An Error Analysis of Orthographic Representation in Written Chinese Characters

  • Wee-Ling Kuan Universiti Malaysia Sarawak
Keywords: Mandarin as a foreign language, error analysis, orthographic representation, written Chinese characters, cognitive factors


This paper reports an error analysis of orthographic representation in written Chinese characters among Mandarin as foreign language (MFL) learners studying at an elementary level at a Malaysian public university in their dictation assessment. A total of 262 stroke error types of their orthographic representation in written Chinese characters were collected and analysed. The errors were consequently classified into four main categories among 165 MFL learners who took part in the study. The study found that participants made most mistakes in the stroke numbers and shape of orthographic representation in written Chinese characters. It was also found that there were detectable mistakes in stroke relation and stroke direction of orthographic representation in written Chinese characters. The cognitive factors contributing to the orthographic representation error types in written Chinese characters are discussed. It is concluded that beginner MFL learners would have a greater tendency to commit several character errors in writing Mandarin because of their low level of orthographic awareness and presumably a high cognitive load given to them as they transit from writing alphabets scripts to writing Chinese characters. Future research could examine how MFL learners cognitively adapt when transitioning from alphabet scripts to Chinese characters. Findings would guide instructors in the teaching Chinese characters more efficient and subsequently, it would allow them to interpret orthographic representations and write Chinese characters more accurately.


Ch'ng, L. C., Ting, H. L., & Chuah, K. M. (2018). Common stroke mistake in Chinese character writing among business administrative students. Academic Journal of Business and Social Sciences, 2, 1-10.

Ding, G., Peng, D., & Taft, M. (2004). The nature of the mental representation of radicals in Chinese: A priming study. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 30, 530-539.

Dos Santos, L. M. (2018). Foreign language learning beyond English: The opportunities of one belt, one road (OBOR) Initiative. In N. Islam (Eds.), Silk Road to belt road (pp. 175-189). Singapore: Springer.

Feng, X. (2015). Analysis of developmental patterns in writing acquisition of Chinese students. European Scientific Journal, 1, 1-9, Retrieved from:

Guo, S. L. (2008). The features of Chinese character stroke and foreign learners' errors of Chinese character stroke. Journal of College of Chinese Language and Culture of Jinan University, 4, 63-69.

Hsiung, H. Y., Chang, Y. L., Chen, H. C., & Sung, Y. T. (2017). Effect of stroke-order learning and handwriting exercises on recognizing and writing Chinese characters by Chinese as a foreign language learners. Computers in Human Behavior, 74, 303-310.

Jackson, N. E., Everson, M. E., & Ke, C. (2003). Beginning readers' awareness of the orthographic structure of semantic-phonetic compounds: Lessons from a study of learners of Chinese as a foreign language. In C. McBride-Chang & H. Chen (Eds.), Reading development in Chinese Children (pp.141-156). Westport: Praeger Publishers.

Ke, C., & Li, Y. A. (2011). Chinese as a foreign language in the US. Journal of Chinese Linguistics, 39(1), 177-238.

Kitterman, S. E. (2012). An error analysis of Chinese characters written by beginning learners of Chinese as a foreign language (master's thesis). Retrieved from:

Kubota, M. (2005). Spelling correction strategies employed by learners of Japanese. Australian Review of Applied Linguistics, 28(1), 67-80.

Kuo, W.J., Yeh, T.C., Lee, J.R., Chen, L,F., Lee, P.L., Chen, S.S., Ho, L.T., Hung, D.L., Tzeng, O.J.L., & Hsieh, J.C. (2004): Orthographic and phonological processing of Chinese characters: an fMRI study. Neuroimage, 21, 1721-1731.

Lam, K. C.& Hoe, F. T. (2013). Shuo Malaiyu Xuesheng De Hanyu Jiaocai: Yi Shalayue Daxue Wei Li (Mandarin Classroom Materials for Malay-speaking Students - A Case in UNIMAS). Overseas Chinese Education, 68, 284-289.

Lam, K. C., Ang, L. H., Kuan, W. L., & Hoe, F. T. (2018). Character recognition through wild association: An alternative in learning Chinese script for beginners. Issues in Language Studies, 7(1), 1-11.

Li, L. (2014). Duiwai Hanzi Jiaoxue Zhi Liuxuesheng Hanzi Shuxie Pianwu Yanjiu (The error analysis of Chinese characters among foreign students in Teaching Chinese as a foreign Language). Journal of Inner Mongolia Normal University (Educational Science), 3, 102-104.

Perfetti, C. A., & Tan, L. H. (1998). The time course of graphic, phonologic, and semantic activation in Chinese character identification. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition, 24, 101-118.

Su, X. (2010). Radical awareness among Chinese-as-a-foreign-language learners (PhD thesis). Florida State University.

Xiao, X. Q. (2002). Waiguo Xuesheng Hanzi Pianwu Fenxi (The error analysis of Chinese characters among foreign students). Chinese Teaching in the World, 2,79-87.

Xu, Z., Wang, L. C., Liu, D., Chen, Y., & Tao, L. (2020). The Moderation Effect of Processing Efficiency on the Relationship Between Visual Working Memory and Chinese Character Recognition. Frontiers in Psychology, 11:1899.

Yang, Y., Zhang, J., Meng, Z. L., Qin, L., Liu, Y. F., & Bi, H. Y. (2018). Neural correlates of orthographic access in Mandarin Chinese writing: an fMRI study of the word-frequency effect. Frontiers in Behavioural Neuroscience, 12: 288.

Zimmer, H. D., & Fischer, B. (2020). Visual working memory of Chinese characters and expertise: the expert's memory advantage is based on long-term knowledge of visual word forms. Frontiers in Psychology, 11: 516.

How to Cite
Kuan, W.-L. (2021). An Error Analysis of Orthographic Representation in Written Chinese Characters. Journal of Cognitive Sciences and Human Development, 7(2), 1-10.