Learn to Write Characters on Your iPad With Word Tracer

When it comes to learning or practicing Chinese characters, the iPad has always had enormous potential. But although the potential of the iPad was always clear, it wasn’t until the last year or so that truly great iPad apps for Chinese learners began to emerge.

One of those is Word Tracer, an app for learning Chinese characters by tracing with your fingertip. If you’ve been learning Chinese for a while now, you might have realized that the physical action of writing characters is crucial to committing them to memory.

Here’s how this works.

Why Writing is Essential to Learning Chinese Characters

Writing Chinese characters
The traditional method: brush and paper

Our brains are divided into sections which are responsible for processing different kinds of information. When we listen to someone speak, the part of our brains that handles listening and language is engaged, which then commits some of that information to memory. However, the process isn’t very discriminating and crucial information is treated the same way as non-essential filler.

When you write things down, though, something happens. Another part of the brain is activated, which is much better at filtering out relevant information. In short, our recall is dramatically affected and we’re more likely to use what we’re learned. This is why writing is essential to learning Chinese characters. Instead of repeatedly writing the same characters over and over hundreds of times, we can use intelligent tools like iPad apps to make the learning process quicker and likely to suit our needs.

So, back to the topic: what’s great about Word Tracer?

Introduction to Word Tracer

Word Tracer is an intelligent tool to teach you to write Chinese characters correctly. In the words of the developer:

“Word Tracer – Learn Chinese is an iPad app that is designed for people who wish to learn to write Chinese characters properly through tracing and feedback provided through the device. Writing Chinese is one of the most challenging aspects of the language; this tool provides an effective means to facilitate learning by letting the users practice 1500 commonly used Chinese characters (Practice Mode) and testing themselves (Test Mode). Common phrases are also provided to allow the learner to see how the word is used in context. The app is developed using a game engine and masterfully designed to provide the best user experience and performance. Every character comes with pinyin (with actual voice recording), English meaning and common usages.”
Word Tracer on iPad
Selecting between the Practice Mode and Test Mode in Word Tracer on iPad

Essentially, use of the app is broken down between two different types of users.

If You’re New to Chinese Characters

This is probably Word Tracer’s strong point: when it’s in the hand of someone new to learning Chinese. Here are some of the benefits to the beginner:

  • Dead simple to use
  • Practice mode allows you to trace on top of characters to build recognition
  • Pinyin and audio pronunciation are built in to strengthen comprehension
  • Automatically corrects your stroke order mistakes (which is important!)
  • Radicals included

If You’re Already Studying Characters

  • 1,500 of the most commonly used characters are already included
  • Test mode tests you on characters you’ve learned, including stroke order
  • Create custom lists of words that you want to focus on
Word Tracer on iPad
Flipping through character lists using the Word Frequency modifier

How I Use Word Tracer

When I launched the app for the first time, I jumped into practice mode to get an idea for what I was dealing with. What I found was that you can begin using dozens of different character lists which are already generated and included in the app. Lists like:

  • Frequency Rank
  • Stroke Count
  • Common Usage
  • Lessons
This made it easy to jump straight into characters that are familiar to me, but are a challenge to write correctly without assistance (for me I went straight to Frequency Rank 1,001 – 1,500). Once I’m working with these characters, I can choose to hide or show the grid, audio cue, or stroke order guides.


If you have an iPad and you’re already studying Chinese characters, this app is a no-brainer at the $2.99 price. Upon release it was listed as an Apple “Staff Favorite”, probably due to its immaculate design and smooth performance (the app is built upon a game engine).

Word Tracer on iPad

Check the links below to read more about Word Tracer or to download it from the iTunes App Store.

Youtube Clip of Word Tracer in Action

App Store Download Link

Word Tracer on iPad

Note: this isn’t a paid review, this app really is just great.

Are you using any other iPad or iPhone apps to study Chinese?

8 thoughts on “Learn to Write Characters on Your iPad With Word Tracer”

  1. I would love this app, I’m sure, if I had an iPad that is. Alas, I only have the lowly iPod Touch. The best app for me remains Pleco. I find the flashcard app to be top notch. I have the full version (everything included), so I can test multiple choice when I’m learning to recognize a new set of characters, then test fill-in (writing characters) when learning how to write them. Plus, there are great flashcard sets already on the Pleco forum.

    • No doubt, Pleco is the best all-around app for Chinese learners. The flashcard feature is great and it’s so full featured. The learning curve is a little higher, but put the time in and you’ll see that Pleco does almost everything.

      Writing characters (whether on paper or with your finger tip) does have a noticeable effect on memorization though, I find. That’s where Word Tracer really shines – nothing before this has really tested the traditional pen and paper way of writing and practicing Chinese characters before this. The iPad is perfect for this use in particular.

  2. This looks awesome Charlie, definitely an app that I’ll be using in the coming months once I finally get around to learning Chinese!

  3. Oh man- perhaps the most substantive argument I’ve heard yet for getting an iPad. (Naturally, I’m well aware of how awesome iPads are- I mean to say that this is the first argument I’ve heard that adds actual, practical value to the device other than it’s general awesome-ness. Though I’m sure there are many practical reasons to get an iPad.)
    I’m new to Chinese (and quite shitty, to be frank), and I’ve got Pleco on my now seemingly tiny-in-relation-to-the-gargantuan-iPad iPhone.
    As a dictionary, it’s pretty great, but when it comes to practicing characters it just doesn’t cut the mustard. Too small for my clumsy strokes, unfortunately.
    Luckily for iPad deficient fools like me, there’s always pens and paper- whatever that’s worth.
    I wrote my Ayi a note on paper the other day, and she expressed surprise that I could write by hand when my Chinese is so, uh, rudimentary.
    I lacked the proper skill to explain to her that that’s what happens when you spend four months diligently studying Chinese in a University crash course, and then move to China where you get too caught up in work and life to keep up the work. The drawbacks of living in Shanghai and having a bad work ethic.
    Shanghai is Diet-China. Gotta work harder or go to the countryside where you’ll have to, I suppose.

    • Hey James,

      I’d say that overall an iPhone might be more handy for learning Chinese in general. Having access to Pleco at anytime (dictionary, flashcards, etc) is paramount. But if you’re learning to write characters, there is no substitute for iPad unless you’re still writing on paper. Like you say, it’s just a hassle and doesn’t very work well on an iPhone due to the small screen.

      Once you can learn to read/write though, the benefits are everywhere. Reading signs on the street, chatting with friends online, and working up to reading newspapers and magazines (which is incredible once you reach that level). An iPad + this app is a great way to get started on that path.

  4. This looks like a great app. Really brings writing and studying Chinese characters into this century.

    Chinese characters are one of the biggest problems when learning Chinese. Without having an actual live teacher there to tell you the correct order of the strokes, it can be very difficult.

    What a money saver too!

    I’m guessing this can also be used on an iphone too?


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