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scoopneals

Skritter Vs. Traditional Learning for Writing

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scoopneals

Background:

Over my 2 years of being in China, I've come to a decent comprehension level in reading in listening (which I attribute mostly to the ridiculous amount of time I spent studying during my first year in China). I notice it much more difficult for me to say what I mean in certain situations than to understand what is said to me, and I have for the most part avoided writing. The former I feel like I know how to overcome, but the latter not so much.

 

I find myself frustrated, with one thing --- That I have listened to all the advice online not to learn how to write. Then again, who knows... maybe it's smarter to gain a good recognition of characters first, as many Chinese do- and then learn to write them.

 

--

 

Specifically, I believe writing would be beneficial for several sitations:

 

1.) I often attend church gatherings here in China. To bring a computer to write things down in Chinese--- well, let's just say I've never encountered anyone doing that, and I would draw more attention to myself than I already do.

 

I could, of course, just write in English (which I currently do).  To write in the language that I'm hearing things in would be more desirable.

 

2.) Classroom situations. I'm not currently attending classes, but am self studying as I do freelance work. I would like to attend classes in the future and be able to write what I'm hearing (not Chinese classes, but classes that natives might attend i.e. a class on Marketing).

 

3.) Reading other people's writing. While, yes, most things transmitted these days are digital, I hate it when I can't read a hand written note that a friend has given to me.

 

4.) HSK... 

 

----

 

So I've been thinking about several methods for a systematic way to improve my writing:

 

1. Skritter

 

Skritter has captured my interest the most. I think it's a brilliant app. But one thing I worry about is it producing in me a poor ability to actually write and read hand-written characters. Swiping with my thumb seems far different than writing with a pen.

 

Also, when you look at hand-written writing, it often looks so different than printed Chinese. So with Skritter, I'm afraid I'm not going to actually get that native style, nor will I be able to read it.

 

2. Writing Classes

 

I'm not a big fan of classes, and they're so hit-and-miss in China... especially where I live (in Xinjiang). And too slow for my style.

 

3. Private Tutor

 

I feel like this would be great, but a little pricey on my budget. Not afraid to spend for education, but I do feel like this would be the only way to truly learn to write and recognize characters like a native Chinese.

 

-

 

My thoughts on moving forward:

Can anyone confirm or disavow my thoughts? I need a systematic way to move forward. I think Skritter makes the most sense, but I'm afraid of learning Chinese in a way that isn't actually used when the Chinese write it.

 

Maybe I'm off here? Maybe I lack an understanding of how natives learn to write? Do they first develop understanding by route and then develop their own personal writing method for each character? At what point do their characters stop looking like print and start morphing into their own style?

 

Perhaps a good method would be to use Skritter religiously for the next year to start out with, and then transition into my own "style" with the assistance of a private tutor. Thoughts?

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Hofmann

Most people in China learn to write just like we do. They learn some basic characters, then learn some others as combinations of components. And then just like us, they aren't taught a lot about handwriting, only how to make things legible. Then their "own style" is developed by a combination of varying degrees of understanding of graphological rules and how they are applied or misapplied in their own handwriting. There is also the influence of having to write a lot and write quickly.

 

The result is fluency. That is fluency regardless of accuracy. That might be what you think of as "that native style." Getting there is quite straightforward: first learn to write and then do it a lot so that you can write without thinking about the graphology and more about what you're trying to communicate. If you want accuracy, though, that requires some special focus.

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imron

Knowing how to read large amounts will make it easier to learn how to write simply because for all the words you are already familiar with you'll already know the bulk of what you need to learn - the meaning, the pronunciation, the usage, and how to recognise the word.  All you really need to learn is how to write it - probably even you'll already be familiar with basic stroke order rules so you may not even need to learn that you just need to be able to actively recall the word and its component parts.

 

It's important to realise though that there are a number of different skills in question here that make up 'writing' and it's worth identifying them separately in order to know where to focus your attention.

