Changing how I learn new words: Achieving a happy marriage between Anki and Skritter

So recently I decided to significantly change how I study Chinese. I’ve been skrittering since March, and before that studied Chinese on and off. Skritter has been great, and I now feel like I have a grasp of the writing and definitions of many of the more basic characters, but now (thanks to the advice of other skritterers!) I’m moving away from studying lists to using other material like podcasts and videos. What seems apparent is that I’m not going to be able to keep up with all the new vocabulary I’m coming across if I’m diving straight in and learning all of the writings. Rather it seems I will need to just learn the word for recognition of either pronunciation or character (this is where Anki comes in), and then gradually “catch up” as I can on Skritter. But I’m wondering how best to implement this, and tossing up between two ways:

  1. My first instinct has been to create flashcards on Anki with the pinyin and characters on one side, and the definition on the other. That way I can move through the new words very quickly, using Anki just to keep the pronunciation/meaning association, but also gaining a little visual exposure to the characters too. If I did this, when I added the characters to Skritter I would delete them from my Anki deck, and learn them ‘properly’ there.

  2. I could instead go straight to recognition on Anki, using characters on one side and pinyin/definition on the other, then gradually catch up on writings in Skritter.

The advantage of the first route is that I would be able to move through new vocabulary faster, even if I don’t immediately get to recognizing the characters. And also it would mean less time on Anki and more time skrittering, ie. getting to the writings sooner. I suppose all in all it seems like an easier route, because it’s less change from what I’m doing now! But I can also see advantages of getting straight to the readings, too, for the improvements in reading, and maybe an anki deck for character recognition wouldn’t be such a load as I’m anticipating, since there are no writings… I just would hope an anki deck wouldn’t take too much time away from studying writing. But maybe that wouldn’t be a bad thing at the moment anyway.

Has anyone else done similar, and just used learnt the pronunciation/meaning association first, in order to get through vocabulary quicker? Anyone have any thoughts on whether this is wise / foolish / better to get straight to readings?


There’s actually a setting that disables writing in the study settings. That basically transforms Skritter into flashcards. I’ve never used Anki, so I don’t know if it’s different.

I frequently disable writing when I’m skrittering on the go with my phone.

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That is a very good point. The main reason I was thinking of Anki was that it first came to mind when I was thinking of doing a little pinyin -> definition study, for which Skritter is not designed. But in any case I think I am too attached to writing, and I need to let it go for now not only so I can focus on reviewing more verbal vocab, but also so I can get through recognizing characters faster and allow my reading level to progress with my speaking.

Ideally I would have Skritter add only the readings for new words whilst retaining the writings already added (ie., selective only when it comes to adding new words, not when it comes to what to review), and then have the ability to revert to adding the readings one by one later on. The general study settings and filters in the app aren’t helpful in this regard, but thankfully the list specific settings will do this, which I didn’t realise. So thank you for causing me to investigate this further - it does exactly what I want it to!

I still sometimes wonder about using Anki for definitions/readings, though… It does seem to have a lot of flexibility. But Skritter is certainly very convenient!

It depends on how many words you are adding per day. I am currently adding 13 words per day 4-5 days per week and reviewing words on the other days. My current process is as follows.

  1. Write out the new words on a 4x6 piece of paper and carry them around with me during the day. I suppose this step could be on Anki, but that’s just a lot of extra work to manage since I only need them for one day and only need to be familiar with them at that.
  2. Review words on Skritter.
  3. Review previous week’s new words on Anki. I keep track of the words I add during the week and export them to Anki at the end of the week. The following week I review them once a day to see if I can think about how to write the word given the definition. After that week I remove the words. I have found this step important since for me Skritter is spreading out the spacing between reviews too far too early. This step corrects that problem for me.

13 words a day seems like a lot. Some days I can add something similar, but I’m not adding writings for the moment, so it’s much less time consuming. In what capacity are you studying Chinese? (ie. student/hobby/living in China)

I’ve now ended up using Anki for definitions, and Skritter only for writing (except for the words I had already added other parts for). I find it less of a headache to manage word lists and parts of study for different characters that way.

Yes, you’re right. 13 words a day is a lot, but I have learned over 3,000 words so I have a large number of words I already know that I can relate these words to. I am only learning a few new characters per day. The other characters I generally already know or am familiar with. Where are you at in your studies?

If you are beginning I suggest these steps.

  1. Find a tutor who can teach you to speak the sounds. This is important so that when you use the pinyin in Skritter you will speak the work correctly. You will also be able to hear it in your head.
  2. Study the Radicals. They are really components and when you understand them, then when you learn knew characters they will make a lot more sense. Skritter has a list of 250 radicals. I studies these first. Have patience, most of them aren’t used as words themselves. After you finish this list I would review it for about 6 months and then remove it from your studies. It should be second nature by that point.
  3. Begin adding words slowly, but consistently. Study for a short amount of time every day. Don’t add a large number words on a rainy day. Consistency is the key.
  4. Choose a curriculum and follow the vocabulary for that curriculum. This will give you reading practice and audio for listening. Listen to the audio and practice saying the words verbally, focusing on the tone.

I’m quite early on in my studies. Over the years I’ve studied little bits of Mandarin on and off, but finally this year I’ve started having a crack at it in a more rigorous fashion, dedicating time to it daily. I’ve reached a bit over 900 words. It is self directed though, so it all feels a bit ‘messy’ - at the moment I’m watching videos and listening to podcasts, and adding words from those that seem useful. Having a tutor would be wonderful, but at the moment I don’t feel like I have the time, as Mandarin is a hobby and I’m quite busy with full time study. I have a Chinese friend who I occasionally sit down with and ask all of the questions I’ve been writing down while studying. Also for pronunciation sometimes I become insecure about a particular sound, and quiz him about it.

Those steps look really solid. I’ve done them in part:

  1. Hearing 我 pronounced as ‘woe’ during a group beginner lesson because someone was reading the pinyin badly was enough to scare me into trying to develop good phonological awareness! I’m thankful that my early dribs and drabs of Mandarin involved a lot of audio lessons, therefore learning the sounds independently of pinyin.
  2. I’ve gone through a list of the 100 most common radicals. Still, I wonder if it would be wise to go on and learn even more, as the one’s I’ve learnt have been very helpful.
  3. I’ve pulled the reins in on adding writings now so I can get through more words, because I want to be getting through a lot of new vocab quickly! And also I’m spending less time on SRS and more time on podcasts and things.
  4. This is where I wish I had something a bit more systematic… I’m currently using fluentu and popupchinese, and I’m going to order some graded readers.