Universal Reading: Chinese and English Readers Spend the Same Amount of Time to Process Information

This study, "Universality in eye movements and reading: A trilingual investigation," suggests that Chinese, English and Finnish readers spend the same amount of time reading texts and comprehending information in their own language. Regardless of the differences of these written forms, readers of these three languages process texts in a similar manner, suggesting the universality of information processing during reading. Many might find the results of this study a bit surprising due to the differences in the written forms of these languages (Chinese, English and Finnish). I will briefly summarize the most distinct features between Chinese and English. 

    Reading in Chinese is indeed the most difficult task for English-speaking learners. A couple of self-evident differences in reading in Chinese and in English are:

    • Chinese: Logographic (Character-based), word unspaced
    • English: Alphabetic, word spaced

    To read in Chinese, learners have to first learn to read characters, that is, to establish an association between the form, its sound and its meaning.

    1. 你 - form
    2. nǐ - sound 
    3. You -meaning

    Moreover, a Chinese word could be made up of one character or two characters. 

    • 你 nǐ - You (one character, one word)
    • 你好 nǐhǎo - Hello (two characters, one word)

    A typical Chinese sentence is composed of a string of characters without spaces between words. Reading in Chinese is challenging because one has to dissect each word as one reads to process the meaning. A sentence can be particularly difficult to comprehend if one does not recognize a character or a set of character combinations. Thankfully, Chinese Romanization "Pinyin" System separates each individual word with spaces as in English sentences. The following example provides a clear illustration: 

    • Chinese: 考試包括漢字、生詞和語法。[Logographic, Unspaced]
    • English: Test includes Chinese characters, vocabulary and grammar. [Alphabetic, Spaced]
    • Pinyin: Kǎoshì bāokuò Hànzì, shēngcí hé yǔfǎ. [Romanization, Spaced]