Question for the +40 hour club

ZanDatsu, Ximeng, and everyone else who pulls +40 hours per month of Skritter time just amaze me. You guys are incredible. I’d love to know what your secret is?

I’ve found that about 1 hour per day is about all I can manage, but I really want to do more! If I spend any more than an hour a day studying I get so many new words that I can’t keep up. I end up a bit overwhelmed.

Is it pure determination that gets you through, or is there some kind of technique or method that helps you? Does Skritter eventually stop giving you words, or does it just keep giving you new words so long as your backlog is empty?

I dream of one day seeing my name in the users of the month list. One day… :smile:

I’ll address the determination/motivation thing first. I’ve never once had an issue with needing to motivate myself to study Japanese, it’s simply become a part of my life. I don’t question whether I will study, I only think about what or how I will study. I got an iPad in January and Skritter became the what and how to what I decided to focus on next–writing. There were areas I put many hours into before Skritter and there will be a lot more when it no longer needs to be my main focus. It all comes down to the fact that I just really love the language, so time spent studying is basically leisure time to me.

I can only speak for myself, but I use Skritter for writing alone, I don’t use the other modes it has for definitions/readings. Recently I tend to only add 100 new words after I’ve finished whatever reviews are there when I wake up in the morning. It was over 200 this morning so it took awhile, but I still managed to get through 100+ new 四字熟語. For the first couple of months I could go through hundreds of words a day. I still could now if I wanted but it’s not necessary, I’ve covered what I needed to and anything further will be added for specific reasons.

There was a time a couple of months ago when I was consistently doing 6 hours per day, but I’ve been struggling to hit 5 hours recently. I think this has more to do with the fact I’ve run out of words and characters I actually need to learn, so I’m now just adding 4 character idioms, which there are fewer of and aren’t as necessary for me to learn. It’s probably important to note that my Japanese level was already high before I started using Skritter, I simply hadn’t done any writing in almost 2 years, so when I checked out the app on the iPad it seemed like the perfect thing to very quickly improve that specific area. My ability to recall the characters making up a word from memory was pretty bad as it’s something I never spent any significant time on before Skritter.

If you want to be in the users of the month list it’s simple, just study the language for years and neglect your writing… Then simply come back to Skritter and uppercut and roundhouse kick your way through everything! This makes it easy because there isn’t any real stress on your mind for learning new things…it’s just busywork to improve a very specific area that you were lacking in. I must say I still very much enjoy the simple act of writing with the app. I’m super grateful for all the work that has gone and continues to go into making it as great as it is.


Thanks for taking the time to put together such a thorough reply! I noticed in a screenshot somewhere on Hacking Chinese that Olle was also only doing writing. Perhaps this is a habit of more advanced or successful students?

I think there are so many ways to reach whatever goals you have as an individual learner that there’s no one thing that can be said to be a habit for successful students. What works for me may be hell to someone else and completely put them off studying altogether, and vice versa. This topic was originally to ask a question about those who study for many hours on Skritter so I’ll take that as an example. When I first started using the app it felt natural for me to just spend hours each day with it because that’s what I’d been doing for years before, just with other areas of study. My ‘normal’ just carried over to Skritter, but I’d never advocate for anyone else to change their ‘normal’ if it in any way hinders their moment-to-moment enjoyment of whatever happens to be their passion at the time. Even if it takes a little longer to reach a goal, the main thing is that you got there. So many people get burned out on things because for whatever reason they aren’t allowed to approach them in the way they want and at the pace they want. The only advice I can give is to spend time finding what works best for you.

The other more practical answer to your question is that I only use Skritter for writing because that’s what it’s best at. There isn’t anything out there that does what it does as well as it does when it comes to writing. However, the same cannot be said about the definition/readings functionality of Skritter. There are other pieces of software that specialize in this area and so they are much more powerful tools in that regard. I personally use Anki, which has many strengths not found in Skritter. For me the biggest ones are:

  • having everything stored locally (very important for a lot of reasons)
  • the ability to seamlessly browse through and edit everything to make it just how I want it
  • very informative stat tracking functionality
  • works with numerous addons that make it more powerful as a learning tool (Rikaisama import in particular is a godsend)

It has a steep learning curve but once you get comfortable with it I don’t think anything comes close. I actually enjoy the process of making notes with Anki, and that process itself I find really helps make things stick in memory for me, especially when it comes to learning vocabulary. I personally would recommend getting EBWin and a good J-J dictionary to use in conjunction with Anki when making your own notes. Rikaisama import takes care of almost everything else.

