25 September 2013

App Review: Learning Chinese with Skritter (5 Stars!)

Good news!
(Wǒ néng dú zhōngwén!--"I can read Chinese!")

If you don't want the background story, skip down to the paragraph after the picture.

In case you haven't heard this before: I've been wanting to learn Chinese since 2010, and when Michael and I met, I had been accepted to a program in China so that I could do just that. What with having married a native Mandarin Chinese speaker and having an upcoming wedding celebration in Taiwan, my motivation has grown, and it is my persuasion that took us to China.

In the past few years, I've taken classes, listened to CDs, done language exchanges, hired a tutor, started a company Chinese club/class, did loads of studying, checked out enough Chinese books from the library to make another library, stared at Michael's grandma's TV since the channels are in Chinese, practiced with Michael and his family . . . and yet, none of that was enough.

I often felt frustrated before we left San Francisco, because I wanted to arrive in China with some more Mandarin under my belt, but there just wasn't time, especially since I seemed to have to start over every time I went back to what I'd "learned." And now, in Shanghai, being surrounded with characters I can't understand makes me feel like my hands are tied all the time.

The most obvious problem since arriving is vocabulary. In Germany, I could easily pick up words because many of them are similar to English. Here, I just need pure memorization since the words aren't like anything I've known before. I need a personal tutor to do repetitive language drills with me.

And now to the main point of this post: I have found the Mandarin vocabulary-builder/tutor I need in an app called Skritter. Since finding out about it from a HULT student and writing the developers of this app to see if I could get a free review account, I have spent 5.9 hours going over 237 words or phrases, and according to the app, I have 84.3% retention so far. I can confidently say that I could give you at least 100 characters back on the spot, which is about 95 more than I ever could before. :) It is simply amazing how much knowing just those few characters has opened up the Chinese world around me.

If you want to learn Chinese or even have the slightest feeling that it might be a good idea to learn Chinese, you need this app. I give Skritter 5 stars, which I have never done before. Developed by some cool developers who wanted to make the most powerful Chinese-learning app out there, this app is majorly impressive. Instead of spending hours writing down new words and phrases that I'll never remember again, I spend my time memorizing words and phrases in all their forms.

Why do I love this app?
  • the number one reason: you learn characters (writing and recognition of kanji/hanzi characters), tones, meanings, and pronunciation all at once
  • it's pretty, fun, and easy to use
  • it saves me the trouble of finding, paying, and scheduling a tutor
  • you can pick word lists that you think are most useful for you, many of which come straight from textbooks that you can use as supplements for grammar
  • the lists teach compound words and phrases in addition to individual words
  • there are lists for children
  • you can also use Skritter for learning Japanese
  • the repetition is just what you need, especially for ones you've forgotten often
  • every slide will show up again at some point, ensuring complete memorization
  • the very first time you run into a character, you have to physically "write" it on the screen (helpful for kinesthetic learning)
  • if you forget a stroke, a screentap shows a hint for a moment
  • if you start your strokes in the wrong direction or write them in the wrong order, the app tells you
  • it's not just "correct" and "wrong"--there's a "so-so" level in case you only forgot one aspect of that word or phrase
  • the app congratulates you at significant intervals of time, and not in an annoying way!
  • each slide has a recording of a native speaker saying the word or phrase that you can listen to as many times as you want, and the first time is automatic
  • the app won't let you go back more than two characters, forcing you onwards and upwards (it'll bring all of them back eventually anyway)
  • each slide has example sentences so you can see how the word or phase is used contextually
  • you can see other users' shared mnemonics and add your own
  • each individual word or phrase has stats about how long you've been learning it and your success rate
  • progress reports--it's highly motivating to see how many words you've learned
  • you can use the app on your iPhone, iPad, or via browser (and your account syncs across platforms)

That's a long list. If videos are your thing, watch this video I made (one for China and one for the rest of the world):

Do I despise anything about the app?
  • no

What do I think could make Skritter better?
  • verbal testing to get feedback on my pronunciation
  • diagrams in the word information windows to show physical pronunciation
  • texts to translate (like Duolingo)
  • verbal recognition quizzes
  • traditional characters in the word information windows, as well as traditional vs. simplified character lists (for people interested in Taiwan, Macau, Hong Kong, or Guangzhou) UPDATE: turns out you can include traditional characters by going into "advanced study" and then "style"
  • color coding for tones
  • pictures for visual learners (like Chineasy)
  • an Android version (no, there isn't one or plans for one at this point, but you can use it online)
Skritter is $14.99 per month. I know that any time I see an app that isn't free, I look for something else, but this is one well worth paying for, even for one month (that's long enough for at least 1,000 characters!). You could be paying way more than that to fill notebooks with Chinese every month and not get anything out of it. There is special educational institution pricing and a free Skritter trial available.

I'm obviously impressed enough with this app to like talking about it, so if you have any questions, let me know.


  1. I would like to invite you to review an App called:
    Pinyin Beginner - An app designed to help you to master the basic Chinese Pinyin: Consonants(Initials) and Vowels(Finals) in few hour.
    You can download at here.
    thank you!

    1. Let me know when you have an iPhone app and I'll give it a try.