Memrise has long been one of my favorite language learning apps. I began using it in 2016 and saw how it evolved from the “learn-everything-with-flash-cards” software to the best language learning app on Android. So in this Memrise review, after using the app for more than 2 years and learning 4 languages, I’ll be talking on what is Memrise, how to use it and whether it is worth getting PRO. Allons-y.
It’s going to be a full, long and in-depth review of Memrise features. So if you’re not quite ready to dive in, the quick capture of my finding is right beneath.
Memrise Review: Quick shots
- Powerful vocabulary builder: It really engraves words in your memory
- Customized learning: Memrise allows you to ignore the words you already know.
- The best Android app 2017
- Memrise is not a magic pill. You still need other resources to master grammar and get confidence in conversation
How many languages can you learn with Memrise?
There are two types of language courses in Memrise. Let’s call them “official”, it is to say, created by the Memrise team and “unofficial” – created by the Memrise community. If we combine both types, we will find that this app is a huge learning database of more than 200 different languages across 25 world languages. Which is impressive. However, let’s dive deep in.
“Official” language core of Memrise is relatively young. The team launched uniform courses around five years ago. Currently, English speakers have an access to 18 beautifully designed course packs:
French – 7 levels;
Spanish (Spain/Mexico) – 7 levels;
Italian – 7 levels;
Russian – 7 levels;
Polish – 7 levels;
Portuguese (Brazil/Portugal) – 7 levels;
Japanese – 7 levels;
German -7 levels;
Dutch – 7 levels;
Danish – 7 levels;
Norwegian – 7 levels;
Swedish – 7 levels;
Arabic – 7 levels;
Turkish – 7 levels;
Icelandic – 1 level;
Korean – 3 levels;
Chinese 3 levels;
- Mongolian – 2 levels;
If you didn’t find here your target language, do not dispair. I’m happy to assure you that the ‘underground” part of Memrise will teach you everything you need. Here are just a few personally tested examples of what you can do with the community courses: complete a short everyday Punjabi vocabulary course, learn Thai alphabet on the go or memorize over 2000 most frequent Greek words. And as you can see, all these languages are far from being covered by the team.
So in Memrise, you will find learning materials for over 200 languages. However, there are a couple of things to watch for when going with unofficial language modules.
Memrise community courses VS Memrise team courses
A few years ago, Memrise existed solely as a community of language learners and teachers. Everybody was free to create their own course. Doesn’t matter whether it was Bengali for Hindi speakers or English for Russian speakers, Memrise was a perfect free platform for a personal language class.
When developers decided to add their own language courses, they didn’t touch a single one created by learners themselves. Come on, if you want to launch your own language learning program, you can go on Memrise and do it right now.
And, of course, you can always opt for choosing something like handcrafted 7-hour long “The 450 most common French verbs” course instead of the official French-2 level. But there are a few major differences you have to pay attention to:
You won’t find unofficial courses on your Memrise appThe search on Android and iOS versions of the app will navigate you through hundreds of Memrise language modules. But there’s absolutely no way to come across a community course. To do so, you will have to log into your account on memrise.com, search for a course there and press “start learning”. Only after that, you will find it on your Memrise app.
There is no standard of quality when it comes to unofficial levelsAs you’ll see, you can find all sorts of thing on Memrise. No all of them will be of excellent quality. For example, some courses aim for teaching you Amharic vocabulary but do not provide examples of pronunciation. And tell me, what you gonna do with: “ጤና:ይስጥልኝ” – “hello”?
Custom courses never provide the full coverageVery often, handmade Memrise courses focus on a very specific part of a language. You can find there these hundred pieces of Amharic puzzle as “60 most common Amharic verbs”, “Amharic numbers 1-20”, “Amharic script”, “Amharic conjugation” and so on, but you never come to see the full picture as with official modules by Memrise team.
You never know what you’re learningIt’s a funny one but it’s true, especially when you descend to pick up idioms and colloquial vocabulary. Certain words are better to be never learned via Memrise or any other language learning app just because they are abusive or inappropriate.
In any case, Memrise now covers enough languages so you can avoid these problems by enrolling in any official language course. But first, you will have to choose a level.
How to choose your level on Memrise
I envy the simplicity of your choice if you start learning a language from the zero. Level one, off you go.
The next level helps you to enlarge your everyday survival vocabulary. So if you already know how to introduce yourself and how to count 1-10 in German, that’s for you. Here, you’ll pick up more numbers, colours, descriptive phrases and words by topic (clothes, family, pets). It’s also a strong A1 level.
Somewhere in between level 6 I actually dropped my Memrise French course to take DELF B2 exam.
It doesn’t mean that Memrise helps you to achieve B2 level after 5.5 courses. What it really means is that on this level you become more or less independent. So you can stop intensively memorizing vocab and explore different sources like books, podcasts, and YouTube videos.
Other 300-400 words that help you to go more in depth when discussing hot topics. I’m saying “hot” because here Memrise really prepares you for reading the press. On this level, the game is officially over and you can congratulate yourself with learning another language on B2. Woohoo!
Mechanics: What is the core of Memrise method?
