Learning Chinese with Skritter

The best app for learning to write Chinese characters

In many regards, learning Chinese is much like learning any other language. This means that some apps are universally useful for learning languages, including Chinese, such as general flashcard apps like Anki or those that put you in contact with native speakers like LinqApp.

However, any service, program or app that target language learners in general will inevitably miss some things, because Chinese isn't 100% like other languages.

Chinese characters are fundamentally different from most other writing systems and require a unique approach and tools specifically designed for learning characters.

Enter: Skritter

Skritter is an app for iOS, Android and web browsers that offers the same functions as most other flashcard programs (spaced repetition, for instance), with one, important exception: handwriting. While there are apps that allow you to write characters on the screen of your mobile phone or using a writing tablet for your computer, Skritter is the only one that gives you corrective feedback. It tells you when you're doing something wrong and what you should have done instead.

The most important advantage with Skritter is that writing on screen is much closer to actual handwriting than many alternatives. Of course, the best way to learn to write by hand is to have someone check your handwriting manually all the time, but this is impractical and would be prohibitively expensive if you hired someone to do it for you.

Skritter isn't free either, but it allows you to practice as much as you want and is always available.

There are several other advantages:

  • Skritter keeps track of stroke order for you, so just by using the app, you will quickly learn the correct stroke order of characters and character components
  • Actively writing characters is a much more efficient way of reviewing characters than just looking at them or doing multiple-choice questions
  • Use mnemonics to remember characters and words - There are many mnemonics included (created by other users) and you also have the option of creating your own
  • It's practical since you need nothing except your phone
  • Skritter also tests your tones, definitions and Pinyin
  • Skritter includes vocabulary lists for most textbooks
  • Writing on-screen is more fun with feedback than without

You can see an official trailer for the iOS app here, which shows how Skritter works in general. the web browser and Android apps don't look exactly the same, but generally speaking, they work the same way. If you want to know more about Skritter, you can check out a longer review here: Boosting your character learning with Skritter.

Getting more out of Skritter

if you've already started using Skritter, I suggest you make a few changes to the settings to get more out of the app:

  1. Increase the stroke order strictness in study options - This enforces correct stroke order and won't allow you to continue reviewing unless you've given the right answer.
  2. Turn on raw squigs - This is much closer to real handwriting and you don't fool yourself into believing that you know things you have actually forgotten.
  3. Study regularly - The best thing with mobile learning is that it can be done anywhere any time. Use the small gaps in your schedule to review a dozen characters.