 

Firstly is active recall, or production.  This is the ability to think of the structure and shape of a character without any prompting (as opposed to passive recall, or recognition, which is used with reading).  Something like Skritter will help with your active recall.  Personally I would also use your index finger rather than your thumb.

 

Next is motor skills required to write the character neatly in a confined space.  Skritter will not really help with this (even if using your index finger) because even the smallest handwriting you can do on it will still by large and clumsy compared to using a pen - it also doesn't enforce stroke and component placement and proportions.  You'll need to practice writing on paper by hand to develop these skills.  Seeing as you are in China, pay a visit to your local stationery shop and pick up some blank grid notebooks and pen and start practising.  There is no substitute for this if you want to develop neat legible handwriting (or even messy but legible handwriting).

 

Then is the ability to read and write native adult handwriting.  This also requires further practice on top of the above motor skills.  See this thread, especially the book I recommend in this post.  You should be able to purchase it quite easily in China either from a bookstore or online.  It will show you common ways different components are written in handwriting.  Practising the examples in that book using a gridded notebook will improve your ability to read native handwriting, and your ability to write in a more adult fashion

 

A private tutor will be next to useless for developing your handwriting.  It really just requires slog work by yourself and there's no point paying someone to watch you write out characters over and over again, though it might be useful to have a native speaker you trust provide you feedback every now and then.  Amongst any group of friends, one will probably be known as having the 'best' handwriting of the group.  You say you attend Chinese church so ask around about who has 'good' handwriting, and ask that person to give you feedback.  Note, that they might not be an expert and may still make technical mistakes, but they should at least be able to point out any major mistakes.

 

Where a private tutor *will* be able to help is with written composition (assuming they are any good), but make sure you know how to use their time wisely.  Probably best to have them set you something to write about, then give it to them for marking, then get together with them to discuss mistakes and better and/or more eloquent ways to express things.  To make the most efficient use of each others time they don't need to be there when you are writing, and you don't need to be there while they are doing initial marking.  Then just keep repeating for newer topics.

 

Take a look at the above skills and decide which one(s) you want to focus on.  Doing is the only real way to acquire sufficient proficiency in a skill so make sure you are doing enough of the skills you want to learn.

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character

I tried Skritter but it didn't work well for me.

 

I like Reading and Writing Chinese: Third Edition by William McNaughton and Jiageng Fan for learning the stroke order for characters in an organized way, building up knowledge from simple to more complex characters, and Learn to Write Chinese Characters (Yale Language Series) by Johan Björkstén for learning the nuances of writing characters that look good.

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Shelley

I am a firm believer in learning to write as you learn to speak Chinese. I don't understand why it is suggested not to learn to write.

 

I am currently enjoying a summer of free skritter and it has made a difference but I know that I also have to use the characters in a real world situation to really get them stuck in my head. As I have no real world situations to use them where I am I have taken to writing stories, not necessarily original stories but simple stories, the first one I did was The Three Bears. I try to do it from memory (the characters) and yes it is simple but it is a start, because I know the story i only have to concentrate on the characters.

 

I would take all the advice already given. they know what they are talking about. I would read Hofmann's blog and take a look at imron's Hanzi Grids here http://www.hanzigrids.com/

 

Writing out characters by hand over and over again is good, boring but good, so I have kind of changed things around, with any group of characters I am learning, i see if I can make one or two sentences and then write those over and over. i think it helps alleviate the boredom and is more realistic.

 

Reading and writing go together so read what you can when you can.

 

Above all don't give up, you will reach many plateau but they soon pass and you will be on the up again.

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lechuan

I find Skritter useful (in parallel with a book by Heisig, McNaughton, Hoenig, etc) for reviewing/learning individual characters and their parts. Skritter has gotten me to the point where I can write (messily) on paper in a pinch, and can write unknown characters into Pleco when looking up new characters.

 

But to write well on paper, nothing beats practicing by writing things out on paper.

