Memrise is one of the most popular online flashcard programs out there. It is available online and as an app through both Android and iOS. Flashcards may seem like an old-school study tool, but they can be very effective and with Memrise they are even more effective.
This program is a fun mix of traditional flashcards and gamified practice exercises that will make your study time fun and engaging. Although this would not be considered a standalone language program, it does have a lot to offer in terms of quality language practice.
They offer 22 official language courses, as well as a wide range of consumer, contributed flashcard sets. You can use this app to brush up on a wide variety of subjects including art, history, geography, entertainment, politics, and even some standardized tests.
The premise of a flashcard app may seem simple enough, but there is actually quite a bit of learning material to be found here. Best of all, a lot of the content is free. So if you’re looking for a way to augment your language practice, come along with me as I take a detailed look at this popular app.
Before we get too far along, here is a quick overview of what I liked and a few things that I didn’t.
The majority of Memrise is free, but they do offer a Pro version. They offer three payment options:
Japanese (No Script)
Initial Thoughts Of Memrise
Like most language learners, I know the importance of spaced repetition learning. When I heard there was a spaced repetition program designed by a Princeton neuroscientist and a Grand Master of Memory, I knew it was something I had to check out.
I have used this program for a while, for supplemental learning, and I can definitely say that it is an effective study tool.
As I mentioned in the beginning, this program is available online and as an app. Generally, I do most of my studying on my phone since I’m constantly on the go, but in the case of Memrise, I would recommend familiarizing yourself with both platforms.
The app is fairly user-friendly and has a nice design, but you can’t access all the features of the program through the app alone. The website has a nice design as well, so it’s not too much of an inconvenience, but the differences between the two can be a bit frustrating. I’ll have more about that later in the article.
I do appreciate that their website is decidedly straightforward. They have a full description of the program and how it works. They also have a short, but pleasant, description of their programming team.
As a whole, their website makes the program seem inviting and fun. Their theory is that if learning isn’t fun, you won’t truly want to learn. They have a point. Many students give up trying to learn a new language because they get bored, so finding a fun and engaging language program can be a key factor in your success.
The only thing that I’m not quite sure about is their slightly exaggerated slogan: “The fastest way to learn a language.” In my experience, this program isn’t comprehensive enough to be used independently, so I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was the fastest way to learn a language.
That being said, it is a wonderful program to help you supplement your learning. The lessons are short and fun and it does make you want to keep coming back for more. I found that I remembered new words much faster with this program than many of the other programs I’ve tried.
The combination of flashcards with simple practice exercises helps to keep the lessons interesting and fast-paced. The addition of multimedia flashcards, which I will discuss after the next section, helps to keep things entertaining.
Getting Started With Memrise
Getting started with this program is pretty simple. I went over the signup process for both the app and the online version and they are quite similar.
First, you have to choose the language that you want to learn. As you can see from the list above, there are quite a few to choose from. Don’t worry if you’re interested in learning multiple languages, you can access as many courses as you want once you have set up your account.
Once you’ve chosen your initial target language, you then have to choose a fluency level. There are beginner and intermediate levels for each of the official language courses.
Now it’s time to create your account. You can either use an existing online account through Facebook or Google or you can create an account unique to Memrise by signing up with your email address.
I chose to use an existing account so it only took me a couple of seconds to sign up. After signing up, you’re given the chance to set up study reminders. You can choose which days of the week you would like to study and what time you would like to receive a study reminder. This can be altered at any time through your profile settings.
If you don’t want to be reminded, you can simply skip this step.
You’ll then be given a chance to subscribe to Memrise Pro. If you sign up for the annual subscription, you get 50% off your first year, but I wouldn’t sign up at this point. There is all kinds of free material, so I would recommend trying the free version first.
If you skip the subscription, you'll be immediately taken to your first lesson so you can start studying right away!
Official Courses and User-Created Lessons
Memrise has two types of courses: their official courses and user-created courses.
The Memrise courses included all the languages listed above. These courses are well organized and include a variety of lesson types including Words and Phrases, Learn Grammar, Classic Review, Learn With Locals, Listening Skills, and More.
The availability of each lesson type depends on which course you’re taking and what level you’re in. When you first start, there are only a few lesson types available, but more unlock depending on your subscription and progress.
You can try the first lesson of each course for free, but if you want to continue on in the official courses, you’ll need a subscription.
The user-created lessons are less organized and a bit confusing at first, but if you take the time to look through them, you can find some very useful information.
There are flashcard decks about nearly every subject you could want to learn, not just languages. If you can’t find the subject you want, you can create your own decks, which I’ll discuss in greater detail later on.
One of the big benefits of using this app as a study tool is that the lessons are very short, but also very effective. You can go through a lesson in less than two minutes, so there are no excuses for not taking the time to study.
Another benefit of this program is that the lessons can be chosen by type instead of just the subject matter. That may seem like a small feature, but depending on your learning style, it can make a huge difference. Here is a quick summary of the types of lessons you’ll find:
Words and Phrases
These are the main Memrise lessons. Words and Phrases lessons combine all the different multimedia materials in this program to teach you key terms that you’ll use often. Each lesson starts with a couple of flashcards that include written and audio versions of the new words you’ll be learning. Once you feel confident that you know a word, you can go on to the next one.
