Skritter Review – Best Chinese App to practice Chinese Characters & Strokes
This post is a review of Skritter app, a wonderful tool for practicing Chinese characters, strokes and tingxie (Chinese spelling). Skritter is the best way to learn how to write Chinese characters – since the only way to learn them is memorisation. Skritter is an excellent way to memorise in an interactive way, with spaced repetition and feedback.
Skritter Helps to Teach Chinese Characters & Strokes
Skritter app really has been a great revelation on how we practice tingxie 听写 (Chinese spelling) each week, and it’s finally enabled my daughter to practice by herself and develop confidence in character learning, when previously there was none.
Why tingxie has previously been a struggle for our family
The weekly tingxie (Chinese spelling) homework is one area where I have felt limited ability to help my children, especially as the word typically come in Chinese characters (which I cannot read) with no Pinyin or English.
In the past, we resorted to using Google Translate to pronounce the characters, and she’ll write them down on paper to test herself. It’s good, but not great, as I cannot help with stroke order either, nor give context on how the character is used in actual words, or correct if it’s written wrongly.
For those non-native Chinese reading this, let me explain that typically the “vocabulary lists” provided by schools or text books are characters, as opposed to words or real vocabulary. This realisation also came to me very late.
So, we were initially focussing on memorising ~10 characters per fortnight…. a relatively easy amount to memorise. However, little did I realise that we should also be learning words in which these characters are used. And, doing much more than 10 every 14 days!
Actual Chinese words are made up of combinations of characters. A classic example was shared by my daughter’s classmate’s mum, and I’ll share it here: ma (horse) and shang (up). A child could read and memorise each character, but not understand that “ma shang” means “immediately”.
There’s a nice historical reason to this, but kids won’t get it unless they’re exposed to reading more than just the characters. Hence my initial focus of simply understanding the prescribed characters each week, meant that my daughter didn’t know a tonne of actual words of vocabulary, and found it difficult to read passages.
If you’ve landed here from Google search on “Skritter cost”, yes Skritter costs money. All the good dictionaries and the best learning apps we’ve discovered cost money. But, they generally have free trial periods, to enable a user to decide whether the tool would be complement their learning needs. Skritter is no different.
The Skritter monthly subscription is somewhere between US$10 – $15/month, with lower price for longer periods. However, there are some group buys available at significantly discounted prices.
Please consider how good it could be for you or your child before thinking about the cost. Our family pays too! In fact, since I originally wrote this article, we’ve gone from one subscription to three subscriptions (so that each child in our family can have a different wordlist to practice)!
How Skritter app is helping us to learn characters easier
Skritter is a Chinese app which teaches you how to memorise Chinese characters AND words. It focuses on stroke order, pinyin tones, and meanings.
This app lets me upload all the weekly tingxie characters, and also select words that these characters are contained within.
My daughter uses this app for 5 – 10 minutes a day, to practice the characters and learn new ones. She can hear the word in a sentence, and use the right stroke order.
The user interface is highly intuitive, and there is a progress monitor to show how many characters have been learnt, and how they’ve been retained in her memory. (Yes, there is a spaced repetition option that you can set to rotate back through old characters/words, to jog the child’s memory and improve active recall to maximise learning efficiency).
See in the picture below, it shows when particular characters will be repeated – depending on how familiar the learner is with the characters.
Their website and iOS app provides an effective and enjoyable way to assist in writing and pronunciation of Chinese characters in general, and it’s an added bonus that it can be aligned to whatever syllabus or vocabulary lists your child is learning from.
After using Skritter daily for three months, my daughter was able to pick up a new 250 characters (and many more words, since words are compounds of several characters), and finally achieve nearly full marks for her tingxie tests in school. She’s getting better at differentiating between characters that look similar, and reading faster. It’s all been very positive.
Skritter apparently works equally well for Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese characters (though I cannot vouch for that); it also has Japanese characters too.
Why reading Chinese is just as important as speaking for children
An observation made to me recently was that may non-heritage Chinese don’t realise how essential for their children to learn characters – many just want their children to focus on listening/speaking.
This works well as a route to fluency if you are hearing and using the language for many hours each day.
Clearly, this isn’t likely in a school unless it’s a bilingual immersion syllabus. For most schools, the language is taught in small blocks each day to a large class, and is largely textbook based.
