CRCLLE Research

Learning Chinese: Linguistic, sociocultural, and narrative perspectives. (2009-2012)

Project Leader: Dr. Patricia Duff & CRCLLE Research Team (Tim Anderson, Roma Ilnyckyj, Ella VanGaya, Rachel Wang, Elliott Yates)

Despite the current surge internationally in programs for the teaching and learning of Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL), surprisingly little research has been conducted on CAL: how Chinese (or some combination of oral and written Chinese varieties) is taught, learned, used, forgotten,group photo or presented in textbooks and other media; language policies connected with CAL, or work on how it is being used on the internet by members of Chinese diaspora communities and additional-language learners, many of them already speakers of a variety of languages. This collaborative, participatory study (and a co-authored book manuscript based on it, accepted for publication) provides a comprehensive overview of Chinese as an international language in the 21st century and reviews existing research on the acquisition of Chinese. The book reports on a longitudinal multiple-case (auto-ethnographic) study about the experiences of five Anglo-Canadian team members who have been learning Chinese, both formally and informally, actively and passively, for many years in a variety of contexts: in Canada, the U.S., Singapore, Taiwan, and China. The analysis was undertaken by these five plus a sixth team member, a Chinese applied linguist. Three methodological and theoretical perspectives inform the study and analysis: (1) linguistic/literacy focus (examining proficiency and development in CAL); (2) poststructural, sociocultural focus (meanings and interpretations of CAL experiences by CAL learners, especially in relation to their shifting identities and communities); (3) narrative and meta-narrative focus (examining the multiple narratives and annotations of narratives by the research participants).  We also consider how engagement in the narrative activities of the study itself changed aspects of participants’ CAL identities, communities, and trajectories.

Please click here to view our AAAL presentation slides.



Sociocultural Research on Chinese L2 Literacy Development and Use (2012-2013)

Project Leader: Dr. Patricia Duff & CRCLLE Research Team (Tim Anderson, Roma Ilnyckyj, Ella VanGaya, Rachel Wang, Elliott Yates)

Literacy development, and especially character-based literacy, is particularly challenging for English-speaking learners of Chinese. Chinese L2 literacy research traditionally has focused on the acquisition of discrete characters (and parts of characters, radicals) and orthographic awareness (Everson, 1998; Ke, 1998; Shen & Ke, 2007; Xiao, 2009). Considerably less research has investigated longitudinal, sociocultural aspects of literacy development and use (e.g., Barton, Hamilton & Ivanič, 2000; Street & Lefstein, 2007), such as the challenges learners encounter with Chinese literacy, their choices with respect to orthographic varieties, and their textual identities and practices as sinophones, or Chinese users (Tsung & Cruikshank, 2011). Furthermore, little research has focused on how more advanced Chinese L2 learners retain and develop their literacy skills and for what purposes. In this study we reports on Chinese L2 literacy development based on a collaborative, longitudinal, multiple-case study of five intermediate to advanced, adult Anglophone Chinese speakers with varying levels and types of Chinese literacy. Their Chinese literacy practices, proficiency, preferences, and changes over time were then analyzed and compared. We discuss the learners’ distinct literacy trajectories in relation to the learners’ overall L2 acquisition; the various social, geopolitical, and technological factors that impacted their reading and writing abilities and practices (e.g., choice of orthographies and especially character systems; word processing programs); playful or hybrid literacy practices; and the link between literacy ability and (multilingual) “sinophone identities” (McDonald, 2011). Finally, we reflect on the methodology, suggest directions for future research, and discuss a few pedagogical implications.


