Happy times for language hackers. Memrise has finally got the Android app out – and now is a good time to come back to this super-popular learning service. How does this help language learners? Is it a useful tool for online foreign language study? Here’s what I’ve found so far.
1. The Idea: Learning is Growing
From day one of Memrise, one thing struck me as spot-on: the web service made you pay regular attention to what you learned. Early stages involved treating distinct words and phrases like plants – growing and watering them (by timed intervals and revision) until they moved from short-term to long-term memory.
The garden imagery has been toned down somewhat, but the approach remains. Any language lover knows this to be true – vocabulary requires constant revision, and Memrise is good at nagging you to get back to learning.
2. The Mems: Supercharging your Memory
Mems are what I really like about Memrise. They are user-generated images, sentences, explanations and definitions which make a vocabulary item easier to remember. The service is refreshingly open to these, and users can adopt, generate and “like” mems that help them learn a foreign language phrase.
Creating a mem is easy, as Memrise’s image search and captioning options tend to work well. For “der Abend,” I thought of Abe and ening work. Image search gave me this beauty:
Other users sometimes come up with sample sentences in the target language, or well-known titles of films or books that use the phrase. This is a really solid feature of the whole language-learning phenomenon at Memrise: crowd-powered memory tends to be a bit chaotic and unpredictable, but at least the courses can be made more flexible and effective that way.
3. The App: Revising On the Go
The Memrise app for Android was, until recently, the key missing piece for me. The system worked, was well-thought out and really open – but keeping me in front of a computer screen for even longer every day was not an option. That’s why the system didn’t get used. Now that the app is here, commutes and coffee breaks are likely to be a lot more productive.
I really like the app. It allows me to learn new words and revise the existing ones. It supports sound, shows mems (albeit still a bit randomly) and makes me do some writing (or noun-article matching, super important for German). It loads fast, even on an older smartphone like mine, and works smoothly.
4. The works: Course Creation, Dictionaries and Support
You can create your own course within Memrise. This is a pretty awesome feature – in comparison with Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. The course will be basically a set of multimedia flashcards – and people have used this feature not only to learn languages (business, medicine and law seem to be thriving here).
Memrise allows its users to curate and develop dictionaries within the service, and has plenty of support for course creators (including the impressive “Language Hacking” template for super-fast and functional learning). The community seems to work well and across many levels – from creating mems to moderating dictionaries. Which is good for any service that hopes to become more than just another flashcard-pusher!
5. Snags, Hiccups, Reservations
Not all is perfect, of course. Here’s a brief gripe list as of May 2013:
- App needs to get online to download / sync data. This is cool in itself, as the courses can be made available offline – BUT NOT IN PARTS! You have two choices: either leave the whole course online, or download the whole thing to your device. Which, for a 1000-word course, is a serious dilemma.
- Sound / pronunciation is not available for many vocab items. This is a side effect of user-facing policy, I guess, but it would really help if more pronunciation was available (and different models, too)
- Nobody knows for sure how and when Memrise is going to make money. Even the company founders don’t seem to know! For now, all learning is free. But at least Duolingo has its business model sorted out – here, you’re a bit uncertain about the future of your language study…
- At the end of the day, it’s a flashcard-based experience. Of course it’s crowd-sourced and looks nice – but that doesn’t change the fact that Memrise doesn’t cover every language learner’s need. Conversation, extended writing, intensive skills practice – all of this is missing. It would be wise to remember that you’re not really “learning” a language here – you’re memorising its vocabulary.
6. Conclusion: Memrise just got a lot better
The mobile app makes a huge difference, and the community adds a lot of oomph to an already robust service. I’m back with Memrise, and not going away – next week should bring another big improvement in my Guerrilla Language Learning challenge!
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