Learning to Read in China Sociolinguistic Perspectives on the Acquisition of Literacy

Author: Ingulsrud, John
Allen, Kate
This book presents policies in language and education, and implementation in specific settings. It describes the historical background that lead to the development of these policies, and presents the institutional context of the schools where reading is taught. Based on a study conducted over four years, involving daily observation in two different elementary schools and one kindergarten in Nanjing, China, this study describes the literacy acquisition process for Chinese children today. This study is recommended for Chinese language teachers, English as a second language instructors, linguists, students of comparative education, and sociologists.


“In this highly readable ethnographic account, literacy is described in terms of three spheres: the task, the motivation, and social and cultural identity. . . . . I do hope people will read this book. . . . it provides an excellent model of writing in the ethnographic tradition and I would strongly recommend it to those currently engaged in that task. Teachers of the Chinese language will find it informative and teachers of reading will find much of interest. . . . it deserves to be read. Those who do will gain a great deal.” – Applied Linguistics (Oxford Academic Journals)

“From the perspective of literacy instruction as a reflection of political and structural conditions, Ingulsrud and Allen provide numerous examples from the field of education, including the socialization of educators. . . . insightful, clear in its descriptions of the classrooms visited and balanced in its explanations of the social circumstances surrounding educational practices in China. The tables listing pronunciations in English are an excellent addition for English speakers who may be working with students already literate in Chinese who are currently learning English. The book was an absolute pleasure to read.” – Venta Kabzems

“By examining the role of primary schools in the acquisition of putonghua [Mandarin as a national language] language skills, Ingulsrud and Allen show how teachers, parents and children all play a role in the way the national language is learnt and used. The book analyses how each of these groups have different interest in the use of standard putonghua and how these concerns affect the way that putonghua is learnt, and ultimately spoken. The authors make the fascinating argument that while a spoken national language has been promoted by almost all Chinese governments this century as an important part of national identity, for most people national identity and social prestige are connected not with spoken putonghua but with Chinese characters. Thus although children are taught standard spoken putonghua in the early grades of primary school and local dialect forms are frequently disparaged by their teachers, the standard pronunciation they are taught is soon replaced by forms heavily influenced by local speech.” – Henrietta Harrison

Table of Contents

Table of contents:
Foreword, Preface, Introduction
1. Language and Literacy in China: Development of Putonghua; Speech Community of Nanjing; Development of an Alphabet for Chinese Language Reforms; Simplification of Chinese Characters; A National Language; Development of Hanyu Pinyin
2. The Schools: Key School; Neighborhood School; Classroom; Administration; Teachers; Parents; Kindergarten
3. Learning to Speak Putonghua: Representation of Putonghua; Putonghua Lesson; Speaking Practice; Interference of Dialect; Tones and Standard Vocabulary
4. Learning Hanyu Pinyin: Shapes of the Alphabet; Phonics; Reading Hanyu Pinyin; Writing Hanyu Pinyin; Hanyu Pinyin and English; Testing Hanyu Pinyin
5. Learning Chinese Characters: Chinese Character Lesson; Textbook; Testing Chinese Literacy Skills
6. Spheres of Literacy: Task of Acquiring Literacy; Motivations for Acquiring Literacy; Social and Cultural Identities in Acquiring Literacy
7. Conclusion
Appendix 1: Comparison of Hanyu Pinyin Initials with IPA, Wade-Giles, and English
Appendix 1: Comparison of Hanyu Pinyin Finals with IPA, Wade-Giles, and English
Glossary; Bibliography; Index