Just as a more general suggestion, especially for anyone who has difficulty concentrating on one thing for long periods of time, get yourself a comfortable pair of headphones (Sennheiser are great for comfort) and use them to block out outside noises with whatever you find most appealing. I spent a decent amount of time trying various things, from classical music, to radio, to rainfall, waves, waterfalls, rumbling engines and crackling fires. YouTube has thousands of these ambient background tracks and I’m sure anyone can find what works for them. Personally I found the ambient noise of a cafe to be the easiest to lose myself in and stay focused on whatever I was doing.

Things like this:

I even found some recorded in Japanese cafes, which was nice.

I saw my name in the users of the month list for the first time this month. I was very surprised, 62 hours :smile:

I’m averaging 2 hours a day at the min, sometimes 3 and sometimes I only manage the 1 it just depends on what my work load is but I just keep doing it when I have some spare time or watching TV etc, till my review count is at zero then I do something else. It kinda feels a little like a game to try to keep the count at zero. I usually have 350 build up over night which I tend to do before work for an hour or so then about the same build up throughout the day so I do another hour in the night and maybe a little during the day at work. I switched to manual a few months ago as I found it got a little overwhelming for me too, so when the count gets to zero I add a couple more words, if you can’t get the count to zero then you probably have a few too many words and need to stop adding them for a while. I do seem to have a little trouble retaining all the words but I’m not as young as I used to be so have to work harder.

Determination wise I find it fun to do, if I found it a challenge or a chore to have to do it then I wouldn’t be able to keep at it so much. The method that works for me is to figure out a book I want to read then get a word list for that book. One of the books I have has 300 words another has 500 words, so I set Skritter to only add words from the book I want to read and don’t read the book until I’ve gone through the whole list. There is a huge overlap of words so only a certain % are actually new words or characters so it doesn’t really take that long to do. That way I have the motivation to study the list because I really want to read the book. I do all the writing, reading, tones and definitions because I haven’t been learning Chinese for that long so all the help I get is a big help.

I also use Pleco to study sentences in the flashcard part and I do that when my Skritter count is at zero as it gives me a break and lets the review count build up a little.

This is what works for me and I’m sure it’s not for everyone :slight_smile:

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I realised that there is a very direct link between how long you study and how many words you retain. It’s a very strong incentive to keep going. I also set myself a target of 10000 words last year, which I achieved just after midnight on New Year’s Eve. Very satisfying to hit the target.

I practise on iPhone, so whenever I have a free minute e.g. commuting or waiting for someone I am always studying. I normally get 30 minutes to an hour done commuting to work and back and in lunch time. I was aiming for two hours on weekdays, and would often do several hours at weekends.

It’s not particularly thrilling to spend all day doing reviews, but with some mindless background noise / TV it’s OK, especially when the sun is shining. I also set it to add manually and would add 100 items at a time, which would take about 45 minutes to an hour to clear (tones and writing are all I practise with Skritter, so that’s 200 review items). Getting through some of the big lists was another goal for me, like HSK, TOCFL, Chengyu, people you should know, etc. I tracked the progress pretty closely through the lists.

If I stopped reviewing for a while, it would leave me with a big queue. I recently went away for a few days and wasn’t practising, and the weekend after I came back I did around 4-5,000 reviews. When you realise how quickly you forget if you don’t practise and how many repeats you have to do of words that you would have known, I get pretty annoyed if I can’t practise for whatever reason.

I’ve now finished all my lists, so am in maintenance mode. At the moment that means probably around two hours a day of reviews to clear my queue, but if I keep it going that should trend down in future. I plan to continue Skrittering for maintenance but transition my study time to watching more TV, reading more, and finally speaking and writing more.

My reading and vocabulary has come on significantly from Skrittering, and it really is the most efficient way I’ve found to study which is why I spend so much time on it. That said it’s not the most exciting thing to do, but it’s got me to a level with my Chinese that would have been much harder to reach without the 1000+ hours I’ve put in to Skritter.

Just for reference - see how correlated time spent in Skritter is to the rate of increase of vocabulary and you’ll see how important it is to put the hours in. When I haven’t been able to put the time in to Skritter for a while (a few months say due to being busy at work), I have to spend at least a month or two catching up with where I was before.


Thanks so much to all three of you for your comments. It’s really informative to know how more advanced learners are using the app to increase their vocabulary and retention.

I’ve been learning Chinese for a year and had been using Skritter daily for 15-25 minutes, most days. After 9 months, I knew about 550 definitions and set myself the goal of getting to 1000 before the year was up. I upped my game to 1 hour every day I just passed it with a week to spare.

You have all inspired me to aim higher. I’m going to switch to 2 hours every day and employ stephenmp’s suggestion of studying the words from specific things I want to read/hear. I’m going to do this with transcripts from first, then some graded readers.

