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The Skritter and Reality Gap

Lurks   June 20th, 2010 2:36a.m.

That title sounds a bit dramatic, I don't mean it to be :)

I've spoken before about how I found that Skritter was certainly a helpful tool for learning hanzi but that it often just wasn't really ramming home the ability to write something by hand. It's a combination of things including learning how to game Skritter.

I've an exam tomorrow, which I should blast through but I've been taking no chances this weekend. So I went through the text book, covered up the hanzi and attempted to write each character. I should stress I've studied the whole vocab to death in Skritter in cram mode - we're talking about stuff learned ages ago.

There was probably 2-3 characters in each chapter I got wrong. So I dutifully compiled a list of the things I got wrong and sat there and write out lines of the damn things. Next day I repeat and see if it worked, and yep it has.

Which me to thinking if there's not some merit in a sort of bad ass exam mode. No guessing at the damn radical with a vague swipe etc. It's just a thought, I hardly think it's a disaster practising on paper - in fact it has good merit. So just thinking aloud here :)

wb   June 20th, 2010 4:27a.m.

try settings -> write raw squigs

Byzanti   June 20th, 2010 5:16a.m.

Yeah, the raw squigs option helps fantastically.

雅各   June 20th, 2010 8:10a.m.

aaw theres a setting for it now?! cool!

Lurks   June 20th, 2010 9:30a.m.

I'm aware of it, I didn't really find it that great like.

Nicki   June 20th, 2010 9:38a.m.

I found I was having that problem too, and so now if I think there might be any chance I can't write it perfectly I force myself to write it on paper before writing in skritter. Then I mark myself in skritter according to how I did on paper - one small mistake and I mark a 2, anything more and it's a 1. My stats are taking a nosedive but I think I'm really learning it this time.

At first I thought since my goal was really more recognition based that it didn't matter that I was getting little hints from Skritter but then I tried to write something in a restaurant to show a friend and I realized I actually do want to be able to write this stuff, no help required.

Lurks   June 20th, 2010 10:02a.m.

I hear you.

Although, to be fair, I've learned stacks and stacks of stuff I can write just fine. I've no problem blasting through vocab in Skritter as a learning tool.

The issue for me on paper is proportions. I might know how to write something but there's definitely practice involved in scaling the radicals and getting the proportions right so stuff looks okay.

I think working on paper is a good habit anyway, and ultimately that's how I get examined and that's how I have to write in classes so it should all come together.

It can be quite shocking the gap between what Skritter reckons you can write and what you can actually write though... embarrassing really.

ntozubod   June 20th, 2010 10:49a.m.

I have found that it takes a while to learn how to extract maximum benefit from Skritter. There are some things that it is weaker at, at least for my learning style, but I have made more progress with it for learning characters than any other technique I have tried.

As I get more comfortable with it, I tighten up the criteria for what is correct. I also change the collection of characters I am working on. I feel it is important to really care about getting the characters given exactly right, and that is more strict than Skritter's criteria. When I have a huge backlog of characters to review and find I don't really care about them too much and the ones I do care about are spaced too far apart for effective learning, I feel really bogged down.

If I would make a recommendation to Skritter it would be to have a better way of pushing everything far into the indefinite future and allow me to add new content for the present, perhaps through the current mechanisms of lists.

I know there exists a mechanism already, and I tried it but am not clear what it did except push things a little farther away. What I want is closer to Anki's suspend feature.

nick   June 20th, 2010 11:01a.m.

Unless you are really severe on yourself while practicing, it's always going to be easier to complete a Skritter prompt than to come up with a character in the wild. I think that this is a good thing for most people.

Here's my reasoning: you will go a lot faster hitting something like 80% real writing-on-paper retention than 90% plus, but those so-so 10% characters will still be known well enough to be recognized easily and to relate to other characters and words, and it won't be as frustrating forgetting so much stuff on Skritter.

