Memrise: A Language Learning App Built on Mnemonics

Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Christopher Sirk
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Overview 

Memrise is a freemium, gamified language learning app. 

It was founded by Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory. He got really good at memorizing things. And devising mnemonic devices.

So he made an app for studying foreign languages. Designed to help busy people learn a new language. Or two, or three…

Memrise uses flashcards with “spaced repetition” to help you acquire a language. Studies have found that more information is stored in long-term memory when you have spaced out study sessions. 

The technique is useful for learning a large number of items that you want committed to memory indefinitely. This is exactly what you want for languages. So it makes a lot of sense that Memrise adopts this pedagogical approach.

Memrise is web-based, with mobile apps for Android and iPhone. It counts over 45 million users. 

The app has won the Editors’ Choice Award on Google Play and Apple’s App Store. 

And it has excellent user ratings. A 4.6 with over a million reviews on Google Play. And a 4.8 with 146K+ ratings on the App Store.

Features

Memrise is basically about two things. Learning and reviewing. These two functions are accomplished with the following features.

Flashcards and decks

Flashcards are the bread and butter of Memrise. They’re used for memorization. And after you learn new words, they’re used for review.

Language learners can add “mems” to each flashcard. These are custom mnemonic images that you upload. You can add a caption too, if you’d like.

Flashcards are organized into courses, or “decks.” The content of these decks can be personalized.

Memrise users have created an enormous amount of custom course decks. You can see what’s new in the course category section of the Memrise website.

Classic review

This is a review of words you’ve already seen. No new vocabulary is introduced. The emphasis is on re-engaging with material to get your learning down for the long-term.

Listen to audio clips. Translate from English to the target language and vice-versa. Arrange phrases in the right order.

Speed review

Like classic review, except timed. Tasks have a time limit, and the screen fades to red as the clock ticks on. 

This helps you review how you perform under pressure. After all, that’s important for real-world language usage.

Difficult words

Memrise determines words you’ve made mistakes with. Then it sticks them in the “difficult words” section (you can also do this manually). The app will then give you more chances to practice the word.

Pronunciation

Pronunciation mode is available with almost all Memrise-created courses. You listen to a snippet of audio (it can be reduced to 0.5x speed by hitting a button). 

Then you tap the mic icon to record your attempt to pronounce the sound. Tap again to stop recording. Your effort will be processed and marked by the app. 

Listening skills

Memrise offers audio-only review to test your listening skills. 

This feature has tapping tests (choose the right word from four choices). Typing tests that have you spell out the word you hear. And multiple choice tests where you select the right pronunciation of a word.

Languages on Memrise

The Memrise app has courses for 16 languages.  

  • Spanish

  • Arabic

  • French

  • Japanese

  • Chinese

  • German

  • Korean

  • Italian 

  • Portuguese

  • Danish

  • Polish

  • Dutch

  • Russian

  • Turkish

  • Norwegian

  • Swedish

The web version of Memrise has many more language courses. 

And non-native speakers of English can learn in their own language. Just navigate to the “I speak” button and select your mother tongue.

Memrise also offers a bunch of other user-created courses beyond languages. These range from math to art and professional training. 

Free vs. Pro

Is Memrise free? Yes and no. 

The free version of Memrise has a lot of features, and lots of user-made content to access. Memrise Pro, the paid version of the app, adds a lot more official content. 

It isn’t 100% essential to upgrade to paid, but there are limitations on the number of lessons in free. 

Memrise Pro gives you a personalized learning experience. Algorithms and machine learning adapt to your learning level. 

Then there’s the Learn With Locals feature. This gives you video clips of native speakers saying a phrase or sentence casually. So you can learn how people really talk everyday.

You also get offline mode. You can download courses to your phone or tablet. Data will store on your device, then sync when you get back online.

The Memrise subscription pricing plan is below.

  • Monthly plan is $8.99 per month, billed monthly.

  • Annual plan is $6.67 per month, billed annually.

  • Lifetime plan is $119.99, billed once.

Memrise vs. Duolingo

Memrise and Duolingo are direct competitors. That said, the latter has a big edge in the size of its user base (Duolingo counts over 300 million users).

On the surface, the two seem fairly similar. 

Memrise makes language learning into a game. Just like Duolingo. They’re both “motivational,” with approachably simple, cartoon-y graphics. 

However, on the pedagogical side, they have pretty different approaches.

Duolingo lessons are structured like trees. You move through lessons until you reach the end of a particular branch. 

The emphasis is on memorization of terms. And then usage of said terms in sentence constructions. This allows you to get a grip on grammar.

If you already know a language to some extent, Duolingo also lets you skip a bunch of lessons. You can take a checkpoint quiz without doing the lessons before it. If you pass, you can move on to the next set of lessons. 

One downside of Duolingo is it can be too repetitive. Basic concepts are sometimes repeated so many times they become a chore.

Memrise uses mnemonic learning. It shows you images and wacky sentences for word associations. The idea is to inspire connections. Because the brain remembers new information better when it can be connected to visual information or pre-existing knowledge.

Lessons in Memrise are organized from total beginner to intermediate beginner. This works just fine. Except if you’re not starting from square one, in which case it’s not super clear where to begin lessons. 

Meanwhile, Memrise Pro has very in-depth statistics. On metrics like how often you study. And what time of day you get the most answers correct.

The platform also has an incredible amount of user-generated content. Something Duolingo doesn’t have.

Comparing the two, all that’s clear is there’s no clear winner. 

Memrise is stronger when it comes to vocabulary. And remembering words and phrases.

Duolingo is stronger when it comes to learning sentence structure.

In other words, you might want to stick both the free apps on your phone. They’re complimentary.

Conclusion

Memrise is one of the better apps for language learning. No question.

Of course, it’s not a total solution.  

Learning a language to an everyday functional level takes commitment. As good as Memrise can be, it’s not a substitute for immersion and/or instruction from a well-trained teacher.

But Memrise lets you learn languages from scratch and build up a basic foundation. And it’s great for studying vocabulary and memorizing phrases. 

The freemium version gets you started. The paid version is affordable and gives you all the bells and whistles. As well as the feeling you’ve helped support a noble software project.

Do give it a whirl, and see how it compares to Duolingo.

Website: memrise.com

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