Back from ACTFL (2008)

I had a great time interacting with other teachers at ACTFL 2008. Yes, what we do at Praxis Language is quite different from what the teachers in the trenches do, but it’s important to connect with them, to hear about how the classroom is changing, how the students are changing, and maybe even about how we might converge in some areas.

I sat in on some particularly interesting talks on CFL (Chinese as a Foreign Language). Only half a year after I finished my own thesis, I felt I really needed to be reminded of the wide world of academic pursuits… some of the research was quite fascinating. I’m planning to revisit some of the topics here in my blog in the next few weeks.

In the meantime, I’d just like to draw my readers’ attention to a cool product I ran into at ACTFL: Skritter [China-friendly link]. It’s a really well-executed online system for practicing character writing, and it has built-in support for Integrated Chinese. Check it out.


John Pasden

John is a Shanghai-based linguist and entrepreneur, founder of AllSet Learning.


  1. John, that Skritter site is sweet! Looks like something you guys should somehow integrate into ChinesePod. My wife likes the flashcards, but she’s not really learning how to write the characters, just how to recognize them. There’s a huge difference.

    Anyway, glad the ACTFL went well.

  2. Thanks for the link, John! I don’t know if I’d call it “really well-executed” yet — there’re a lot of bugs while we’re still in beta.

    From what I can tell, the main site is unblocked in China, now. People should just be able to use that, at least while capriciousness wanes.

    Glad to meet you at the conference. It’s too bad; I was nervous and didn’t use any Chinese when you showed up at our booth. After listening to you on so many ChinesePod lessons… whoa. At least I had the chance to talk with dozens of Chinese teachers (and to try listening to a few academic talks).

  3. Hey, Skritter is pretty cool! It loaded for me without any need for a proxy, but who knows how long that’ll last. Do you know if there are any plans to support traditional characters?

  4. I used Skritter in between calls at work today. So logged about 2 or 3 hours of practise. I love how easy it is to pickup and putdown, even halfway through a character. I’ve only used the trial thing so far but I really enjoyed it.

    I am not sure whether I am actually learning anything though… hrmmm.. I think I’ve learned a bit more about stroke order but I’ve never really studied characters formally yet so that is probably why I didn’t get as much out of it as I might from pen and paper repetition methods I have done in the past.

    I guess what I am saying is that there is no real reinforcement happening. I complete the character and move on to the next. I do like how the ghost image of the character quickly fades when I start to write, so there is some kind of memory practise built in but I wonder if I will retain it?

  5. Brendan: You can study traditional characters with Skritter; just switch modes on the vocabulary options page.

    light487: Are you using the phantom (the ghost image) for every character? Ideally, you’ll only need it when you forget a character, and most practices, you’ll be writing the character from memory. That’s when the active recall kicks in.

    Whenever you check the phantom for a hint, Skritter thinks you forgot the character, and will schedule it more often. Otherwise, it’ll schedule it further and further in the future, so you review it and retain it. That said, our spaced repetition algorithms need a lot more data for us to tune them, so perhaps they are too long for you right now.

  6. For me, it just doesn’t help drawing characters with a mouse. I don’t suppose there’s anything to be done about that, short of going out and buying a dedicated stylus.

  7. Just to follow up. I have had a chance to login and start learning properly now, rather than just using the trial mode. I spent 30 minutes of practising yesterday. I believe there is so retention starting to form. I am a complete beginner.. so I think may be I should go back and switch the vocab to radicals, and play around with those for a little while.

    If I see characters, I can recognise about 40 or 50 of them. If have to write from memory, I know only about 20.. and that is including the numbers and really basic characters like 女 一 二 三 etc

    I definitely felt like I was making some progress when I focused all my attention on the app. When I was testing it at work, I wasn’t giving the app my full attention.. so yeh.. I think it is going to help a lot.

  8. If I were Uncle Scrooge, Bill Gates, or the ruler of a global sate-run economy I would take CPod, Skritter, PopupChinese,, nciku, and mdgb, and and forge the ultimate, integrated Chinese learning hub.

  9. I love Skritter, it’s ace.

  10. Thanks for the Skritter link. It’s very cool. I love how I can learn both Trad and Simp together. Lots of choice between the radicals and the other characters. I also love how there is the possibility of learning combinations. I think that learning characters on their own is okay, but Chinese isn’t that simple. character meanings can change when mixed together. The site is almost worth getting a pen and pad to use rather than a mouse.

    Any ideas how much it would cost once it’s out of the beta stage?

    This beats making my own flash cards. Really like it so far.

  11. Hi John,

    Sorry I missed you at ACTFL. I’d be interested to hear what sessions you liked. I thought Professor Zhou Zhiping’s (Princeton) session on Back to the Basics — pronunciation, grammar and tones was excellent. Did you happen to attend Winning the Chinese Endgame: Attaining and Maintaining Professional Functionality. I was on that panel to talk about the student’s perspective. I teach Chinese at the high school level (11th and 12th grade students who are gifted in math and science — very motivated kids!) and also teach a distance learning course via IVC (interactive video conferencing format). We are applying for a FLAP grant to develop a replicable model for teaching Chinese via IVC. Would love to chat about possible collaborations on the grant with Cpod, if folks are interested.


  12. What ChinesePod can learn from Skritter and PopupChinese:
    Option “Trad. characters/Simp. characters” @ Me-Profile. All ressources will then displayed according to this option.

    John, why is ChinesePod in this respect so far behind? I don’t understand this. Are you forced by the PRC not to do this, or???

  13. Skritter seems pretty neat! Anybody know what their pricing model is? Website seems pretty tight-lipped about it. I died a little when I realized they weren’t just making such a site out of the goodness of their hearts!

  14. The site is great! I only want it to be integrated with “Remembering the Hanzi”, then it will be perfect!

  15. I thought Professor Zhou Zhiping’s (Princeton) session… was

    Cool. Zhou Zhiping was the director of the Princeton in Beijing program back when I studied there back in 2000. His (and by extension, the Princeton Chinese language dept’s) emphasis on pronunciation as key to fluency is still something I support and practice, even though I like writing so much more than speaking. I had a friend who did a graduate degree at Ohio University, another Chinese (linguistics) powerhouse, and he described to me the “feud” between the Princeton pronunciation camp and the Ohio culture/situational camp. Interesting stuff.

  16. “I died a little when I realized they weren’t just making such a site out of the goodness of their hearts!”

    If someone wanted to give them a bunch of money so they could afford food, rent, heat, and student loan payments, I’m sure they’d be happy to do the site out of the goodness of their hearts. Until then, they’ll eat cans of garbanzo beans and keep their apartment just above freezing and hope people will pay to use their site.

  17. Haha, Trina, I hope you know I was just kidding. I’m just so used to getting great software and resources for free online -with a little box on the side for donations – that it’s almost strange when mandatory payment comes into the question!

  18. […] Forgot to mention this: Thanks to John over at Sinosplice I’ve started spending a couple of hours each day over at Skritter. If you’re working on […]

  19. Skritter is amazing! Great companion with Cpod! But i hope i don’t get too addicted that i forget how to write with a pen.

  20. […] first heard about Skritter from John Pasden, who posted about it almost a year ago. At the time I was busy with other things and didn’t give it much of a […]

  21. […] of a bunch of professional language teachers from all over the U.S. The last time I was here was in 2008, representing ChinesePod. This year I’m representing Mandarin Companion. (We’ve got a […]

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