Hence, why many students who achieved well in early years d start falling behind by about year 3. Unless you can get your children actively and interpedently reading in Chinese, the journey becomes a real struggle.
On top of this, I want to emphasise that WRITING Chinese is an important step in learning to read.
My daughter’s teacher shared that if you only learn how to recognize the characters (i.e memorise from the textbook) but you aren’t able to reproduce them from scratch (i.e writing them out), it’s easy to get confused.
Skritter is a way my daughter can write out the characters, and get feedback, which is something as non-Chinese reading mother, I cannot assist her with. It also gives my daughter a helpful structure for learning – she can clock in everyday, do the homework (about 10 minutes) and keep ticking boxes!
Pros of Skritter App for kids learning Chinese
- Skritter is simple to use
- Excellent ability to add in spelling lists and new words
- Possible to be set-up with ease for non-mandarin readers, and to track child progress
- Clever algorithm behind the software, which allows you to remember more than the 90% of the characters through spaced repetition system to ensure previously learnt characters are not forgotten
- Able to test writing, reading, tones and definitions in isolation, so not all characters need to be used for every aspect
- It teaches correct stroke order, pronunciation and pinyin too
- It can be done in small doses (5 – 10 minutes a day)
- It forces the user to trace out the characters, which comes pretty close to writing them if using a tablet (it’s a little harder using mouse on PC)
- Full feature one week trial
Cons of Skritter App for kids learning Chinese
Truth be known, there are not a lot of downsides to it. Anything that improved our approach to learning tingxie was going to be excellent! However a few considerations:
- It isn’t free (free options would be Pleco, Memrise and Anki), so could be cost prohibitive to some learners, however, there are group buys and discounts which can lower the price
- There is a “cheat” mode, which you should avoid letting your children find out at all costs!
- Though you can use Skritter on a desktop computer, it is difficult. Don’t try writing the characters with a mouse at all. It’s better as a mobile app. We use it on iPad, but it is great on the phone too.
- It creates excessive screen time if parent isn’t careful about how much work they are setting the child.
- Burn out – Skritter can be addictive at the beginning. It may be tempting for your child to keep using it longer than you planned, and then they’ll get “ahead” of the weekly spelling lists which are entered. However, if you learn too many characters too fast they may soon be overwhelmed. It’s better to keep a slow pace, and sustain for the longer term.
Here’s how the parental control screen looks, to track progress (this is a weekly summary view):
Hacks and Tips on tingxie
1. Try out Skritter:
Even if you can’t afford it – try the trial, and download a few pre-existing word lists, or enter some of your child’s tingxie lists. Assuming the child actively uses it during your trial week and gets to “learn” some words, after a week you can still review any words the child has been presented with already. Maybe a one month subscription will be better if you want to get a good list of words included before you unsubscribe.
2. Make learning the words fun and interactive:
Even without Skritter, get a pack “flash cards” and play some memory games with them, or hide them around the house and play treasure hunts. Or, invent a game “how many words can you think of which include this character” and have a competition as a family. You might be surprised at how much your child actually can recall! Ideally, try to replicate the words you’re learing/using around the house in the Skritter lists for the week or month.
3. Don’t learn blindly by rote – make a conversation out of it:
When learning a specific character, it’s helpful to stop and “de-code” the character for a bit. Does it look similar to another character already learnt? What are the radicals that it’s built from? Do you have any visual hints for how to remember it? Consider going through once a week each of the ‘new’ characters with the child to have a conversation with them about it. In Skritter, the platform has an easy way to see the ‘new’ characters which the child has learnt.
4. Other ways to learn tingxie aside from Skritter:
Good old pen and paper is still an option! Especially if you’re a parent who can supervise this and ensure the stroke order and execution being practised is the right way. Otherwise there are cheaper apps like Pleco and Anki which you might consider.
Chinese Apps for Kids
Hopefully this Skritter review will help you decide if this Chinese app is right for your family. Looking for more Chinese apps? Check out reviews of Wukong Literacy and iHumane, and see the main post: Best Chinese Apps for Kids.
You may also be interested in the Bilingual Kidspot FREE Chinese learning series: Chinese for Kids which has lots of resources for parents with kids learning Chinese.
Author: Emma Lee is a mother of 3 living in Singapore, bringing an engineer’s skillset to her bilingual parenting. Her website has detailed reviews on literary tech gadgets & books to assist children learning Chinese.
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