Hampton Grant (2011-13):  Representations of Chinese Language Learning in Contemporary Media

Team members: Patricia Duff (Principal Investigator), Tim Anderson, Rachel Wang & Liam Doherty 

This project examines the ways in which Chinese (especially Mandarin) and Chinese language learning are represented in contemporary Western English-language media, such as newspapers, magazines, television and radio reports, and news websites. Phrases such as China rising, for example, are ubiquitous in news media and business reports related to China’s growing economic and political influence at a time when Western economies are faltering. In parallel fashion, many news reports also discuss the growing worldwide phenomenon of Chinese language education–Chinese rising. Chinese is being positioned as a (or the) new global language (Lo Bianco, 2011). Representations of Chinese language learning are intriguing, often contradictory, even alarmist. They convey awe, desire, and fear on the part of writers and wider society. Chinese is depicted as an ancient, exotic, and difficult language; as the language of the booming Chinese economy and thus the language of future opportunities; and as a language promoted vigorously by Chinese government initiatives and investment (soft-power diplomacy) that threatens other local or international languages, such as French in Canada, or English in other global contexts, and also brings with it undue foreign influence. In this study we are systematically collecting, analyzing, and interpreting headlines, reports, and images in mainstream print, broadcast, and electronic media in order to address the research question: In what ways are Chinese language and Chinese language education depicted in media and what appear to be the subtexts and ideologies regarding the role of Chinese in the 21st century? The study also consider how news coverage related to the Chinese language and Chinese language education has changed over the past decade. The research aims to uncover the connections between politics, economics, and language, and considers how these connections in turn influence language education policies and practices based on the perceived status,  prestige, and power of languages in the public imagination and in society.


UBC HSS Grant: Teaching and Learning Chinese in Early Mandarin-English Bilingual Programs (2012-14)

Team Members: Patricia Duff (Principal Investigator); co-researchers TBA

The number of programs for teaching Chinese to young children, adolescents and adults worldwide has grown dramatically in recent years (Duff, Anderson, Ilnyckyj, Lester, Yates, Wang, 2013; Lo Bianco, 2007; Tsung & Cruickshank, 2011). This surge in Mandarin language education is driven by various political, cognitive/linguistic, social/cultural, and economic interests. Yet, in Canada, in stark contrast with Australia, UK, the US, and other Anglophone countries, the introduction of Mandarin in k-12 public education has been relatively late, tentative, and small in both scope and scale. Further, there is a dearth of research in North America on the teaching and learning of Mandarin and other subjects through Mandarin in k-12 contexts (e.g., Chen, Wang & Cai, 2010; Duff & Li, 2004; Duff et al., 2013; Everson & Shen, 2010; Everson & Xiao, 2009).

Research questions to be addressed in this study include: What instructional processes and practices currently support the development of orality and literacy in both English and Mandarin in Mandarin-English early bilingual programs? What issues exist when introducing more than one orthography in the early years (English alphabet, Chinese phonetic script, and Chinese characters)? In what sequence are these orthographies currently being introduced and in what relationship to oral language development in each language? What evidence exists of students’ successful engagement with these literacy practices and development of bilingual reading and writing abilities in age-/ and language-appropriate ways? What principles and practices might improve students’ acquisition of orality and literacy in both English and Mandarin? How is Mandarin currently being used to teach mathematics in k-2 classes? What issues and concerns do teachers, parents, and students have about Mandarin-mediated mathematics teaching?


Narrative Research in Chinese Language and Literacy Education (2012-13)

Project Leader: Dr. Patricia Duff & CRCLLE Research Team (Tim Anderson, Roma Ilnyckyj, Ella VanGaya, Rachel Wang, Elliott Yates)

Content for this session will be updated soon.



Graduate Students’ Projects

Learning as Laowai: Race, Social Positioning, and Chinese Language Acquisition in China

by Roma Ilnyckyj

Due to China’s increasing economic and political power, interest in learning Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) is growing rapidly around the world.  Large numbers of learners with no historical or cultural ties to China are undertaking the study of Mandarin, often for professional or economic gain.  Research in the field of CAL has traditionally been driven by cognitive considerations, and has only recently begun to examine social and cultural factors that influence the learning of Chinese.  In particular, the relationships between language acquisition and social identity categories such as race, gender, and class have yet to be investigated.