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li3wei1

In addition to the skills listed by Imron above, you're giving yourself the additional challenge of taking notes, i.e. writing at considerable speed while listening to what comes next, deciding which parts of it are important, and possibly rephrasing it so you can write it down faster. Good luck.

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grawrt

Just curious, how long should one spend on practicing writing? Just got chewed out by my teacher today for writing in pinyin so I'm trying to develop my writing skills. Bought some grid paper and 30 minutes later I'm beat. I only wrote  7 words (repeated about 10 times) T__T

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scoopneals

I really appreciate all the feedback here.

 

 

 

Most people in China learn to write just like we do. They learn some basic characters, then learn some others as combinations of components. And then just like us, they aren't taught a lot about handwriting, only how to make things legible. Then their "own style" is developed by a combination of varying degrees of understanding of graphological rules and how they are applied or misapplied in their own handwriting. There is also the influence of having to write a lot and write quickly.

 

Makes sense... so kind of like we would develop our own "style" with English. Thanks for your link

 

 

 

Firstly is active recall, or production.  This is the ability to think of the structure and shape of a character without any prompting (as opposed to passive recall, or recognition, which is used with reading).  Something like Skritter will help with your active recall.  Personally I would also use your index finger rather than your thumb.

 

I bought a stylus, I thought it was the closest I could get to using a pen. Still doesn't feel like the real thing. One thing I love about Skritter is that instant feedback you can get with Raw Squigs... but I wonder how much difference it actually will make in the long run.

 

 

Then is the ability to read and write native adult handwriting.  This also requires further practice on top of the above motor skills.  See this thread, especially the book I recommend in this post.  You should be able to purchase it quite easily in China either from a bookstore or online.  It will show you common ways different components are written in handwriting.  Practising the examples in that book using a gridded notebook will improve your ability to read native handwriting, and your ability to write in a more adult fashion

 

A private tutor will be next to useless for developing your handwriting.  It really just requires slog work by yourself and there's no point paying someone to watch you write out characters over and over again, though it might be useful to have a native speaker you trust provide you feedback every now and then.  Amongst any group of friends, one will probably be known as having the 'best' handwriting of the group.  You say you attend Chinese church so ask around about who has 'good' handwriting, and ask that person to give you feedback.  Note, that they might not be an expert and may still make technical mistakes, but they should at least be able to point out any major mistakes.

 

Thanks for the breakdown of all these skills... breaking it apart like this really makes it seem easier to tackle, imron. I suppose I will take a look at that book, and try my hand at some grids.

 

----

 

 

To reply to everyone else... it seems to me like a great way forward will be to try Skritter for a month or so, see how it works out... and at the same time, try to write the new characters as I do listening practice using paper... mixing between pinyin & new characters that I learn... Constantly building on what I already know.

 

I'm thinking about adding 10 new characters a day. Doesn't seem like too much... and I will probably do manual adds so that I have flexibility if I need to skip a day (which I often find the case for Anki).

 

I'll reply to this post again and update on progress. 

 

I remember when I thought it wasn't cool to write, but the more I dig into it seems more and more enjoyable. It really is it's own art form, and will take time to develop like anything else.

 

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makochan

Its been just about 1 year using Skritter to supplement my Chinese learning.  Obviously there's days where I slack off, but I've averaged 30min each day.  In that time, I've reached reading and writing 4,000 words (halfway through HSK 6).  I'm not saying that to show off, but simply to say that anyone can reach that level with consistent/daily practice of reading and writing.

 

The number one thing that makes Skritter effective versus all other tools is that the barrier to entry is so low (i.e. I don't think I could have ever reached this level of writing if I did it with pen/paper, had to create my own vocab lists on paper/anki, etc.)  I do 5 min here and there on my iPhone and its so easy.  And so it has been absolutely worth the $10 a month.

 

If your interested, Skritter has many community created vocab lists like Good News Primer 1-3 and Good News Reader.  You'll be on your way to learn a few thousand most common words in the Bible/Christianity.

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