Making the effort to learn to write Chinese characters may seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be! Forget the old “write the character 10 times in your notebook” method. With the right tools and apps, you can learn to write Chinese in an exciting, fun, and engaging way. This is especially important when you’re learning how to read, speak, and write at the same time.
We’ve put together a guide of the best tools to learn to write Chinese. Some of these tools are free, while others require a one time purchase or monthly payment. These tools can be used independently or in addition to others to further enhance how you learn to write Chinese.
Skritter | **#1 Recommended Tool**
I. Love. Skritter.
I’ve been using it for two years now and it’s by far my favorite tool to learn how to write Chinese. I’ll explain why below, but do yourself a favor: if you don’t read the rest of this tutorial, just try Skritter yourself and see why I say this.
Skritter allows you to take pre-configured word lists (for instance, HSK 4 vocabulary or “Your First 1000 Words”) or create your own custom lists and use them for practice while on the go. Of course, flash card apps are a dime-a-dozen. What makes Skritter special is that it helps you understand the correct way to write a Chinese character and I’ve even noticed that using their system has improved the beauty of my written characters (since you’re constantly being exposed to a perfectly-sized character).
I don’t hesitate to tell you that Skritter is one of the best tools out there to help you learn to write Chinese. It’s available on both desktop and mobile phones, and is extremely user friendly. It’s a great tool for continuous practice, in that it makes you write each character from scratch every single time. They also give stroke level feedback and progress feedback.
- Rating: Excellent tool!
- Cost: $14.99/month
Pleco – Combine Reading & Writing
Pleco is one of the best Chinese dictionary apps out there! Though this app is also mainly used as a dictionary for students, part of their add-on package (paid) includes a handwriting recognition package.
Now mind you, this handwriting add-on isn’t used as a flashcards-like learning tool (see Skritter above). The way I use this tool is mostly when I’m reading. When I run across a word I don’t quite understand, while it’s possible to use OCR software (optical character recognition) to automatically translate the word with my phone camera, I purposely write the word out in Pleco to reinforce the memory of it.
Downloading Pleco is free (and the free version is incredibly powerful!) but the add-ons are paid. You can purchase the handwriting recognizer for $9.99 or as part of the basic bundle for $29.99, which also includes OCR, flashcards, stroke-order diagrams and more. As a student of the Chinese language, I have never regretted upgrading my Pleco software.
The ChineseSkill app is an excellent option for those of you wishing how to learn Chinese on the go. It’s a well-rounded app that also tests reading, speaking, listening, and of course, writing in Chinese.
While the writing portion of the app isn’t quite as polished as Skritter, it gets the job done and if you’re wanting an all-in-one solution, this has many more study features. Like Skritter, the app will give you hints if you’ve forgotten how to write a word and will help teach you the character-stroke order.
Download and trying the app is completely free, but if you want to unlock a sizable selection of vocabulary to practice ($1.99) or buy a pack of Chinese lessons ($9.99 – $64.99), it’s a paid feature.
ChineseWriter by trainchinese
This app has over 5,200 Chinese characters to practice when writing in Chinese. They have different games like falling Chinese characters that you trace for additional practice in writing in Chinese swiftly and effectively. If you let 5 characters fall to the ground, you’re out!
The mobile app or desktop software is free to download and try, but if you want to unlock lists of vocabulary words, you’ll need to purchase the various packs, which range from $0.99 to $9.99.
Arch Chinese Learning System
The Arch Chinese learning system is a popular teaching resource that has been used by a number of Ivy League schools. Part of the learning package includes a handwriting practice tool that teaches you to write a word using the proper stroke order.
The tool comes with animated stroke order with over 7,000 frequently used Chinese characters. They also provide high quality recordings for every character, so not only are you learning how to write the word, you’re learning pronunciation as well.
My only concern with this tool is how dated it is. Instead of using an app, you’re logging into a website to use the handwriting tool (even from a mobile device). It works, but it’s a bit cumbersome.
- Cost: Membership fee is $4/month.
The beauty of the Chinagram Pocket app is that you’re not only learning how to write the 240 most representative characters, you’re also learning the origin and discovering how the writing and the meaning are connected.
This isn’t an app that any intermediate or advanced student would want to invest in, but if you’re just beginning and you’re more of a visual learner, the Chinagram app gives you plenty of background on each of these 240 characters. Unfortunately, there’s nothing more beyond the 240 characters.
- Cost: $1.99 in the app store.
Conclusion | Learning to Write Chinese Characters
Obviously there are many, many more tools that are designed to help students learn how to write Chinese characters better, but not all of them take full advantage of the technology we all have in our pockets now. Also, many of them just plain suck. 🙂
Try a few of these tools suggested above and find out what works best for your learning style and budget. For me, Skritter has been the perfect balance of each and I’ve seen my character retention skyrocket over the past year.
Is there another tool that you’ve used that you think is missing? Let me know in the comments section below!