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Word superiority effect for native Chinese readers and low-proficiency Chinese learners

  • LIN CHEN (a1), CHARLES PERFETTI (a2), YING LENG (a3) and YOU LI (a4)


Written word recognition in Chinese links the perception of individual characters with whole words. With experience in reading, a high-quality word representation can provide top-down influence on the perception of its constituent characters, thus producing a word superiority effect (WSE). In experiments using the Reicher–Wheeler paradigm, we examined the WSE in two-character words for native Chinese readers (Experiment 1) and low-proficiency adult Chinese learners with Thai (Experiment 2a) and Indonesian (Experiment 2b) as native language backgrounds. For native Chinese readers, the WSE was smaller for high-frequency than low-frequency characters, reflecting rapid access to more frequently experienced characters and a consequent reduction of top-down word-level effects. Learners of Chinese, however, showed a strong WSE for both low-frequency and high-frequency characters, reflecting less well-established character representations combined with word-level knowledge sufficient to support character recognition. The results suggest that native Chinese readers develop strong representations at both the character and the word level, while low-proficiency Chinese learners are more dependent on the word level. We discuss the possibility that a word-level emphasis Chinese foreign language instruction is one reason for this pattern.


Corresponding author

ADDRESS FOR CORRESPONDENCE Lin Chen, School of Foreign Languages, Sun Yat-sen University, 135 Xingangxi Road, Guangzhou 510275, China. E-mail:; or Charles Perfetti, Learning Research and Development Center, University of Pittsburgh, 3939 O’Hara Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15260. E-mail:


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Word superiority effect for native Chinese readers and low-proficiency Chinese learners

  • LIN CHEN (a1), CHARLES PERFETTI (a2), YING LENG (a3) and YOU LI (a4)


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