Memrise: A flower metaphor changed my life

Memrise is where you grow your vocabulary and general knowledge. First, you plant your ‘flowers’ in the garden of short-term memory; then you water them until they’re ready to be re-planted into the greenhouse of long-term memory to thrive with more sporadic attention and care.

This is Memrise’s metaphor for the concept of spaced repetition – learning something (a new or foreign word, or a fact or piece of trivia) and going over it after progressively longer intervals of time until it is ingrained in your long-term memory. As the Memrise team claims, their “memory experts spent long, sleepless nights tinkering with exotic algorithms so as to be able [to] precisely estimate the point at which you’re about to forget” something so they can remind you to review it again just in time.

Memrise courses

Memrise is built on the strength of its community. Anyone can make an account (for free!), learn from one of the existing courses, or start their own course. There are many well-designed courses to choose from and you can’t really go wrong with any of the popular ones. Users can also follow each other which I think this is a great function. Seeing my Memrise friends in the Leaderboard part of the website really got my competitive juices flowing. Follow me on Memrise, my username is  “timtamothy”!

Even without the competition factor, I found the act of tending to my ‘flowers’ addictive and a lot of fun! I think the system takes a lot of stress out of memorising vocabulary because you know the algorithm will automatically make words you often get wrong come up more frequently. I positively ploughed through “First 5000 words of Spanish” without a care for the world and still maintained a high level accuracy. I remember wanting to ‘garden’ all the time – even during class at uni – so if you start Memrising tell your friends they won’t be seeing you on Facebook anymore.

Memrise Spanish

The “Mem” of “Memrise” is making reference to “mnemonics” or “mems”. Every new word is introduced with user-created mems (yes, you can create your own too from day one) which are meant to help you “form vivid, sensory memories”. When I think of people who swear by things like mnemonics, I picture them taking a moment at every new item, trying to connect these abstract images or narratives to what they are trying to learn. I personally don’t subscribe to this approach and much prefer thinking about and using words in their context, but if you disagree with me by all means use this aspect of Memrise to your advantage.

Memrise’s more established courses also incorporate audio. This is obviously very helpful for languages you have just started or are still working on. I like to speak out loud with the audio as much as I can. Who knows, this might have a very minimal positive effect on my language learning but I enjoy it and find it useful anyway.

Memrise Memes

There are two main weaknesses I see in Memrise. First, while they have iOS and Android apps, they are very slow to load which detracts a lot from the fun-factor of their full website version.

Second, curating your own Memrise courses is not as easy as I’d hoped. Essentially, the more I learn a language, the more control over my learning I seek. For example, after a while I reached a certain level of proficiency with Spanish and I found that what Memrise was teaching me was overly specific, didn’t interest me, or didn’t seem immediately useful. So, I started writing my own course made up of words I came across from reading or speaking with natives and I found the process unwieldy (though the last time I tried was about a year ago). Unfortunately, my usage of Memrise waned after this. Having said this, Memrise should still be on the list of resources for my next language, whatever that might be!

Takeaway: Memrise is a powerful tool for learning vocabulary because it’s fun, it connects you to some extent with others, it has a lot of great content ready to go, and it’s free! In my own experience, Memrise is best used earlier on in a language trajectory.

Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed it. Remember to hit “+Follow” in the bottom-right corner to have me delivered to your email, and share me with your other language learning friends!

2 Comments on “Memrise: A flower metaphor changed my life”

  1. HOW CAN I EVER THANK YOU! Memrise is amazing and super addictive! I’m absolutely loving it!!! I’ve been reading through your blog and it too is amazing and encouraging! OH and super practical! Thanks again for all the advice! It’s really helping! 🙂

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