Our Review of Memrise
The amount of content simply blows other similar language products out of the water. But it's piecemeal; Memrise doesn't offer grammar explanations or complete dialogues to work through, so it's best used as a supplementary tool for learning vocabulary.
Ease of Use9
Engagement and Motivation10
Value for Cost10
Memrise is a study tool that uses spaced repetition to help users learn new material and review it over time. It’s primarily intended for learning foreign languages but you’ll find the site offers hundreds of other topics, including math, science, arts, standardized test prep and more.
Table of Contents
- What is Memrise?
- How do language Courses on Memrise work?
- Our experience using Memrise
- Memrise’s study activities keep learning interesting
- Memrise has an impressively large Course offering
- Use Memrise as a supplementary tool
- Where to start as an absolute beginner
- How to get the most out of Memrise
What is Memrise?
On Memrise, learners follow virtual “Courses” that lead them through different “Levels” within a set of study material. The platform offers both official Memrise-created Courses as well as user-created Courses, meaning you can find dozens of languages and subjects to study. The official Memrise language Courses include video clips recorded by native speakers as well as a variety of study activities to train your reading, writing, listening and speaking skills.
User-created Courses can vary in terms of quality but you’ll find plenty of unique languages and subjects available for study.
Memrise won’t provide you with detailed grammar lessons like you might find on other apps, however it’s an incredibly effective tool for improving your vocabulary. We highly recommend Memrise as a supplemental vocabulary booster for any balanced language study routine.
How do language Courses on Memrise work?
Memrise introduces you to new words and phrases through short video clips that show native speakers pronouncing vocab items slowly and clearly. You learn a few new things at a time then review them with study activities that train your reading, listening, writing and speaking skills.
Memrise uses a spaced repetition algorithm that prompts you to review previously learned material over increasingly long time intervals, ensuring that you’re less likely to forget something once you learn it.
Memrise offers language Courses across multiple proficiency levels. Most of Memrise’s official languages have seven Courses, with Course 1 being the easiest and Course 7 being the hardest. Every Course within a language has between 10 and 30 “Levels,” each of which covers a different topic.
Individual Lessons usually contain 10 to 20 new words and phrases, which you study and memorize through different learning activities. That means every Level contains hundreds of new vocabulary items to learn – words, phrases and expressions that will help you expand your vocabulary and sound more like a native.
Memrise also has user-created Courses available on the platform. The user generated content should always be taken with a grain of salt since it’s not verified by the Memrise team, however the Courses with the most users can generally be considered reliable. Memrise is especially helpful for finding user created Courses for less commonly studied languages. You can find almost any language on the platform, including vocabulary supplement Courses for various textbooks and even for other apps (we actually ran into a Serbian language Course based on Duolingo’s curriculum).
Once you start studying a Course it’ll appear in your Courses dashboard. From there you can view all of your current Courses, see how much review you need to complete today and begin working on your next study activity.
How much does Memrise cost?
Memrise offers quite a bit of free content but it’s not a free app. There is a content-limited trial, meaning you can usually complete the first Lesson of any Course for free. If you want to continue studying after the first Lesson you’ll need to upgrade to a Premium subscription. Currently, Memrise offers three subscription options:
- 1 month: $8.49
- 12 months: $59.99 ($4.99/month)
- Lifetime: $119.99
Memrise regularly runs promotions with discounts on their annual subscription. At the time of writing this article, Memrise was offering annual subscriptions for $29.99 (50% off the normal price).
If you purchase through the App store or on Google Play you’ll likely pay a significantly higher price since those markets take such a high commission. We checked both just now and saw the annual subscription priced at $44.99 on the App store and $29.99 on the Memrise website. To save a bit of money, you can purchase a subscription directly on the Memrise site then download the app and sign in.
How many languages are available on Memrise?
At the time of publishing this article, Memrise has official Courses for the following 19 languages:
- Japanese (with and without script)
- Portuguese (Brazil & Portugal)
- Spanish (Mexico & Spain)
Memrise’s official Courses are made up of a series of 7 Levels (i.e. Spanish 1, Spanish 2, etc), each of which correspond roughly to the CEFR language proficiency scale:
- Courses 1 to 3 roughly equate to A1 level (beginners).
- Courses 4 and 5 equate to A2 level (intermediate).