This interview-based multiple case study explored the relationship between racial identity and language acquisition in China.  Interviews were conducted with five adult, White learners of Mandarin who had previously studied or worked in China.  The study found that participants were sensitive to their privileged position in the Chinese context, and worked to construct the identity of the conscientious sojourner in order to address this privilege.  Simultaneously, their racialized identity as White sojourners caused their learning of Chinese to function as discordant knowledge, which often allowed them greater power or access to particular target communities.

This study provides insight into the experiences of a particular set of White learners of Chinese, offering a starting point for further research into the relationship between racial identity and language acquisition.


A Socio-Historical Analysis of Chinese Heritage Language Education in British Columbia

by Hong Jiang

One of the longest-established and largest ethnic minority groups in Canada is comprised of people of Chinese descent. Throughout Chinese-Canadian history, Chinese heritage language (CHL) education has always been a way to transmit linguistic and cultural knowledge across generations, to maintain communication among Chinese family members and other contacts, near and far, and to preserve Chinese culture and identity. Nevertheless, despite the great efforts made by many generations of Chinese immigrant communities to teach the Chinese language to Canadians from Chinese linguistic and cultural backgrounds in Saturday schools or after-school classes, even in times of extreme hardship, to date the ethnolinguistic vitality of Chinese language education in British Columbia, its role in history and society, and the factors that helped it survive and led to its current prominence have not been examined. This thesis describes the development of CHL education in BC, considering such historical, educational, socio-political, and sociolinguistic factors as immigration policies, ethnic identity issues, public education practices, politics and war, and language ideologies that  have shaped CHL education and its role in society. The study draws upon archival data, including textbooks used at different periods of time, letters, school reports and journals, newspaper articles and other written documents, as well as oral interviews with current leaders and practitioners in Chinese language education in British Columbia. This research documents the various social-political influences on CHL education from both Canada and China during the tumultuous 20th century in particular, but also during current era. The study also reveals the significant role played by CHL education and advocacy during each period of Chinese-Canadian immigration history. The ethnolinguistic vitality of the local Chinese community has supported CHL education and inspired many people to learn Chinese as a heritage language (and now as an international language too) in British Columbia. Finally, research on the benefits of heritage language education and maintenance are reviewed to provide an applied linguistic perspective on its proven efficacy, which complements the intuitive desires and beliefs of many generations of parents and community activists who have urged their children to keep the language alive. The thesis concludes by noting some of the positive developments and remaining challenges associated with Chinese language education, teacher education, and pedagogy in both community and formal education settings in British Columbia in the 21st century.


Learning Chinese: Three autobiographical narratives

by Ella Lester

This autobiographical case-study is an arts-informed narrative inquiry into learning (Mandarin) Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL). I have been studying Chinese for over a decade, but in this thesis I focus on the six months (September 2009–February 2010) I spent studying CAL at a high intermediate level in Taipei. I offer three creative non-fiction narratives connected to that experience. The first is a language memoir that mixes languages (English and Chinese), poetry and prose. The second is a reader’s theatre script that represents conversations on Chinese with a variety of people (students, teachers and expatriates) from my CAL community in Taipei. The third is a bricolage of image-texts related to CAL selected from internet sources. I conceptualize all three narratives as autobiographical in that they explore various sources –individual, communal, and societal – that are invariably woven together in any story of the self.

By using multiple autobiographical accounts to explore lived experience I am working with an opportunity to explore the elusive, shifting, contextdependent and influential nature of narrative sense-making. This approach also provides an opportunity for tensions, resolutions, dissonances, and resonances to reverberate across the stories in ways that stimulate unity without the expense of uniformity. Further, each narrative serves to triangulate the others, drawing as they do on different source materials and perspectives. Yet all three narratives are also fundamentally individual creations, identity texts (Cummins, 2006) even, and as such work to investigate how the personal is inevitably professional, the artistic simultaneously academic, and how representation is always also creation.

