Why I Subscribed to Skritter

Like many people studying Chinese, I struggle with characters. I might actually struggle with characters more than some people, because I don’t learn very well visually. Usually I learn languages by listening, speaking, and reading, and just sort of expect that my writing skills will improve as well even though I’m not really working on them (I am not saying this is a good way to learn, it’s just what I think I do). I’m not even very good at spelling in English, let alone any other language I speak. As I’m preparing for a trip to China, I wanted to really put an effort into learning Chinese characters.

I decided to try Skritter after reading positive reviews of it from Sara Jaaksola and Olle Linge. The problem was that although I have an iPad, it was old and didn’t support iOS 7. I had wanted to start using Skritter in October, but in September 2013 the company had just done some updates and stopped supporting iOS 5, which is what ran on my iPad.

I was pretty ticked off about this, both at Skritter and at Apple, because although my iPad might be an antique to the people at Apple, it’s only 3 years old, and I like my things to last longer than 3 years before becoming obsolete (especially things that I pay a lot of money for, such as an iPad).

I have to give credit to the people at Skritter, because they were responsive to my concerns and set a way for me to – at least theoretically – use Skritter on my 18th century iPad. They told me I would have to wait, though, until they updated their “old” version, and I still haven’t been able to use it on my iPad.

Which is why I am glad I got an iPhone.

Skritter was the first app I downloaded when I got a new iPhone for Christmas, and it has not disappointed. It’s fun, it’s instructional and it’s really easy to use. Because it’s on my phone, it’s easy to squeeze in practice time when I’m waiting for someone or something.

Here’s what Skritter is all about:

Skritter is an app for learning Chinese (or Japanese) characters. It gives you an audio and text prompt that includes the pinyin and meaning of the character. Then you write the character with your finger on the touchscreen. If you need help, you can tap the screen and you’ll get a hint on the next stroke.

It’s a spaced repetition software, so it automatically tracks what you get right and wrong and schedules your repetitions accordingly.

The awesome things about Skritter:

Skritter has a large number of pre-made lists. I started working on one with all of the Chinese radicals and another one with the 3,000 most commonly used Chinese characters. You select the lists and then they are all sort of mixed together, so you’re not reviewing a particular list (although you can set it to focus on one list only) but you’re reviewing everything together.

Skritter has audio! I really like the fact that you hear the pronunciation of each character as part of the prompt, because I figure the more Chinese I hear, the better.

Skritter is fun. I say that because I think it is a lot more fun than Anki (although Anki is also a good software, I’m not trying to knock it). It’s easy to spend an hour using Skritter and have it feel like a game, which is something I have never experienced before in my road towards speaking Chinese.

Most importantly, I actually think Skritter helps me learn. Learning the radicals have helped a lot as well, but Skritter makes it so easy to study that I end up spending a lot more time studying. I also don’t have to search for stroke order if I’m uncertain, because Skritter has all of that information (and tell you if you’re not writing with the correct stroke order).

The downsides:

As I alluded to in the title, I don’t like paying for stuff. Skritter is a subscription-based service, and it costs anywhere from $14.99/month to $179.99 for two years. That’s not cheap, but I think it’s worth it.

It’s hard for my husband and I to share. I’m sure that we should just get two subscriptions, but that seems like a lot of money, and we’re used to sharing things other subscriptions-based things like Netflix. But because of the way that Skritter integrates all of the lists, we can’t really create separate lists for each of us to use. My husband’s Chinese isn’t as advanced as mine, so we also can’t really just study the same thing – besides, that would wreck havoc with the whole spaced repetition idea.

That’s about it. If you’re learning Chinese and feel like you need to work on characters, I highly recommend Skritter. If you have any doubts, you can always try it for free for a week – I did, loved it, and paid up. I’m betting that you will too.