- Courses 6 and 7 are at the B1 level (upper-intermediate/advanced).
Our experience using Memrise
We used Memrise to study intermediate-level Russian. We’ve been studying for about two years now and have a decent grasp of the grammar, but we still have a long way to go. We can have basic conversations but still need to expand our vocabulary, learn common phrases and overall get more exposure to the language.
Memrise is the perfect language app for this type of situation. When the app introduces us to new words, we’re able to figure out how they should be used in sentences since we already have an intermediate-level understanding of the grammar. When we see new phrases we’re usually able to work out what grammar rules are at play and thus improve our understanding of how the grammar works.
For example, we had previously learned the Russian word “назад (ago; back)” and had a rudimentary understanding, but had never really seen or used it too much. We would definitely recognize the word if we saw it but we probably wouldn’t have been able to produce it on our own. Memrise covered this word at one point and gave us some useful examples of how it can be used: “он купил ту машину двадцать лет назад (he bought that car twenty years ago).”
Memrise won’t teach you any grammar but it will help expose you to new, authentic material. If you’ve studied a language before and have some elementary knowledge already, Memrise is the ideal tool for exposure and practice.
Memrise makes it easy to find the right Course
When we first logged into Memrise we weren’t quite sure where to start. There are 7 Levels of official Memrise Courses available for the Russian language, so we assumed we’d be somewhere around the middle. The great part about Memrise’s platform structure is that you aren’t limited to a certain curriculum progression or set of activities. You can try out the material in any order you like in order to figure out what best fits your needs.
This was a breath of fresh air for us after having spent the last few weeks practicing on Duolingo, which offers users considerably less flexibility in what they study (our Duolingo review here). Duolingo limits users to content at their current level within the Course and makes it difficult to skip ahead. You have to take tests to place out of different Skills, which makes it frustrating and difficult to find the right Skill to study.
Memrise makes it really easy to find the right Course and Level to fit your current proficiency. When trying to decide which Memrise Course would best fit our level, we simply looked at the vocabulary lists within each Level on the Courses. When we looked through the Russian 3 Course and saw that we already knew a lot of the material. We eventually determined Memrise’s Russian 4 Course to be the best fit for us, so we jumped into the first Level and began studying.
You choose what material to study
One of our favorite parts about Memrise is that it’s really easy to see what learning material you’ll cover in each Level, then choose any items you don’t want to focus your attention on. We believe it’s important for learners to have a clear understanding of what they’re going to learn when they begin a new chapter, skill or lesson within an app.
Many other apps and programs unfortunately make it very difficult to see what all will be included. They might give a short description such as “Ordering in a Restaurant” but it’s rare to be able to see the entire content sheet presented in a clear format. Memrise makes it easy to see what you’ll learn in each Level.
What’s even more rare is the ability to exclude words or phrases. It seems obvious that a language app should have a “I already know this – don’t show it again” button, but it’s actually very uncommon. One of the most frustrating parts about practicing on Duolingo is being forced to constantly type some random phrase like “she eats their bread” when you’d rather just never see it again.
Memrise has an “Ignore” function that allows you to select the vocab items you want to exclude from your learning activities. We use this function liberally since Memrise Courses tend to have a lot of random, useless vocabulary. In the screenshot below, we’ve ignored about half of the vocabulary included in this Level.
Each Course includes lots of learning material
On the main landing page for each Course you’ll find a list of all the Levels within each Course. Russian 4 has 10 Levels that you’ll work through in order to memorize a total of 130 new vocabulary items (words or phrases).
The amount of learning material per Level varies. Some Levels have just 10 or 15 words while others have 25 or 30. When you enter a new Level you’ll see a list of all the vocabulary items you’ll be focusing on within that Level. You can click “Learn these words” to begin working through the various study activities.
Memrise’s study activities keep learning interesting
Many language apps run you through the same study activity over and over again throughout the curriculum, thus the course begins to feel repetitive and boring after just a few lessons. Memrise surprised us in its ability to keep us consistently interested and entertained.
Memrise’s creative way of teaching new vocabulary
Memrise has a unique and innovative way of introducing new vocabulary items. First, you’ll see a slide containing a short video clip of a native speaker saying the given word or phrase – we’ll call these “Intro Slides” for the purpose of clarity in this article.