This investigation of narratives and identities is not peripheral to CAL learning itself. As my understanding of the forces operating on my CAL identity increases, implications for my trajectory as a language learner emerge in significant, liberating ways. This in turn, allows the integration of CAL-related linguistic, sociolinguistic, and cultural habits into my ongoing personal narrative to become more conscious, comfortable and complete.
I offer this study as an invitation to participate in the important, complex, and urgent work of increasing awareness of one’s self-in-context.


The non-native modern language teacher : Language practices, choices, and challenges

by Sabina Lecki

Previous research exploring the issues and challenges facing non-native language teachers has predominantly studied teachers of English. However, due to the status of French as an official language and waves of European and Asian immigration within the Lower Mainland of British Columbia there are many other modern languages of interest and relevance being taught besides English. The question then arises: What are the issues and challenges facing non-native teachers of languages other than English, and what is their unique contribution to modern language teaching? Do the findings and theories developed from previous research conducted mainly in English language teaching contexts, particularly with respect to language use practises, choices, and challenges, apply to other language teaching contexts? In this qualitative study of 22 non-native modern language teachers, participants teaching various Asian and European languages were interviewed with the subsequent interview and questionnaire data subjected to a cross-case analysis. Four participants were selected as focal cases for greater in-depth analysis. Participants’ perspectives on the ‘native speaker’ construct were also explored in relation to their non-native status. It was found that most participants were challenged in their attempts to maintain and improve their target language proficiency. Many teachers viewed their bilingual or multilingual identity as a strength, though this was sometimes in conflict with the views of stakeholders. Much of the previous research concerning language use, barriers faced by non-native teachers, and reflections on the term ‘native speaker’ was confirmed by this study. In terms of the principal theme of L1-L2 use, this study further valorised teachers’ selective and strategic use of the L1, particularly in late-entry programs, while continuing to focus on maximising L2 use. Extensive individual and contextual factors also had an impact on participants’ language use though the use of L1-L2 boundaries or zones was a useful strategy. Findings have implications for the hiring, training, and professional development of language teachers. Although some of the experiences of non-native teachers of Asian languages were similar to those of their counterparts in other languages, these teachers faced some particularly unique challenges which present avenues for future research.


The construction of the “ideal Chinese child”: a critical analysis of textbooks for Chinese heritage language learners

by Lorita Chiu

Although previous research has demonstrated that textbooks are laden with explicit and implicit cultural, moral, and ideological values, too few studies have examined language teaching materials, and particularly heritage language textbooks, for such messages. This study is a critical analysis of Chinese as a Heritage Language (CHL) textbooks commonly used in community Chinese schools in North America. Materials from both China and Taiwan were analyzed. Specifically, research questions addressed in the present study are: 1) What are the topics and themes in these textbooks? 2) What are the moral and cultural values embedded in the texts? 3) How are “ideal identities” constructed and conveyed through the reoccurring characters used in the textbooks? Based on discourse analysis, as well as content analysis, this study builds on the notions of D/discourse, literacy, identity and language socialization to explore the construction of the “ideal Chinese child” in the textbooks and how this might impact students’ identity (re)construction. The findings show that the world constructed by the CHL textbooks is distinct from the world most CHL learners reside in. Until CHL textbooks can create meaningful intersections between those worlds, many students may feel ambivalent about or even alienated from the textually constructed heritage and about their own identities.


Characterizing oral proficiency and language use of longtime learners of Chinese as an additional language

By Elliott Yates

This thesis is an investigation into characterizing the oral language proficiency of longtime Anglo-Canadian learners of Chinese as an Additional Language (CAL) using computer technology. Semi-structured, informal, low-stakes interviews with five CAL learners were transcribed, segmented using freely available Chinese text parsing software, and analyzed using the methodologies from the field of complexity, accuracy, and fluency (CAF) studies in second language acquisition. This thesis describes operationalization of these CAF indices in the CAL context, compares the results to participant self-assessments using the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), and makes recommendations for adoption of CAF measurement standards and future work in characterizing language proficiency in the realms of applied linguistics research and language pedagogy in the CAL context.