Ideograms may help explain why Chinese students are outperforming their Western counterparts despite their dependence on widely criticised rote learning, research suggests. Learning complex symbols representing concepts or things might help form a strong link between memory and learning - generally considered to be separate processes - Professor David Watkins said. Professor Watkins, of the Department of Education at the University of Hong Kong, said: 'Students from China and other Asian countries where ideograms are used instead of characters, are able to combine the two processes while learning.' 'Until recently it was commonly assumed that modern learning practices utilised in the West were superior to traditional ones used in the Third World, like rote learning. 'However, students in many Asian countries, and particularly those from Confucian heritage cultures, are outperforming Western students in international comparisons of educational progress,' he said. The linguistic link appears to be one of many factors contributing to what he called the 'paradox of the Asian learner'. The traditional practice of memorisation and recitation gives Chinese students skills that Western students do not have, Professor Watkins said. 'Such skills are thought to account in part for the superior performance of Chinese pupils even at higher conceptual levels in mathematics.' A study of Hong Kong school pupils also backed other researchers' findings that point to the importance of cultural, social and psychological factors. 'Combined with the cultural belief that the words of authorities should not be altered and the problems of expressing their answers in a foreign language such as English, Chinese students reproduce the words in text and lecture notes. 'This appears to their Western teachers as mere mechanical rote learning, but in self-report questionnaires and in-depth interviews the role of understanding comes through,' he said. Motivations also differ between East and West. 'While Western students are usually motivated by the need to realise their own self-esteem, Chinese students are generally motivated by the need to please their parents.' Professor Watkins' study was published in The Chinese Learner, which also contains studies by other researchers.