Friday, June 29, 2012

Skritter: My Favorite App or New Favorite Game?

Skritter logo. (Photo from the web.)
I've been using Skritter for 3 weeks now. Its a program that teaches Chinese and Japanese character writing. I'll admit, I'm in love. Their website claims a user can learn a new character every 192 seconds and remember 95% of what they learn. It is in every way an amazing educational program; not least because it reminds me of city-builder games like Sim City and Civilization. Wait, what?

From the first time I used Skritter I was addicted. Here's how it works - each screen asks you for 1 thing: definition, tone, pinyin, or to write the character that has come up. Each screen takes a few seconds to complete, and the next question will quickly follow.
Screenshot shows an unfinished character.

Every time I need to put Skritter down a new screen pops up and I think to myself, just 1 more. It was this very thought that has on more than one occasion caused me to see the sun rise while playing Sim City, Civilization, Pharoah's, and Caesar. It is not just the fast pace that has me hooked however (though I think the pace is the biggest factor consciously). There are other design elements that are game-like as well. For example, in dark theme (there are 2 themes to choose from - both of them nice, but dark theme is the bomb) my character strokes sound like a sword. I could be back in Azeroth slaying dragons - it is so ... satisfying. At certain intervals a little message pops up to tell me how long I have been studying and to cheer me on. With this message there is also a voice that will either tease you (in eccentric mode) or cheer you on (in regular mode). Of course I am in eccentric mode. (Warning: disclosure approaching:) My Chinese teacher is the voice for the teasing prompts, and yet, even though I know this, it does not take me out of the immersion of the moment.

Skritter correcting a tone I got wrong.
OK, its time for some perceptive here. I am definitely a dork, and by some definitions also a geek. I read and write for fun, in addition to doing it for classes or other mandatory purposes. This being said, the rote, boring, tediousness of practicing Chinese character writing has never been on my list of things I want to do on a Friday night. It is now. In fact, after trying the demo on my teacher's iPhone I went out and bought an iPod just for this app. (You don't need a smart phone. You can use the program on a computer. I bought an iPod because of my own scheduling and studying preferences.) This app creates a stimulation in me that is very similar to what I feel when playing computer games. It is fascinating. 

I will be posting on Skritter again.  I want to take more time to dissect the game-esque qualities of the app, and later on I will also post on its educational value: i.e. how much Chinese have I actually learned. 


  1. Excellent post, Krista-Lee. It reminds me of the game-like features of the hybrid Toyota Camry that I blogged about on Terra Nova here: It also reminds me of my own mind-numbing experience trying to memorize Kanji during an ill-fated semester attempting to learn Japanese. Oh, to have had such a learning "tool" then!

  2. I feel your pain. As you know, I spent 2 years trying to learn Japanese, before switching to Chinese. In fact, learning Chinese writing is so time consuming, that without realizing it I had begun to just slowly drop it. It wasn't until I started a Chinese blog that I realized how much higher my verbal skills had become.

    I knew about Skritter for a while, but waited for the iPhone app before buying it (again because of time constraints). I am not even joking - I literally whip out my iPod touch at every opportunity. This is good and bad - good because I want to raise my reading level, but bad because there is a saying for this in Chinese called "the head down group" 低頭族 - which describes people who always have there head down playing with their smart phones - and is generally used in a negative way.

  3. Awesome post! I love seeing how different users feel about Skritter. I hope that you aren't spending too much time on the app. Lately I've been trying to cut down my Skritter time to about 20- 30 minutes a day, so I can spend that "extra" time reading new material or working on other skill areas (reading, listening, writing (prose) etc.).

    Can't wait to get our classes started again soon!

  4. 對啊!高健老師, 你在哪裏?

    Well, I guess it depends on what you mean by too much time. I probably spend 1-2 hours a day on Skritter, but this is mostly while riding the subway. Since this time would otherwise be spent spacing out or making faces at small children, I think it is now time well spent. (Though I do occasionally still take a break to play with small kids when there are any.)

    As for doing other things...I could probably use to read more, but I have been doing other things as a part of my "public learning" experiment. For example, I have been trying to write down new words and phrases I learn through conversations so that my retention rate will be higher. Then I have been posting these on Facebook as "今天的中文" posts and getting feedback from my friends as to how to correctly use these phrases.

    One last note on Skritter: I love the app, I think you know that already, but I think now that it will be more useful once our break from classes is over. I have added book 3 from Shida (which I never finished because I dropped out) and I have run into a a couple of words that I need clarification on as far as how to use them contextually speaking.

    Anyway, 好久不見!Come back soon!