The videos appear to be professionally recorded and the sound quality is superb. Many of the videos appear to have been shot in exotic places; some of the Russian videos seem to have been filmed in scenic areas of St. Petersburg or Moscow, for example. The ability to see a native speaker say a word or phrase made a huge difference in our ability to remember it. Their facial expressions and body language add extra context that you wouldn’t get from just seeing something written on a blank screen. In the Intro Slide featured below, the Russian speaker holds her hand to her head and makes a pained expression as she says “we drank too much beer last night.”
The Intro Slides will show you a transcription of what’s being said as well as an English translation. The “Literal Translations” are especially useful. A lot of the grammatical mistakes we make when we speak are due to us clinging on to our English-language grammar when trying to form sentences in our target language.
As language learners it’s important for us to move away from the rules of our native tongue; we need to be able to think in the grammar structures of our target language. We have to remember that Russian speakers would say “I arrive on next week” rather than just “I arrive next week.” Memrise’s Literal Translations remind us to consider the differences between our native grammar and our target language’s grammar.
Memrise has some of the best audio of any language app
The “Audio” section is also noteworthy because it’s something you won’t find in many other apps. There are two audio buttons you can click, one will play a male speaker and the other will play a female speaker. That means on Intro Slides you can hear a total of three native speakers pronounce the given vocabulary item. We haven’t encountered any other app that has this much opportunity to practice listening to a language – we were thoroughly impressed.
Practice slides help reinforce newly learned vocab items
After introducing a new vocabulary item with an Intro Slide, Memrise will walk you through a handful of what we like to call “Practice Slides.” These slides can include a number of activities intended to help you learn and reinforce the new material, including:
- Choose the translation that matches what’s in the video clip
- Choose the multiple choice answer that matches what’s in the video clip
- Pick the correct translation that matches the English or target-language phrase
- Reconstruct a sentence when given the words out of order
- Select the word or phrase that you hear in the audio recording (multiple choice)
There are also a number of typing exercises. We enjoyed these because it can be tough to learn to type in a foreign language, especially languages that use different alphabets. We have the Russian keyboard setting enabled on our computer but Memrise also provides an on-screen keyboard which comes in handy when we can’t remember where a given letter is.
Memrise has the best approach to spaced repetition review
Every day, Memrise will prepare a handful of activities to help you review the material you’ve previously learned. From the Home screen, you’ll see a yellow button inside your Course with a suggested starting activity. Memrise calls this the “Next up for you” activity and it is usually selected randomly from a group of options. In the screenshot below, Memrise is recommending we complete a round of “Speed review.”
You can also click the “Mode Selector” button (visible as a blue square icon) to choose from a list of currently available Review Modes, including:
- Learn new words: practice your newest vocabulary items
- Classic review: a mix of different study activities to practice your previously learned vocabulary
- Speed review: a timed-practice exercise that’s useful for seeing how well you know your vocabulary
- Difficult words: get some extra review for vocab items you’ve had trouble with in past exercises
- Listening skills: listen to audio or video clips and pick or type the right translation
- Learn with locals: practice using the professionally recorded video clips of native speakers
Memrise has a spaced repetition algorithm that recommends vocabulary items for review after a certain amount of time. Every day you’ll see a new set of recommendations, visible as numbers above each Review Mode. The recommended Review Modes provide an extra level of guidance for learners and reduce the amount of decision fatigue involved in trying to figure out what to study next.
Memrise has an impressively large Course offering
Memrise has Courses for almost any subject. We were able to find material for less commonly studied languages like Serbocroatian and Catalan as well as languages we had never even heard of.
If you’re interested in studying a language for which there isn’t a lot of readily available study material, you should take a look at Memrise because there’s probably a Course available.
In addition to official Memrise-created Courses, the platform also allows users to create and publish their own Courses. You can browse the Course categories list from the Courses section of the website or you can search directly for the subject you’re interested in.
Need to brush up on your knowledge of world geography and maps? Perhaps consider checking out the Course “A World History (with audio)” by the user alanh or “American States and Capitals” by krisveldhuizen.
Want to learn enough Cantonese to order food at your local dim sum restaurant? Try “Instant Spoken Cantonese Pack (Audio)” by michellaneous.
Memrise really does have Courses for almost anything you could wish to learn. In addition to learning Russian with Memrise’s official Course “Russian 4” we also began studying fundamental architecture vocabulary with danielinnes’s Course “Elements of Classical Architecture.”