The three elephants of the Memrise teaching method are science, fun, and community. The main goal of developers was to make language learning so effortless that you would learn Spanish just to fight boredom. And in many ways, the team succeed.
A little bit of pre-history. Memrise was created by a very promising team:
- one Grand Master of Memory (Ed Cooke), featured in the New York Times bestseller Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything;
- one Princeton neuroscientist with Ph.D. research on memory and forgetting (Greg Detre);
- one Master of Oxford experimental psychology (Ben Whately).
So you can imagine that they knew a bit on how to build strong memories for language learning.
The science behind Memrise
Memrise team quickly realised that language learning is all about memory. You have to memorize new sounds, memorize new words, memorize new constructions – and all this long before they start to come out automatically. So memory hacking is a cornerstone of this language learning app.
Here’s how it works:
This principle is simpler than it sounds. As you probably noticed yourself, it’s fairly hard to remember a bunch of unconnected numbers, words, names and so on. Take a minute right now and try to remember a chain of words going like that: cat-book-skull-black-apple-cross.
Then take another and look at the same words in groups: skull-cross, apple-(mac)book, black-cat. The stronger your mental image associated with a word or a group of words, the better you remember them.
Kevin Horsley, International Grandmaster of Memory, loves this method. In his best-selling book, Unlimited Memory, he remarks:
“Hear a piece of information and three days later you’ll remember 10% of it. Add a picture and you’ll remember 65%.”
Memrise is built upon this very principle. So it helps you to learn new vocabulary by connecting each word with a mem (mems-memrise, right?).
Another smart word, but a less known principle. As the memory research has shown, small regular tests reinforce memory formation more effectively than the stupid repetition of the learned material (Roddy Roediger, Jeffrey Karpicke).
So the app never misses a chance to check how well you remember new words. Every time you have to recall recent memory with absolutely no cues (“maison” – ?), your brain gets better in getting this word out of the archives of your brain. New memories become more accessible, so as the new words for everyday use.
You know this one as well: memories (even strong ones) have a tendency to fade out if not recalled often enough. To check, try to recall what was the pin code of your first credit card. Yes, the very first one.
Same with the language: you can’t learn a great deal without going over the same words again and again. Repetion is the main That’s why Memrise, like a careful mom, constantly reminds you to go study and review hard words.
The fun part
My understanding of fun doesn’t go along with the one of Memrise. So in my opinion, gamification project on Memrise didn’t really go well.
The word garden
Basically, what you will be doing along with learning new vocabulary is planting your word garden. Each new word you encounter during your training represents a flower. At the first stage, when the new memory is weak, you have just a sprout. With each repetition, the sprout becomes stronger and gets new leaves and petals. After five repetitions it turns into a well-grown flower. It means that this word is now in your long-term memory.
But, hey, there’s more. If you ignore this word for a long time, the flower gonna die. So when I look at my long completed courses I see a dead garden. I guess at this point you have to do some trade-offs.
Experience points and level ups
Unfortunately, Memrise didn’t satisfy with the word garden alone and decided to introduce Ziggy. Ziggy is some kind of alien, and your No.2 mission in Memrise is to bring him up.
With every completed lesson, you (or Ziggy) receive(s) experience points that help you (him) to level up. Ziggy looks insanely different at each level and you actually collect his looks throughout your language learning journey.
Missions and spy bots
At this point, things just stop going along with each other.
When you train with Grammarbots and Chatbots, they often assign you a special spy mission. For example, you have to go out there and get data from your super-paranoid Russian informant. To make things go smoothly, you have to speak to him in Russian and write things like “увидимся в метро” in flawless Cyrillic. If the guy suspects something you can even fail the mission.
So gamification in Memrise is really weird, but still sort-of-fun. Much better than plain flash-cards.
Language learning community
I have already noted that the community has been playing a huge role in the rising of Memrise.
For this reason, this language learning app is insanely interactive. As a member of the Memrise community you can do many things:
- join the forum and talk over linguistic stuff;
- follow the progress of other Memrise members;
- create new courses;
- add new mems to existing (even official) courses;
- compete with your friends
The last two options can be also a huge asset to your learning. For example, if the mem offered by Memrise just doesn’t help me to memorize a word in any possible way, I create my own and keep going. Moreover, by adding new mems, I’m helping other members of the community (since now they have more options to choose from).
When it comes to friendly competitions, it’s a simple and straightforward motivation booster. With leadership boards, you magically become accountable for your progress. You want to have more points than them and rate higher, don’t you? Apart from your friend list, you can track your rating among all participants of your course. For example, here’s the lazy me in the bottom of French 6:
Free or paid? Memrise features review
I’m from Russia, the country of freedom and piracy, so I really like Memrise approach to monetization. These guys decided to go with freemium accounts, which means that you can use this language learning app for free as long as you’re satisfied with free options. And, honestly, I had been quite happy for a year before I chose to upgrade to a pro account.
Memrise: The free stuff
As I said, even without spending a dollar, you get quite a bit. Right now, you can go to memrise.com, pick any course at any level in any language and immerse in learning. You won’t even notice that something is missing in your learning experience.
