Sent to the Wall Street Journal, Oct 22
As is the case in the US, China thinks that literacy is declining and that part of the solution is a TV spelling bee in Chinese ("Chinese TV's Latest Hit Features a Character-Driven Plot: Show Aimed at Reviving the Country's Written Language Explodes."October 20).
There is no evidence of a decline of literacy in China and no evidence of a decline in the US. The fact that only 30% of the adults in the audience of the TV show could spell spell "toad" correctly in Chinese characters suggests that there has been no decline: even adult Chinese speakers make mistakes.
It is interesting that the winner of the spelling bee attributes her success to extensive reading for pleasure. This agrees with research in both Chinese and English showing that pleasure reading is the major source of literacy development: those who read more read better, write better, spell better, have larger vocabularies, and better grammar.
The way to prevent a decline in literacy is through more access to interesting reading materials: libraries, not game shows.
No evidence of a decline: Krashen, S. 1993. How well do people spell? Reading Improvement 30: 9-20.
Pleasure reading and development:
Krashen, S. 2004. The Power of Reading. Portsmouth: Heinemann and Westport: Libraries Unlimited.
Krashen, S. 2010. Does the power of reading apply to all languages? Language Magazine 9 (9): 24-27.
original article: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304410204579141422985199050?mod=djemITP_h