Both native speakers and second-language learners encounter unknown words while reading texts. The meanings of unknown words are inferred from their context to ensure that the complete text is understood. In the field of Japanese language education, research studies have explored the processing of known words, while others have discussed the factors that possibly affect the interpretation of known words. However, few research studies have investigated these factors experimentally. This research investigated the process of interpreting unknown words by observing the effect of differences in word notation and sentence constraints on the interpretation of nonwords by Chinese learners of Japanese. The target words were manipulated to appear in either kanji or katakana and they were presented in either low- or high-constraint sentences. The response time and accuracy of interpretation were used as dependent variables. The results show that the type of notation affects the response time and accuracy of interpretation, with kanji words understood faster than katakana words. In addition, the kanji words were interpreted more accurately than katakana words. This effect of notation was observed in high-constraint sentences, whereas there was no difference between the two types of notation in low-constraint sentences. The results suggest that Chinese learners’ native language could help in the interpretation of unknown words while learning Japanese as a second language.