The SuperMemo site has a description of why people may actually learn more items with a lower target retention rate, but that they recommend shooting for a higher retention rate because it's frustrating to miss prompts and because you can't build deeper knowledge if the foundational components aren't known. Here, though, it seems that less-strict knowledge of the characters is probably enough to avoid both of these problems, while still letting you go quickly.

So if you really do want that very high written retention with Skritter, then you'd have to be very strict on yourself like Nicki describes, potentially using raw squigs or paper to help out. Otherwise, it's a good trade-off: speed over completeness.

marchey   June 20th, 2010 5:09p.m.

Skritter is only a tool. I use skritter as a memory tool but writing chinese is not only a matter of remembering the characters. Somehow you need to transfer whatever is in you head to a real _writing skill_ and for me this means pencil and paper. What I try to do wit Chinesepod lessons is to work through the whole lesson first, especially using the sound bites on the website to have a good old fashion dictation exercise. Whenever there is a new word or character I will write it down between 3 to 5 times. Only when I have filled about 2 pages with my scribbles I add the vocab of this lesson to my skritter database. Skritter is great in keeping all of these words _alive_ . I have been using skritter for 10 months now and my character count is around 1.700 now, far more than I would have achieved without this wonderful tool :-)

Marc in Belgium

阿軒   June 20th, 2010 7:36p.m.

It would be nice to either have a larger grading scale (making it more troublesome though) or an option to remove any hints.

I didn't know about the raw option... will test right now!

skritterjohan   June 21st, 2010 4:03a.m.

Just the fact that you are looking at the Skritter webpage with its colors, window size and especially its stroke recognition and sitting at your desk at home or at work and holding a wacom pen and wearing pyjamas or whatever the circumstances are that you practice skritter at makes for a convenient hook for your brain to use to remember words. Hmm maybe that sentence was a bit too long.

Anyway, what I am trying to say is you have to grade yourself stricter. A few people already mentioned that. Writing raw squigs can really help I found. Another thing you could do is create a mental picture of a character each time you are prompted to write it by Skritter. Or perhaps once per week you do not write anything on the screen at all and just score yourself 1-3 depending on how your mental picture compares to the real thing.

What I used to do is when I was asked to write a character I would just start at the left top with a stroke I usually remembered and just work my way through the character not exactly knowing where I'd end up. Skritter would help me. I'd 'know' the character. There is a difference between knowing and knowing. Sometimes I feel like having Skritter help me through all the characters. Sometimes like when practicing for a written exam, you have to write them all once on paper to realise which ones you actually do not know out of the Skritter context.

Lurks   June 21st, 2010 7:36a.m.

Grading yourself is a good point and really that's just not something I'd considered. Which is odd because I drill myself on flash-cards all day with self-testing.

So I just need to change the way I use Skritter to grade. On the other hand... I think you definately believe you know some character just because you're working to clues you didn't know you need. Like a lazy stroke, see first radical and go from there. Only when you have to remember *exactly* what radical it is on paper do you realise you were fooling yourself :)

arp   June 21st, 2010 8:27p.m.

I'd been reading about stricter grading on several forum topics. I found it difficult to buy into the idea, but finally did, and it has truly made a difference. I certainly know if I guessed or really, truly knew the character. The hard bit is that when you start grading stricter, it drops your levels down. However, after a time, you're getting a more accurate reflection of your knowledge and it settles back into a growth pattern.

klutz14159   June 22nd, 2010 8:25p.m.

It took me a month to recover my learned word progress after turning on raw squid mode, which goes to show how much your brain adapts to hinting.

Now I am annoyed that even in raw squid mode, Skritter occasionally still gives hints. Granted, 80% of the hints occur when I am trying to bend Skritter to my will (i.e. explaining to Skritter that the last 5 times I drew the stroke, it was exactly where the hint said it should be...)

Anyhow, my handwriting has also improved dramatically since turning on raw squid mode. Thank you Nick!

