Reading and Writing

, Volume 32, Issue 2, pp 439–466 | Cite as

Differential contribution of psycholinguistic and cognitive skills to written composition in Chinese as a second language

  • Che Kan LeongEmail author
  • Mark Shiu Kee Shum
  • Chung Pui Tai
  • Wing Wah Ki
  • Dongbo Zhang


This study examined the contribution of the constructs of orthographic processing (orthographic choice and orthographic choice in context), syntactic processing (grammaticality and sentence integrity), and verbal working memory (two reading span indicators) to written Chinese composition (narration, explanation, and argumentation) in 129 15-year-old L2 learners. A matrix task was also administered as a control task to tap cognitive flexibility. Structural equation modeling (SEM) analysis with written composition as a latent variable revealed orthographic processing and working memory as two significant, independent contributors, whereas the unique contribution of syntactic processing was not significant. Subsequent SEM analysis with narration, explanation, and argumentation as separate endogenous variables found varied patterns of the contribution of each latent predictor to written composition in different genres. These patterns are discussed in light of the importance of attention to learners’ developmental stage and genre-sensitive measures to capture the psycholinguistic and cognitive underpinnings of written composition in L2 Chinese.


Written composition Chinese as a second language Working memory Orthographic processing Sentence processing 



The study was assisted with a Grant from the Hong Kong Education Bureau. The views expressed are ours and do not necessarily represent those of HKEDB. We thank the teachers, students and our assistants for their work in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Che Kan Leong
    • 1
    Email author
  • Mark Shiu Kee Shum
    • 2
  • Chung Pui Tai
    • 2
  • Wing Wah Ki
    • 2
  • Dongbo Zhang
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of Educational Psychology and Special EducationUniversity of SaskatchewanSaskatoonCanada
  2. 2.Faculty of EducationUniversity of Hong KongHong KongChina
  3. 3.Graduate School of EducationUniversity of ExeterExeterUK

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