One of the things I’ve been struggling with learning really well are the Kanxi Radicals that make up Chinese characters. Those radicals that I do know well make it really easy for me to learn how to recognize words. But, there are a bunch of radicals I still struggle with.
The one thing I have not been doing in my attempt to learn Chinese, was learning how to write the characters. I figure, I only need to read them most of the time and when I do write them, I’d be more likely to do so on the computer so I can just throw in the pinyin and pick out the word I want from the computer’s display.
I already explained earlier how I use TrainChinese and Anki to help me learn Chinese, but I haven’t been able to find the right equation between the two systems to learn radicals. So, last week, I beta-tested Skritter’s iOS app to learn the radicals.
Skritter’s learning system works with learning to write the Chinese characters. I’m not new to this idea. Once long ago, when I tried to learn Chinese in elementary school, they made us practice writing characters to the nth degree. I didn’t really understand why and that didn’t help me learn. I may have acquired muscle memory from writing the words but it didn’t equate to knowing how to read the words or what they represented. Looking back, it was such a waste of effort of the teacher’s part and time on mine!
Skritter isn’t a new Chinese learning system actually. It’s been online for a while, but one of the reasons I hadn’t given it a go was because they advocated learning how to write the characters. It’s tagline is “The write way to learn Chinese and Japanese“. But I found it to laborious to do that with a mouse on a track pad whilst looking at a computer screen. It probably would have been easier if I owned a Wacom Bamboo tablet but since I already owned a couple of iOS devices I was looking for a solution which wouldn’t require me to lay out more cash for devices whose function would be replicated.
I’m really glad that Skritter is coming out on the iOS because the touch screen technology is ace for learning how to write characters as I’ve since realized using Molatra’s Chinese Writer app on the iPad. One of the other things that got me excited is that Skritter also works with Japanese; its one of the languages I want to go back to and learn better the second time around – when I’m done with Chinese. If ever.
You do need a Skritter account online to get started and select which list of words you want to get cracking on. After you’ve got the list of words you want to study, the app will sync and load the lists. I like that the user interface is really simple. You decide which aspect of the word you want to study (tone, writing, meaning etc) and you only see the review or testing page on the screen. You don’t have to go select anything else because Skritter does it all for you and gets you to learn and review the various parts of the word based on spaced repetition learning – Items that you remember easily are scored more highly and are repeated less and less frequently, whereas items that are more difficult are repeated more frequently – hopefully until they are drilled-in and remembered. Skritter automatically manages revision of your learning, so that you concentrate on items that are difficult to remember, and don’t waste time reviewing items that you know very well.
When you start using the app, you get the splash page which gives you a couple of options to study, review your progress, check your list, tweak the settings or get some help. When you hit Study, there is just one option – the option right in front of you. Skritter will decide whether its time for you to review the definition, the pinyin, the tone or the writing. For definition and pinyin tasks, you test yourself before checking the answer and then pick the option that best describes your reaction. Did you forget it? Was your memory of it ‘so-so’? Did you know it or was it a walk in the park? These options will determine when and how the word is tested again next time. You can flip back and forth the flashcards if you need to change the meta-data or review the word again.
For tone and writing tasks, you write your answer on the screen itself and Skritter will determine how well you fared on recalling it. I found the sensitivity to the stroke order rigorous but not limiting. There were times when I wrote a stroke backward or missed a hook. The app gave immediate feedback so I knew I was committing an error but let it pass all the same and registered it as a word I knew. If after a few strokes, the app detects you aren’t even close to the stroke order of the word, it automatically registers it as a word you didn’t know or forgot.
Although the Skritter app is simple to use, there are also lots of good functionalities you can add between the website and the app. One option is to use Heisig’s Remembering The Chinese custom definitions to replace the standard ones for applicable characters which is yet another mnemonic pathway for recalling words. Words on the Skritter app can also be searched on Pleco’s dictionary if you have the app installed. Skritter isn’t a dictionary app unlike TrainChinese so it would be great if the app could be reverse engineered so words searched on Pleco could be added or synced to my own flashcard list on Skritter.
Skritter is a free download from the iTunes store but use of the app will be based on a subscription membership available on site which goes for $9.95 per month after an initial 2-week free trial.
Verdict: Reading, Writing, Tones and Meaning. This on the iOS is the write app to rule them all. My only gripe though no fault of the developers is that there isn’t a tone database for Cantonese learners like myself.
Are any of you Skritter users? Let me know your thoughts in the comments or if I missed anything important!
- Learning 2 Years of Chinese Vocabulary in 3 Months(analternativeeducation.com)
- Putonghua Is Child’s Play(analternativeeducation.com)