Learn new words: Memrise didn’t hide from you a single piece of content whether official or unofficial.
- Classic review: As you learn new words, Memrise calculates your forgetting curve. With the classic review, you can be sure that everything will be repeated before it’s completely gone.
Speed review (demo): Another working method to quickly refresh your memory. With the speed review, you’ll be able to go over 100 words in five minutes – the great approach when you don’t have much time.
- Difficult word training (demo): When you fail to recall a word correctly, Memrise marks it as a troublemaker and adds it to a special list. So when you go through the diffucult word training you deliberately work on your weak spots.
- Hints: As you can guess, hints help you to recall a word. They are especially useful in typing tasks when you’re not quite sure in spelling.
Strikes: Alongside with teaching you a language, Memrise helps you to build a language learning habit. When you reach like 20 consecutive days of language learning you have less desire to break this chain and go watch Netflix instead.
- Reminders: You’ll never get rid of these guys, as reminders are essential for your progress. So this app regularly shows up in your notification bar with a friendly invitation to go review some French (or whatever language you learn).
Rating: Numbers can be really inspiring, especially when you’re number one among your friends. You really want to have a couple of friends in your rating board. If no one in your surrounding is particularly interested in language learning, you can add me for motivation. To do so, choose search for a member and type in “linguapath”.
As you can see, this list covers basically everything you need. However, take a look at premium features.
Should you pay for Memrise Pro?
- I have been using Memrise daily for a year and found it essential for my progress in Greek (that time);
- From time to time Memrise gave me an opportunity to learn with PRO modules (demo);
- PRO modules have been much more fun and interactive;
- I didn’t cost that much
You’ll also have a chance to get a new learning experience with Memrise Pro features:
Learn with locals:
The Memrise team rides around the world with a camera and asks native speakers to say something like “How are you?” or “I want to sleep”. These short and fun videos give you the key to learning authentic pronunciation. They also make you smile (proven);
- Listening skills:
With this module, you have to trust your ears. Listening training helps you to improve your understanding of speech without any written cues.
When you have an access to Grammarbot, Memrise becomes more than just a vocabulary building app. Why? Because Grammarbot introduces you to (guess it) – grammar; and, as usual, in a very playful manner.
It’s the perfect tool when you’re shy (or introvert, the same thing). If you’re not quite ready for real human-to-human conversations, you can practice with Memrise bot.
This module will force you to speak up. Speech recognition system built-in the module is a clear example of a perfectionist. It won’t let you go until you accent matches the native speaker’s pronunciation. By the way, this option is available in Memrise app only, so don’t search for it on the website.
- Unlimited hints:
On the free version, you have to earn your hints with time and experience. Memrise Pro generously provides you with a load of them. (But to be honest, I don’t find hints very useful in general)
- Learning stats:
Another fun but rather distracting feature. With your Memrise statistics you will be able to see at what time of a day you learn better (IMHO, it’s the time you usually open memrise), how much you’ve learned in general and how accurate your recall is. I wouldn’t even look behind this curtain if I didn’t want to write the full Memrise review.
- [!] Offline access:
It was my number one reason for getting the Pro. I learn new words during my commute time in TTC, and Toronto subway is a place where you lose any connection to the Internet for hours. So offline mode for me is something indispensable.
Bonus: +3 other cool features
You can think of Memrise as a language learning app only, and it will be completely fine. And honestly, with the Android and iOS apps, you won’t even have another choice. Although, I highly recommend you to go for an Easter Egg Hunt on their website.
Learn more about other languages
You already know about the large “underground” part of Memrise with all these thousands of language courses created by users like you and me. But there’s a more straightforward approach. You can learn how to read in other languages with hiragana, Cyrillic alphabet or Thai abugida. Or you can learn IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) as it is, to stop mixing up the English “r” ([ɹ̠]) with the French one ([ʁ]).
Use it for your studies
If you’re a student struggling with courses that require a lot of memorization, go on and check memrise.com for flash cards.
I did so with my Latin classes in college. Every week we had to learn 20-30 new Latin words from the Oxford Latin textbook. And since I’m too lazy (really, I am) to create my own set of flash card from scratch, I simply searched for Latin courses in Memrise. And guess what? I found the Oxford Latin Course (parts 1-3) that followed my textbook step-by-step.
The outcome: A+ in the most challenging course for other students.
Learn maths, science and, you know, stuff
Memrise is like open-source Khan Academy. There are thousands of courses on every single topic (no kidding). You want to learn HTML5, cram the dates of all major events in the US history, identify mushrooms in your local park, learn sailing knots, memorize all Pokemon names (why not?) – Memrise is all yours.
I used it to memorize bones and muscles for my Anatomy class, to grasp the foundations of Art History (just for fun), to encode IPA for my phonetics course and for many other amazing things.
So the general advice is the following: if you have to memorize something, use Memrise. However, do not restrict your language learning to Memrise alone. Buy a good grammar book. Get out there and find someone to practice with. Challenge yourself with watching TEDx in your target language.
Do everything to make your language learning experience as complete and thorough as possible and you will see results fast.