Launched in 2011, Memrise is an innovative online learning tool that has been in the news recently after receiving just over $1 million in funding to support its continued development. After using the website and app to brush up on my French, I had become hooked, and knew I had to feature it as March’s first App of the Week. The app has only recently been approved and uploaded to the App Store, so this review really is fresh off the press…
The philosophy behind Memrise is quite simple: make learning both easy and fun and to cement it further with a supportive community. The development behind Memrise is anything but simple, however. The team is made up of scientists, memory experts, coders and designers who have all come together to learn how the brain works in order to help people learn faster.
To aid learning, Memrise uses ‘mems’, which it says helps us to form vivid and sensory memories, similar to a mnemonic. These are really clever ways of remembering words and phrases by association. More on these to come.
While using the app, you are continuously tested to make sure that your brain is given an appropriate workout, which aids your learning. So at appropriate times, you are tested and reminded of what you’ve learned in order for your memories to grow stronger. The clever scientists at the company have worked out when these times are most appropriate in the learning cycle so that your brain absorbs the information and doesn’t forget it.
Okay, to the app!
The first thing to know is that you’ll need to register, which you can do at the Memrise website or through the app and is extremely simple – username, e-mail address, password and you’re in. None of that back and forth to your e-mail account to confirm your address and details.
As soon as you’re in, you can select the language you’d like to learn from a list, which is being added to. My French is currently somewhere between basic and confident with ordering a baguette, so this app presented me with the perfect opportunity to practice.
Clicking through to French gives you the option to choose introductory or intermediate. I’m feeling confident so I choose intermediate.
This then takes you through to a list of mems, which are French words and phrases presented in a way that makes them easier to remember. For example, I select service from the list and I’m presented with:
The suggestion is that marrying an image of two waiters, talking and holding trays along with the sentence ‘le service est tres rapide ici’ will trigger a memory or “mem” for when I need to use it next. How did I recall what “the service is very quick here” is in French? I recalled the image of the waiters holding trays “tres rapide”. Pretty easy, right?
The technique is stunningly simple and extremely effective.
The beauty of Memrise, and what sets it apart from other language learning apps, is that it’s heavily community driven. Users can add their own mems, which is helping to grow the database tres rapide. I’m already starting to think of my own mems and whether I can add any to the mix.
Room for improvement?
The app is still in its infancy and this review is based on its first week on the app store. With this in mind, I did find the user interface a bit clunky and at times not particularly self explanatory. I got the impression that the app is being aimed primarily at people who had signed up online first, rather than discovered the app by chance through the app store, which is how I came across it.
Another thing to remember is that you won’t be able to learn a whole language through Memrise. The French that I’ve gone through using the app, as well as the website, has helped me to learn new vocabulary, but it hasn’t taught me how to construct sentences properly. Therefore, I thought I would find it more useful to brush up and build on the foundations of what I already knew, rather than learn something from scratch. At this point I didn’t think I’d get much more from the app other than French.
Then I clicked on learning Mandarin.
This takes mems to a more advanced and interesting level, as it uses animated graphics to connect the Chinese characters to memorable, related objects. And it completely sucked me in again. This is an example of how you can learn the Chinese for ‘ladle.’
Again, simple, effective and such a great learning aid. I know that I’ll be going back every day to learn one or two other symbols and words and that this time next year, I’ll be living it up in Shanghai, chatting with the locals.
Memrise is a hugely innovative concept, which, in the space of writing this review, has got me hooked. It makes learning fun and effective and although only time will tell whether any of this learning will stick, I can’t recommend it highly enough. And best of all? It’s completely free.
Mobilesplease App of the Week Rating: 5 out of 5