Neil   June 24th, 2010 5:50a.m.

Could someone take the time to upload some pics of the typical better handwriting that is acheived after a while using raw squigs?

jww1066   June 24th, 2010 7:54a.m.

Hmmmm I don't know how much better this is than before. I've been using raw squigs since they came out. Keep in mind that my handwriting in the Latin alphabet is horrific as you can see beneath the 汉字.



雅各   June 24th, 2010 10:13a.m.

I have been contemplating for a while now to try and work out a way to wipe out my entire history and start again from scratch using a completely strict evaluatin method, ie i either know it or dont. And also use it to turn on "raw squig" mode.

At the moment, the main thing stopping me going to "raw squig" by default is that It would immediatly cut my learning graph line by 50% (:

nick   June 24th, 2010 11:35a.m.

Why nuke? Just start your new evaluation method and things will work themselves out a lot faster than if you got rid of all your progress data.

I'm surprised by handwriting improvements. When I write raw squigs, they're just as ugly as ever! But I go quickly.

雅各   June 24th, 2010 6:33p.m.

The other issue is that due to a busy period at work my queue has jumped up to 700 words/characters that I only half know and I am finding it difficult getting it back down again.

Lurks   June 24th, 2010 9:29p.m.

I wish I had a before... but this is basically me after using paper a fair bit. Given I couldn't write a single character in February I'm pretty happy :)


(I love writing on whiteboards, seems to work nice with Chinese rather than English... it's the strokey brushy nature of it I guess - shape you can't get a sort of whiteboard brush :)

sarac   June 24th, 2010 10:23p.m.

I much prefer the raw squigs but not because I see the style of my handwriting improve, rather the accuracy. I still need to use pen and paper from time to time to really write using only my memory but the hints of the regular (not raw squigs) mode were getting me into a terribly lazy/dependent mode.

As to nuking: I resisted the notion at first but after getting to a plateau of 1600 characters (words till slowly being added/learned) and having 董雅各's dilemma: too large a queue with half-known words, I finally nuked everything. Yes, there is the disadvantage of losing 8 months of history/data but it was, for me, a net gain. It is refreshing; I am able to add new characters; I keep my queue to a manageable level; and I am now certain that I really know the stuff Skritter says I know. BTW: your custom lists are not lost if you nuke.

This time I started in the middle of the textbook series (Int Chinese level 2) with the vocabulary from my current class being added alongside. It's been 2 1/2 weeks and I am up to about 650 chars and about as many words. I am confident it won't be long before I reach and surpass my previous level.

Nicki   June 25th, 2010 1:49a.m.

I wouldn't worry about that too much. My queue is up around 700 too. Just work it out at your own pace and it will sort itself in the end.

Neil   June 26th, 2010 3:21a.m.

James and Lurks - thanks for posting them up!
I have a ink-brush which is basically like a small sized 毛笔 however it's powered internally by ink like a pen, rather than the real stuff which is messy and takes time. It's good for 1x1cm to about 3x3cm size characters, and (somebody who knows what they are doing) can do the line weight quite well.

@nick - The problem i'm facing with switching to raw squigs fulltime now - and not nuking - is that 100 or so characters have now been downgraded from a 3 to 1 so the SRS is pulling them up everyday. The other 1000+ are assumed good however I know there are heaps of characters in there which are not known very well at all - they relied on the manipulations of normal mode. I guess these will come up in time after I get better on the current group of characters. I'll stick to it and see how the snowball rolls.

Lurks   June 27th, 2010 11:52p.m.

Neil, I've really been looking for something to do handwriting with that's a bit less of a faff than a full brush. Any chance of a piccy to show us what the writing looks like?

Neil   June 28th, 2010 11:38a.m.

yes... once i sort myself out

Neil   July 5th, 2010 5:00a.m.

Hey Mat here are a couple of pics -

Lurks   July 5th, 2010 9:48p.m.

