Strong language study content for beginners. More than just flashcard learning. Good customization options in settings. High quality.
No guarantee on quality of user-generated content.
- Bottom Line
Freemium study app Memrise has a wealth of content in foreign languages as well as other subjects. Beginners will find it's a valuable resource.
Memrise won't make you fluent in a foreign language, but it's an excellent study aid. This web and mobile app goes a long way toward helping you memorize characters, vocabulary, and phrases. It's not just for learning languages, either. It's also excellent for helping math, science, economics, and so forth. As with most study apps, you can create your own course material, or use content created and shared by other users of the app. Memrise incorporates questions and quizzes, so it's not just another flashcard app. The free tier of service is more than adequate, and it's challenging to boot. For free language study, it's one of my favorite apps and a PCMag Editors' Choice. There's a paid membership if you're hungry for more.
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Free vs. Pro
To set up a Memrise account costs nothing at all. You can use the app to learn vocabulary and characters of different languages, as well as basic phrases and sentences. You can learn more than just languages with Memrise, such as history, geography, math, science, and other subjects.
As mentioned, the free account gives you access to plentiful content. But you get more ways to learn and additional features, such as offline access, by paying for a Pro membership (which is what I tested).
The Pro account costs $9 per month, $59 per year, or $129.99 for a lifetime membership. Pro users get chatbots to help them learn by conversing, videos of native speakers for select languages, adaptive technology (meaning the app changes how it teaches you based on your performance), and some statistics that show when and how much you studied. Pro users also get access to Difficult Word exercises, meaning exercises that help you work on vocabulary that you've previously gotten wrong in Memrise.
To gauge Memrise's value, it helps to have a point of comparison. The popular language learning app Duolingo charges $9.99 per month for Pro, which currently only applies to the Android and iPhone app. The Pro account removes ads and lets you download lessons to complete offline.
Duolingo also has a free companion app called TinyCards. TinyCards is little more than a flashcard app for drilling vocabulary. Head to head, Memrise is more engaging than TinyCards, but on par with Duolingo.
Quizlet, another popular study app, is similar to Memrise in that you get a lot for free, and a paid subscription doesn't cost that much, at $19.99 per year. Quizlet is top-notch for creating your own study sets, whereas Memrise is stronger in the content it delivers out of the box.
Should you pay for Memrise? You really do get a lot for free; most users will be perfectly satisified with the free version.
Memrise has content for both English speakers and speakers of other languages. Some of the most popular language courses for English speakers are Arabic, Chinese (simplified), Danish, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Spanish (European and Mexican), and Turkish.
Those languages are highlighted because of their popularity, and because they have plentiful content that's highly structured and developed by trusted sources. For example, when studying Korean, you can start with courses called Korean 1, Korean 2, Korean 3, and so forth. These numbered courses are created by Memrise, rather than random users of the service, which allows them to control the quality. For any course, you can see the creator name next to the name of the course.
Beyond those basic courses in the languages I just mentioned, there are more specialized courses, like Slang in Korean and 1,000 Most Common Korean Words. These courses are not necessarily created by Memrise, so the quality isn't assured.
Memrise has courses for more languages than the ones I listed, but the content wasn't created by Memrise, so the quality is questionable. Additionally, there are a varying number of lessons for these other languages. For example, I found more than 100 courses for Swahili, but none labeled Swahili 1, Swahili 2, and so forth. Another example: You have a range of options for learning the Armenian alphabet, but only a handful of options if you want to pick up a few words of Cherokee. I'm impressed just how many languages are included, even if the quality and amount of content is inconsistent.
Features and Experience
Overall, Memrise looks polished and has a clear structure. When you start with a course of study, you must start at the first lesson. The lessons that follow remain locked until you completed all prior ones. The structure is great for beginners. More experienced users can choose programs that are more advanced, although there's no placement test for finding out ahead of time where is the best place to start. At least you can jump around at will within the program to find material that's appropriately challenging.
I signed up for a Memrise account by using my Google account for authentication. There's also an option to sign up with an email address and password.
While Memrise lets you study a wide variety of topics, the language-learning content is what you see first. I opted into an entry-level Korean course, as well as a Romanian language course. Memrise doesn't limit the number of courses you can choose, even with a free account.
Memrise teaches material by first showing you a few words, characters, or concepts, depending on what you're studying, and then quizzing you on them. For learning languages, the app uses both written and audio material. For example, the Korean program started by exposing me to a small selection of characters and showing their equivalent in written English as well as playing an audio file of a native speaker making the sound. After you see and hear the character a few times, Memrise starts peppering in multiple-choice questions in which you identify the characters you just learned.
I liked that Memrise only exposed me to seven new characters during any lesson. Limiting the number helped me commit them to memory. You can change the number of new items you learn per lesson in the settings, which is helpful for learners who need to go faster or slower.
For each character, word, or phrase that you learn, a little icon of a plant appears in the upper right corner, and it changes such that the plant grows the more times you are exposed to the term and get questions about it right. In other words, the plant grows a stem, leaves, and eventually a flower, the more familiar you become with the words being learned.
Learning Korean characters went smoother than I expected, although there's not much you can do to remember new characters and their sounds other than to memorize them. When I started in on Romanian language learning, I discovered a new side of Memrise I hadn't seen yet, and it was kind of fun.
As new Romanian words and phrases came up, I clicked on an option to get help remembering them, and little picture cards appeared beneath. (The same option appeared in Korean, but it was always empty.) The pictures were memes, or attempts at memes anyway, that other Memrise users had made to help them remember the word or phrase. Most of them were funny because they were so bad, but that doesn't mean they were ineffective. You can upload your own meme-like image of your want, or you can scroll through existing images and save the one you like most.
Speed quizzes let you test what you've learned so far in a timed environment. The quizzes are short, talking only maybe two minutes to complete. Everything about Memrise seems designed to be mobile-friendly.
One of the Best Free Study Apps
Memrise is a worthwhile app for studying languages, particularly for beginners who are learning new characters and basic vocabulary. The fact that it's more than just a flashcard app keeps it engaging. And the free tier of service is ample. You never feel like you're hitting a paywall. While the Pro version offers extra features that serious learners might want to take advantage of, all the aspects of Memrise that make it great are included in the free version.
Jill Duffy is a contributing editor, specializing in productivity apps and software, as well as technologies for health and fitness. She writes the weekly Get Organized column, with tips on how to lead a better digital life. Her first book, Get Organized: How to Clean Up Your Messy Digital Life is available for Kindle, iPad, and other digital formats. She is also the creator and author of ProductivityReport.org. Before joining PCMag.com, she was senior editor at the Association for Computing Machinery, a non-profit membership organization for… More »
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