After a few flashcards, you’ll encounter some practice exercises. These exercises include mostly multiple-choice questions. Some will require you to choose the correct translation while others will have you listening to audio clips and choosing the words you hear.
Usually, I use this app to practice intermediate Spanish, but for the purposes of this review, I decided to try their beginner German and Polish courses as well. The beginner and intermediate lessons have the same format, so both are equally useful.
All of the lesson types have a similar format, with a few variations in question style. As you would expect, the Learn Grammar lessons are focused on grammar, but in a subtle way that won’t leave your head spinning. In these lessons, you’ll encounter practice exercises where you will have to pick out word patterns and form short sentences.
Although these grammar lessons are not comprehensive by any means, they are a great way to ease yourself into the complex world of grammar.
Learn With The Locals
Learn With The Locals lessons will show you short video clips of native speakers. For some learners, these may not be any more useful than the audio clips, but I enjoyed them. Sometimes seeing someone say a word is more helpful than simply hearing the word.
Plus, the video clips give you a little extra stimulus to help cement the knowledge into your memory bank.
If you particularly enjoy the audio clips, you can go into the Listening Practice lessons. These lessons include all of the audio flashcards that you will encounter in the Words and Phrases lessons.
You’ll also find multiple-choice and ‘fill in the blank’ practice exercises that focus strictly on listening practice. What I love about these lessons is that all of the audio clips are from native speakers, both male and female. This gives you the opportunity to hear a variety of accents and tones. This will not only serve to improve your listening skills, but it can improve your pronunciation skills as well.
As I mentioned earlier, there are practice exercises scattered throughout each lesson, but if you’re not in the mood to learn any new material and just want to go back over what you’ve already learned, you can go through a few of Memrise’s review options.
Classic Review offers the chance to go over everything you’ve learned so far! You won’t find any new information here, just the classic practice activities you would expect. Multiple-choice questions, ‘fill in the blank’ questions, and a variety of other reading, writing, and listening activities.
Speed Review is exactly what it sounds like: short, timed quizzes to review what you’ve learned. This is a great option if you only have a spare minute and you want to spend it working on your language skills.
If you run across any particularly challenging words or phrases, you can add them to your Difficult Words list. Your Difficult Words are compiled to create challenging review practices. This works best after you’ve compiled a substantial list, but it works well no matter how many words you have saved.
Mems are another review option that you’ll get to use once you’ve gone through a few lessons. Each time you run across a new word or phrase in one of the lessons, you can create a Mem to help you remember it.
A Mem can consist of just words, a picture, or both. The idea is that you’ll use association, imagination, and visualization to create a reminder that you can’t forget. The Mems are then saved so you can review them separately later on. They will also remain attached to the word or phrase so that every time it comes up for review, you’ll see your Mem and be reminded.
Creating A Course With Memrise
As I mentioned at the beginning of this article, Memrise has a vast amount of user-created content. This means that you, as a user, can create your own content!
You can create a set of flashcards for any subject you want, from language learning to entertainment. There are courses about Pokemon, chess, yoga, art history, and geography just to name a few. There are even courses specifically about memory training, so when I say any subject, I really mean any subject.
You do have to be in the online version to create a course. Simply go to the course page and you’ll see a large green button that says ‘Create A Course’.
Just click that button and the rest is fairly self-explanatory. You’ll have to give your course a name and choose a category. You also have to choose the language that your course will be in, which I thought was an interesting feature. This would be particularly useful if you wanted to practice your second language while learning your third.
Once you’ve chosen a name and subject for your course, you can add tags and descriptions so that other users can easily find your course if they are interested in your chosen subject.
It’s now time to start adding flashcards! This segment is a little confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it is fairly user-friendly. You can create cards using only words or you can add images and sounds.
This is highly useful for language learning since the more prompts you have, the more likely it will be for the information to stick. There are a large number of other online flashcard programs out there, but I think this is one of the most user-friendly ones that I have tried.
If you do find the course creator a bit confusing, they have an extremely helpful ‘Course Creation’ page that will walk you through all the basics and give you a lot of helpful tips on how to create the best course for your needs.
The majority of Memrise’s appeal, as far as learning is concerned, is in the lessons I have already described, but there are a few extras that you may enjoy.
Although there isn’t a phrasebook for every language course, they do have phrasebooks for 12 languages including Chinese, French, Dutch, and Spanish.
These phrasebooks include loads of fun and interesting phrases that you’ll want to know if you are striving to sound like a native speaker. They include both slow recordings and ‘normal’ recordings so you can hear how to pronounce each word and then learn how to say it just like a native.
The Memrise Blog
This blog is similar to those that you would find on other language learning sites. It is full of short, but useful articles about language learning in general as well as some articles about specific languages and how best to learn them.
