Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2012

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Second Language Acquisition

First Advisor

Ke, Chuanren

First Committee Member

Shen, Helen

Second Committee Member

Liskin-Gasparro, Judith

Third Committee Member

Everson, Michael

Fourth Committee Member

Nottingham-Spencer, Bruce

Fifth Committee Member

Tang, Wenfang


Having acquired some degree of oral proficiency but low (or non-existent) literacy, the learning of Chinese heritage learners' (CHLs) learning needs are different from those of Chinese foreign language learners (CFLs), who have learned Chinese only in the classroom setting. Although researchers have advocated for a separate curriculum for CHLs, creating a heritage track may not be an option for many Chinese programs due to insufficient enrollment and limited resources. Huge proficiency variations among CHLs also make it difficult to provide a language curriculum that fits the needs of all learners. Therefore, CHLs are assigned to classes with CFLs in most Chinese language programs. From a pedagogical point of view, uneven proficiency levels are a great concern for instructors who teach a language class with students of different language backgrounds and with varying abilities, especially when assigning students to work in pairs or small groups. Although CHL-CFL paired interaction has become a common phenomenon in Chinese language classes, it has not been fully explored.

Grounded in sociocultural theory, this research explores the nature of dyadic interaction between Chinese heritage learners (CHLs) and Chinese foreign language learners (CFLs) in a classroom setting. It investigates the roles that Chinese heritage learners and their foreign language peers play in paired discussions, how learners' proficiency gaps influence the dynamics of paired interaction, and whether peer-peer collaboration affects learners' individual oral performance.

In this study, data were collected in three intermediate-level Chinese classes. Participants first filled out a language background survey to lead to a better understanding of the environments in which they use Chinese. Next, they took two proficiency tests to assess their comprehensive Chinese skills. Over the course of a semester, ten CHL-CFL pairs engaged in paired discussions on six different occasions. Before and after each pair work session, each participant was required to give an individual verbal report assessing the influence of paired interaction on his or her oral performance. After data from the six sessions were collected, participants took an end-of-study survey, which provides their perceptions about paired discussion and their roles in paired interaction over the research period.

According to the findings, three interaction patterns (passive collaboration pattern, active collaboration pattern, and peer-tutoring pattern) were identified. The results of this study show that CHLs' language background and the amount of Chinese language exposure determined the CHL-CFL proficiency gaps in each pair, and further influenced the pattern of paired interaction. Learners generated more LREs (Language-related episodes) and were more likely to acquire knowledge from pair work when the degree of interaction mutuality was high. Even when the proficiency gaps were large, the less proficient learners still could transfer new knowledge to their independent work.

To conclude, this study may be of importance in presenting the dynamics of CHL-CFL paired interaction in a mixed Chinese language class, as well as in providing instructors with a better understanding of how different factors such as interlocutors' proficiency gaps, individual participants' beliefs and attitudes relate to their interaction behaviors and subsequent independent performance.


Chinese heritage learners, classroom, curriculum, paired interaction


xiv, 248 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 219-228).


Copyright 2012 Yi-Tzu Huang