Thanks again for taking the time to reply and share your experience!

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As an aside would anyone have any idea what the search terms would be to find ambient cafe recordings from Chinese or Taiwanese cafes? I’m sure they exist but I don’t know what to look for.

Zandatsu’s suggestion is great, but English-speaking cafes are too distracting when you hear a conversation out of nowhere and Japanese-speaking cafes break me away from Chinese and draw me to thinking in Japanese (which I’ve studied before).

You guys are… intense. I get distracted by Clash of Clans after 10 mins.


I’ll give a perspective from the other end of the continuum. I feel lucky if I can spend 15 minutes on Skritter a day. Some weeks (like the past two), I’ve had projects due at work which have consumed a lot of normally-free after-work time and my Skritter time has been zero for that duration. Add to this that my daughter has just started soccer for the season, which takes out a lot of normally-free weekend time.

So, I have 1300+ reviews built up in my queue, and I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get to it this week. I did about 5 minutes last night, but was so distracted by other things that I couldn’t get into the “Skritter-zone” and stopped doing the reviews.

And based on this, I have two possible responses: a) I could let myself get upset/angry/disappointed; or b) I could recognize that my available time will ebb and flow and give myself space to learn when I can direct my full-focus to my learning.

The former response means that I beat myself up over missing a self-imposed, artifical deadline. The latter means I recognize that learning Chinese is a choice for myself and that I can be appreciative of having it available to me as an option in my life.

I understand and agree that goals are important and it’s equally important to practice the discipline to meet the goals. However, at the same time, it’s critical to recognize that “life” is going to interject with unplanned tasks that need to be done, and these task need to take priority.

Skritter for me is a choice…an option…a fun “addition” to my life. I don’t want to make Skritter a “job”.

I have an engineering job for work that requires an intense amount of focus. I have a 2nd job as a dad to two pre-teen kids. In the equation for work-life balance, Skritter time is enjoyable “noise” on top of the signal of everything else that is going on. So, if I get to it, that’s great. But if I don’t, I’ll enjoy the break and come back to it reinvigorated.

Do I fall back a little bit in my “progress”? Sure. But every life-skill and learning only is maintained by practice, and we have to make way in our life for the priorities. This means that other things are going to fall by the wayside…and this is the NORMAL course of things…the ebb and flow. Holding rigid to a fixed mindset that I “have” to hit this goal is unhelpful.

For example, this weekend I went rollerblading for the first time in 5 years. My body “remembered” what to do, but my muscles were too weak to hit the level of performance at which I used to be able to skate. I’d argue it’s counterproductive to beat myself up over that loss of fitness. Instead, I choose to cultivate a mindset where I enjoy the opportunity to re-experience something that I find fun.

TL/DR: Enjoy the journey, not the destination.


Totally agree that life gets in the way. The last couple of years I’ve been able to find some time for Skritter - so the graphs look pretty nice. The four years before that I went backwards. Here’s 2011-2012 - total 1.7 hours studied.

I really appreciate the time I have to Skritter now. I spent a lot of time back when Skritter was starting out in 2008, and it was painful to see that going backwards when I didn’t have time to study.

I tried searching for 环境噪音, 背景杂音, 咖啡店录音 that kind of thing but couldn’t find anyway. Maybe we have a Skritterer in Taiwan who could help.

I think it’s amazing that you can even find 15 minutes a day @Apomixis :smile:

My personality type mandates that I have to make something like Skritter a habit, otherwise I’ll lose motivation and won’t keep it up. Back when I way doing 15 minutes a day, I had no real qualms about missing a day. It would sometimes get to a point where I was happy to just clear my queue, and stopped making any real progress.

Now that I do an hour consistently every day, it’s easier to do an hour every day. if that makes sense. I eat a meal and spend 20 minutes on Skritter and it’s as natural to me as any other part of my daily routine.

Granted, I don’t have kids and I work for myself and set my own hours. I’m grateful that my circumstances give me the time to study so much.

@Benjamin - I do too! Or Boom Beach. Or just staring off into the distance. I find after 15 minutes of study I start to get sloppy and lose focus. So, if I want to do more than 15 minutes I’ll take a quick 10 minute break (like right now!) before going back for another 15 minutes.

@Ximeng - thanks for trying! I’ve got some friends and a tutor in Taiwan, I might drop the suggestion to them :smile:

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I think I have been on the 40+ hour list a few times, and live in Taiwan but alas I am no help at all. I love cycling and previously watch long races and skritter. That is my plan this year for giro de Italia. Well depending on if I want to anki more instead, or read more papers. After being able to write 1500 characters I find I’m able to improve vocabulary by reading more and then writing to review.

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