This is a blog all about the engineering details and some background details concerning the program. This might not be the most interesting blog for some language learners, but if you’re curious about how the program works there are some interesting posts here.
They also use this blog to announce updates and changes to the program.
The Forums are where you can find information about what’s going on with the program as well as see what other users are thinking and experiencing. This is a good place to find general information about the courses.
The Web Version Vs. The App
Memrise is in the middle of a large update, so I don’t want to go into a lot of detail about how to navigate the website or the app since there is a chance that it will all be changing soon. That being said, I do think it is important for me to give you a little information about what to expect so you won’t be as confused as I was at first.
For starters, the online version and the Android app version are quite different. The lessons themselves are the same, but navigating to them is completely different.
The app version seems very limited at this time. This may be due to Memrise having a big overhaul in the last year. A couple of years ago Memrise tried to fully separate their official content from their user-created content by moving all the user content to a separate app called Decks.
Unfortunately, most Memrise users did not appreciate the change, causing a lot of strife. After trying it for a while, Memrise received enough negative feedback for them to reverse their decision and move the user-created content back to the official Memrise page.
Although this move was supposed to take place in early 2020, there still seems to be a lot of content that is unavailable in the app. At this time, the Android app only grants access to the official Memrise courses, not the user-created courses.
You also cannot create or edit your own courses through the app. All of these features have to be accessed through the online version. I’m sure this will be rectified eventually, but for now, it is an inconvenience.
The online version also has a very different looking home screen which some may find confusing. In the online version, there is a convenient ‘Continue Learning’ button for each course that will take you right back to where you left off. This is lacking in the app. Although it is easy enough to find the most recently completed lesson, it would be nice if the platforms matched up.
Another difference is the very obvious menu button on the app that allows you to choose the type of lesson you would like to do. The online version has a somewhat less obvious button with an ellipsis on it. Again, it’s easy enough to find, but would be less confusing if the two platforms matched.
Lastly, the courses don’t always match up between platforms. There are courses that I started on the app that don’t show up on my online platform and vice versa. Not sure why this is since the courses that show up on both platforms seem to stay up to date no matter which platform I use.
As I said, they are doing a big update right now, so hopefully, these issues will be sorted out soon.
Every program has its drawbacks and it’s only fair that you should know about them from the beginning.
The biggest drawback to this program is the differences between the platforms. Both the online version and the app are well-designed and pleasant to use, but they are quite different which could lead to confusion and frustration for some users.
Thankfully, since the program offers such extensive free access, you can try both platforms for a while to see if these differences even bother you. You may not even notice them.
Lack of Advanced Materials
This is a common problem for most language learning apps. It can be difficult to create quality learning material for advanced learners. It takes a substantial investment of both time and money, which can be hard to justify when the majority of people looking for a language learning app are beginners.
I understand why they don’t have a lot of advanced materials, but it would be nice if they added some in the future.
Not Comprehensive Enough For Independent Use
The lack of advanced learning materials combined with their minimalistic approach to teaching grammar makes Memrise less than ideal as a comprehensive language learning program. It does have a lot to offer, just not enough for you to become fluent using solely this program.
Alternatives To Memrise
If this doesn’t sound like the program for you or you’re just interested in comparing a few online language programs, here are a few alternatives that may pique your interest.
Anki For those of you specifically looking for a flashcard program, you should check out Anki. Anki is a well-known online flashcard program that has millions of users and a massive amount of content.
They have sets of flashcard decks for nearly every subject imaginable and it is free to use.
Busuu If you’re looking for a more comprehensive language learning app, then why not give Busuu a try? Busuu offers quick, easy lessons that are informative and fun.
Busuu also has the added benefit of allowing you to interact with other language learners from around the world. You can get quality feedback from native speakers and offer feedback of your own to help other language learners.
This is a subscription-based program with multiple payment options. They also offer lessons with quality language tutors.
Duolingo is another fun language app that you can try out for free. With simple and engaging lessons, Duolingo makes language learning fun.
Although this app is mostly for beginners, it is a quick and easy way to squeeze your language practice into each day, even if you only have five minutes to spare
Memrise Review: Final Thoughts
Overall, I have to say I like Memrise. I find it fun and easy to use. Even with the platform issues, I would definitely recommend this program to anyone who is looking for a useful study tool.
The lessons are short and entertaining while still being informative and helpful. The spaced repetition software is top-notch. It was clearly designed by people who know what they are doing when it comes to effectively teaching large amounts of material in the shortest amount of time.
The ability to create your own flashcards is a feature that many language learners will find extremely useful, especially since you can create decks about any subject. So no matter what you’re trying to learn, Memrise can help you not only learn the material but also retain that knowledge permanently.
Their decision to listen to their users and change their program accordingly shows that the people behind this program are truly interested in creating the best possible language program for their users. To me, this shows a true commitment to quality which is something I can definitely stand behind.
As the Memrise website says, learning should be fun! There are loads of great language learning programs out there meaning that there is definitely one out there that will fit your learning style and make language learning fun for you. No matter which program you choose, just remember that you can do this!