Wow, good work. I really like the way the 水radical looks now, and also the 心 radical. Those are the major fails of using a pen.

Hmm, I need to get me one of these. Not sure what you call them, the ones I can find on ebay look like they might be washy water colour ones.

west316   August 7th, 2010 1:07p.m.

After reading these forums for a while, I have come to the conclusion that I use Skritter in an odd manner. I honestly don't view Skritter as a tool for helping me to learn how to write characters. I view it as a tool to help me remember them. By using the writing features of Skritter it forces me to work with the characters, yet is a heck of a lot faster than other review methods. This makes me engage my brain while still moving quickly. I came to Skritter out of desperation. My current review methods, while thorough and effective, were too slow. I have 11 text books worth of material to review PLUS I wish to keep learning. There comes a point when you have to speed things up. Skritter does that.

If I want to learn a new word, you will still see me using the same methods I have always used. You will see me with a textbook/notepad in my lap tracing with my finger with a slightly glassy eyed look on my face. After going over the list 3 or 4 days worth of review time straight, it is relatively well locked in my head. I then add it to my Skritter queue and just let Skritter tell me when to review.

jcdoss   December 9th, 2010 2:46p.m.

I've apparently hit a plateau with my Chinese studies, and am getting quite frustrated. I hit 820 words about two weeks ago, and my graph looks like a sine wave ever since.

My Japanese studying hasn't hit the same plateau. I have pauses every 10 days or so, but it's been an upward trend since I started Skrittering.

I'm coming to the conclusion that many of you in this old thread already have, and that's that Skritter might actually be better used to REMEMBER characters than it is to LEARN characters.

I'm going to try some new strategies for the Chinese side. Strict limits on daily study time, strict grading, and whip out the pen/paper for characters that have been troublesome, which at this point are many. Maybe then I can whittle down my queue and actually start retaining some of this knowledge.

Any other advice is welcome!

jww1066   December 9th, 2010 3:04p.m.

@jcdoss I would just give it a little more time to settle down. I started from zero knowledge of Chinese and have used only Skritter to learn characters and words, supplementing it with Anki to study sentences, and I have found that my progress has been pretty steady. While I often see fluctuations after long pauses (as I naturally forget lots of things then), overall the trend is positive.

One question: do you study only single characters, or do you also study words and sentences? I find context very important to retain things properly, but that slows down my overall speed of acquiring new characters.

jcdoss   December 9th, 2010 3:19p.m.

Mostly words, not so much characters unless they are their own word. But early on, I turned on whatever check box says "add new characters from words" or whatever, so I end up messing around with characters that don't stand alone like 当 and 为 which mess me up some.

I think my primary problem is that some time ago, too many new words were added too fast, and I'm getting confused and/or they're not being presented enough that I'm actually learning them.

jww1066   December 9th, 2010 3:29p.m.

Yeah that can be frustrating. I guess I always figure you can resolve any problem by practicing in a slightly different way. Something you might consider is overpracticing; stop adding new items for a while and practice the hell out of the ones that are causing you trouble. You can star the really troublesome ones. Or add only words containing characters you already know, so you deepen your understanding of those characters.

My understanding is that 当 and 为 *can* be used by themselves, BTW. I've definitely seen 当 by itself.


jcdoss   December 9th, 2010 5:35p.m.

I grade myself pretty harshly... maybe that's part of it. At the writing prompt, I have pinyin hidden, so if I don't know the pinyin AND the writing, then I grade myself a "1" even though once I uncover the pinyin I can usually write the word. If I mess up the tone but get pinyin and writing correct, it gets a "2". That modicum has worked just fine for Japanese (except, obviously, for the part about tones), but for Mandarin it's starting to make my head hurt.

jww1066   December 9th, 2010 5:44p.m.

"2" is a problem as it can keep items in a sort of limbo where they get scheduled out too far into the future to get them right. Try marking things as either 1 or 3 and see if that helps.

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