This is the second in a two-part series looking at online services for learning Chinese, the first part was a review of ChineseTeachers.com.
Now that you certainly are a fluent Mandarin Chinese speaker (after using ChineseTeacher.com), let’s focus on our second gem called “Skritter“, a gem that will take your reading, memorizing and writing ability above any level you’ve ever had.
What is Skritter?
Skritter.com was launched in beta about two years ago by some young Mandarin students from Oberlin College (Ohio) and hasn’t stopped improving since. They are using a system called “Spaced repetition“, which basically says that it’s better to learn and review day after day a little bit than spend 15h one on day…every month, this leads to an enormous 90 to 95% retention rate while having fun (yes, fun!) using it.
How does it work?
First of all you have to register to get your two weeks free trial (minus point here, you need to use your credit cards to register, even if you just want to try) and then choose which materials you want to use. Most of the time you should choose the textbook (already more than 105 available) that you are already using at school or why not just choose the HSK list (the most used Chinese characters). If you have specific needs, for example you are a medical student and want to learn quite rare medical terms that you won’t find in the HSK list or the average textbook, you can easily create your own lists.
Then we have three learning steps:
1. Pinyin to Writing (+ tones)
Skritter will give you the pinyin (left) and you have to draw (with your mouse or a basic tablet) the characters within the (right) box:
2. Characters to Tone
If you already have learnt some Mandarin, you know how important (and hard) the tones are to learnm but with Skritter it has never been so easy. It gives you the character and you only have to draw or type the tones (1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 for the neutral one).
3. Characters to Pinyin (+tone)
Writing a character is a special process; and is totally different from reading/recognizing one. It’s frequent to know how to write a character but sometimes if you encounter it in your daily life you might not recognise it. Therefore, character recognition exercises are also included, it gives you the character and you have to type the pinyin and the tone:
So beside the fun, what’s make Skritter so efficient? Simply speaking, Skritter analyses your achievements and automatically adapt the learning pace to YOUR current needs.
For example, if it asks you to write Zhao3 (找) but you write “我“ (wo3) instead (we all did that mistake, haven’t we ?) – Skritter knows this and will give you this character again in a few moments, if you do it right it will give you again in 1 or 2 days…etc. Until you know it perfectly. If you write it incorrectly then it will appear again a few minutes later, and again and again until you’ve started to memorize it.
As you may have guessed here as well, I’ve been an ecstatic Skritter user for a while already, and I’m extremely happy about it. I’ve been able to learn several thousands (+-2000) characters in a very short period of time (less than a year). It’s a cheap investment that you won’t regret at all (30 days of characters for about US9.95$ a month)
Pros and Cons
Pros: Fun, efficient, innovative, 2000+ characters within a year while keeping a social life finally possible always enhanced/update, great customer/team supports.
Cons: Need a credit card to register; the queue system can be quite annoying if you don’t study regularly (once you’ve accumulated 300/400 characters to review, you need at least one to three hours to clear it)
Update: There is a post on the Skritter forum where Nick (the founder of Skritter) explains why a credit card is required during registration.