kong, 2014). Against this background, we administered an eight-week intervention program to enhance the basic Chinese literacy skills of South Asian (SA) preschoolers and their caregivers.
A total of 44 SA children from three preschools in Hong Kong participated in a child literacy intervention (two 45-minute sessions per week) and seven of their parents participated in a parent literacy intervention (one hour per week). We also recruited 29 SA children of similar age for the control group. The intervention combined two approaches that have demonstrated effectiveness in enhancing young Chinese learners’ literacy. One approach is the Integrative Perceptual Approach (Tse, Marton, Ki, & Loh, 2007) that builds on children’s everyday experience and background knowledge, and guides children to become aware of the similarities and differences of target characters. Another approach is the Copying and Morphological Awareness Training (Wang & McBride, 2017), in which children were taught morphological knowledge, character etymology, and stroke order, and played games involving the reading and writing of Chinese characters. The parent literacy intervention was also developed based on these two approaches. The intervention group completed literacy tests (αs = .64 to .89) before and after the intervention, and the control group completed tests over an eight-week gap.
A series of repeated-measures ANCOVAs were conducted to evaluate the impact of the intervention by comparing the changes in children’s performance on literacy measures over time. Based on the tests for the interaction effects between group and time, we found that the intervention group had greater improvements in morphological awareness (F(1, 70) = 4.14, p < .05, ηp2 = .06), recognition (F(1, 70) = 28.76, p < .001, ηp2 = .29) and writing (F(1, 70) = 13.90, p < .001, ηp2 = .17) of words taught using the copying and morphological awareness training, and recognition of words taught using the integrative perceptual approach (F(1, 70) = 5.33, p = .024, ηp2 = .07). No differences between the two groups were found in the change in phonological awareness. On average, parents’ scores on vocabulary, word reading, and phrase translation improved after the intervention.
Our findings indicate that the two approaches used previously with ethnic Chinese preschoolers were also found to be effective in supporting Chinese literacy skills and morphological awareness among SA preschoolers and their parents. These benefits, however, did not transfer to their phonological awareness, suggesting that further work is needed to create interventions that fully cater to the needs of ethnic minority children in Hong Kong.
Stephanie W. Y. Chan, The University of Hong Kong
Carrie Lau, The University of Hong Kong
Ben Richards, The University of Hong Kong
Eva E Chen, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology
Nirmala Rao, Hong Kong University