I’ve been using Memrise over quite a few years now, so I decided it was no better time than now to give you my thoughts on the application. For this review I have been using the official Memrise French 1 – 7 courses on iOS.
What is Memrise ?
Memrise is a company founded by Ed Cooke, a Grand Master of Memory, Greg Detre a neuroscientist specialising in the science of memory and forgetting and Ben Whately, a trained psychologist. Memrise offer official courses for the following languages: French, Spanish, Korean, Japanese, Chinese, Italian, German, Portuguese, Russian, Danish, Swedish, Polish, Norwegian, Turkish and Arabic. Memrise isn’t just restricted to language learning, you can also use it to learn almost anything, like history dates and country capitals just to name a few.
Memrise is a SRS (Spaced Repetition Software). Which is essentially a smart flashcard type system, designed to use algorithms to estimate when you’re about to forget a word, this in turn reinforces and makes the memory of the word stronger, and overtime leading to less repetitions as the word makes its way into your long term memory.
The first part of the method is to ‘encode’ a word, connect it to something in your mind, this will help make the memory stronger and you’re less likely to forget it. Memrise aids in this encoding process by allowing you to come up with your own mems or by using Mems created by other Memrise users. A Mem can be anything from mnemonics, etymologies, videos, photos, example sentences, basically anything that helps you connect with what you’re learning.
The courses on Memrise vary in quality, the official memrise courses made by memrise tend to be pretty good, with good quality audio and even videos on some of the more popular European languages. The courses made by users of Memrise vary a lot in quality with some being completely terrible to some being even better than the official Memrise courses. There are courses on many different subjects, from languages, history, geography to courses specifically designed for people studying for certain tests.
Originally Memrise was designed with a garden of knowledge theme in mind. When you learned a word you planted a seed which would then become a plant after a certain number of revisions, the plant would then need repeated watering to keep it in your memory. However, the people over at Memrise have decided to head away from the garden of knowledge them and have introduced a space theme, each level in a course is represented by a planet, I must say that I personally didn’t like this change too much as it felt like they’re trying to target a young audience with this more childlike design.
The amount of features you get on the app depends on one thing, whether you decide to pay to become a Memrise Pro user or not. If you decide to go the free route, then you can only learn words and review them while at the same time getting spammed to death with Memrise Pro offers. If you pay you will get access to the follow features:
Speed Review – Timed Multi-choice test, useful if you have a huge backlog of words to review.
Difficult Words – Words that end up here, are the ones that you are getting wrong all too often, this mode allows to go over those troublesome words.
Listening Skills – Audio test, which uses a combination of multi-choice tests and type the word that you hear tests. This is only available on courses in which at least 80 percent of the words in the course have audio.
Meet The Natives – Video test, which uses a combination of multi-choice tests, arrange the order of words. Available only on official Memrise courses.
Grammabot & Chatbot – Grammabot helps you with basic grammar points in a language. The French course only had 3; You and I, Denial and Asking Questions. The Chatbot feature is meant to help you build skills with ‘real conversations’, again there were only 3 for the French courses; Introduction, Direction and Buying Presents. The first lessons of both the Chatbot and Grammabot are available for free users.
Offline Mode – Allows you to download the courses offline, free users use to be able to use this feature, sadly they removed it.
One thing that I like about this app when compared to other SRS like Anki is that you can compete against other people in the leaderboard for each course. I love competition, and have found it to be a really big factor in helping keeping me motivated. You can also follow your friends, which is a great way to keep each other accountable because you can see if they’ve been learning or not, or just trying to beat each other.
Memrise also uses ranks, this use to be in the form of badges, these have been recently changed into well… an alien thing called Ziggy.. Unlike the previous system where you earned a rank badge depending on how many points you had, Ziggy evolves as you level he/she/it up. I have to say that I really dislike the new rank system and just Ziggy in general, it’s just too silly and childish and I can’t relate to it.
Different test types – I really like the different ways you can review your words. Whether it be by speed review, listening tests, meet the natives or just by focusing on the words that I find troublesome, it provides enough variation that it doesn’t become boring. You can customise your learning settings in your profile settings, which allows you to change how many words to learn per session, or how many words to review per session and to turn off certain types of tests.
Huge amount of courses – Memrise offers a large amount of courses and then on top of that you have the huge amount of user created courses, if you’re studying a language, then there is probably a course on it. User created courses and vary in quality so it pays to check them out before hand.
Motivation – The inclusion of course leaderboards and a friend leaderboard provides a great source of motivation. It also adds a competitive aspect to language learning which a lot of the time can be a solitary thing.
Lack of functionality for Free users – The App lacks most features compared to the paid version. Unfortunately Memrise has also removed the download offline feature which free users originally had access to.
No course creation – You can’t create or edit courses with the Memrise app. This can be annoying if you quickly want to add a word or fix something on one of your courses, which forces you to use the website.
Test Difficulty – When I’m learning a word I like to type it out or write it down, I find it aids me in the learning process. I would prefer to force only typing tests, but this is not possible in the app. In the options you can turn of certain types of tests, like the tapping ones (which are in my opinion a complete waste of time) and audio tests. But you’re still left with multi-choice answers and I find these not very helpful in aiding the learning process.
The Memrise app is good if you’re going about your day and want to fit in some language learning in during your busy schedule, otherwise it’s pretty average. It offers a huge amount of courses and the leaderboards can be really motivating if you’re that way inclined. However the lack of features for free users is really disappointing. The fact they took away offline mode for free users really disappointed me. The app lacks the ability to edit or make courses, which can be annoying if you want to add a word to one of your courses while on the go. Some of the tests are just too easy and don’t aid in the recalling process, there’s no way to enforce typing only tests, which really help me when I’m learning a new word. Lastly they seem more focused on changing the design of the app rather than improving and adding features to the app, with the newest changes it seems like they’re desperately trying to target a younger audience. I like Memrise a lot but I think I’ll avoid the app and just stick to the website.
The Memrise app isn't a bad app, but its lack of features for free users, inability to edit/create courses through the app, and types of tests that are just too easy let it down.