Document Type


Date of Degree

Spring 2019

Access Restrictions

Access restricted until 07/29/2021

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Asian Civilizations

First Advisor

Ke, Chuanren

First Committee Member

Shen, Helen

Second Committee Member

Trachsel, Mary

Third Committee Member

Plakans, Lia

Fourth Committee Member

Schmidt, Renita


Since the 1990s, the number of U.S. students enrolled in university-level Chinese language classes has grown exponentially. Learning Chinese has become increasingly important to those students’ academic studies, professional success, and personal development. However, despite these students’ eagerness to master Chinese, they face an inevitable challenge to their progress: developing reading fluency and comprehension skills in Chinese. A common experience among those students is that learning to read in Chinese is labor-intensive and frustrating, and it takes much longer than the time they would have to spend on learning to read in alphabetic languages such as Spanish, French, and German.

In response to this issue, a small but growing body of research has started to investigate the ways American learners view and comprehend Chinese texts. To contribute to this line of research, the present study examined the process of reading Chinese as a second language (L2 Chinese reading). In particular, this study looked closely into the following key questions: (1) What strategies did L2 Chinese readers use when reading a Chinese expository text? (2) What difficulties did they encounter and how did they solve these problems? (3) What factors influenced their reading process? (4) When, how and why did they shift to thinking in their native language, English? To describe these readers’ approaches to text comprehension and also to understand their own perceptions, this study adopted a few qualitative research methods, including think-aloud reports, recall protocols, post-reading interviews, semi-structured interviews and background surveys. Participants of this study were five American students enrolled in intermediate- and advanced-level Chinese language classes at a Midwest U.S. university. Data collected from these participants were analyzed qualitatively through both an intuitive, holistic approach and a structured, systematic approach. A qualitative data analysis software—NVivo 12—was used to facilitate the coding and analysis process.

Results of the study show that L2 (Chinese) reading is primarily a language-based, cognitive-constrained, and individualized process that involves multiple interactive factors. Those factors include but are not limited to linguistic, psychological, textual, environmental, and background factors. In addition, regarding the use of the native language in L2 reading, results of the study show that readers’ L2 language proficiency influences the frequency and effectiveness of their use of their native language. The ways of using the native language also differed across readers with different L2 language proficiencies and reading styles. These results have implications for theories of L2 reading in general and theories of L2 Chinese reading in particular. Pedagogical implications and directions for future research are also discussed at the end of the dissertation.


Crosslinguistic, L2 Chinese, L2 Reading, Qualitative, Reading process


xii, 183 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 161-170).


Copyright © 2019 Tianlu Zhang

Available for download on Thursday, July 29, 2021

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