Memrise’s unique and interesting study topics
Here are a few of the interesting and noteworthy Courses we found while browsing Memrise’s Course offering:
Noteworthy world language Courses
- Holiday Survival Kit (Japanese Hiragana) by Memrise
- Learn Hindi for Beginners – No Typing by Nathaniel
- Cherokee (Western Dialect) + Audio by rorororo
- Yoruba by Memrise
- Introduction to ASL by linhlinh6789
Noteworthy non-language Courses
- Lean Six Sigma Terms by WitlessBittern
- Flowers of the United States by Benkins
- MySQL Functions – Basics by zuries
- Piano & Keyboard Chords by HaruhiGafitas
- Actors – Most popular recent movies/series by Rémi-Andral
The above-mentioned Courses are just a drop in the bucket compared to the ocean of material you can find on Memrise. We’ve actually found Memrise has better results than Google when it comes to less commonly studied subjects – we can’t recommend it enough.
Use Memrise as a supplementary tool
At its core, Memrise is a flashcard memorization tool that is best used for learning new vocabulary and reviewing it over time. The video clips and native speaker audio are immensely useful for improving your listening comprehension and accent, and the learning structure and study activities are significantly more interesting than most other memorization tools.
We would like to note, however, that using Memrise by itself is not enough to become fluent in a language. Memrise won’t teach you the grammar rules of your target language and there aren’t complete dialogues to help you practice real conversations. You won’t find in-depth lessons to walk you through the learning process and there are no explanations at all.
Memrise is best used as a supplementary tool to practice the language and learn new vocabulary. It’s a particularly helpful program for learners that have already made some progress in their target language and need to expand their vocabulary. It’s estimated that learners need to pick up about 4000 words in order to reach B2 proficiency on the CEFR scale, so every language learner needs to be using some sort of vocabulary tool on a daily basis.
Memrise is one of the best apps we’ve seen for vocabulary training, but users should be aware that successful language acquisition requires a number of different factors. If you’re at an advanced level, for example, you probably still should be expanding your vocabulary but you should also be speaking with natives, reading real-world content and otherwise immersing yourself in the language as much as possible; nobody can learn a language by just using one single tool. Memrise (and vocab apps in general) should be just one part of a diverse study routine.
If you’re just starting out with a new language, Memrise will be helpful to you but it shouldn’t be the only program you use. We recommend taking the time to find the right curriculum.
Where to start as an absolute beginner
If you’re at elementary level proficiency in your target language you should not expect to “become fluent” by using Memrise, though it definitely should be one of the tools in your arsenal.
We recommend following some sort of curriculum to help guide you through the different stages of learning. Different learners have different ways of doing this. Some prefer to follow a textbook while others follow internet guides – there are tons of strategies and methods to learn a new language. We personally prefer to find a tutor who will either guide us through a textbook or teach us using their own curriculum and materials.
One of the great parts about Memrise’s user created content is that you can often find Courses aligned to language textbooks. For example, one popular book for learning Serbocroatian is Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian, a Textbook: With Exercises and Basic Grammar by Ronelle Alexander and Ellen Elias-Bursac. There’s a Course on Memrise (by user radioclare) that includes much of the vocabulary covered in the book. Serbocroatian is a less commonly studied language and it can be incredibly difficult to find learning resources, so the fact that someone has created a Course for this textbook is really exciting.
If you’re an absolute beginner we’d recommend using Memrise to expand your vocab, but you should use another app, program or strategy to actually learn the language. Memrise is the app you want to use for learning and practicing vocab, not for learning grammar.
How to get the most out of Memrise
Memrise is hands down one of the most effective vocabulary memorization tools available on the market today. With 22 official Memrise language Courses and thousands of user-created Courses, you’re pretty much guaranteed to find study material for any language you’re interested in studying.
You can try Memrise with a free content limited trial before signing up for their $8.50/month subscription. They run promotions pretty regularly and we were able to get a year-long subscription for just $30, significantly cheaper than competitors like Babbel or Glossika.
Memrise won’t make you fluent in a foreign language since it’s a tool designed to help learners improve vocabulary. There aren’t any grammar explanations or complete dialogues to work through, and the vocabulary/phrases can sometimes feel random or disconnected. As such, we strongly recommend using Memrise as a vocab supplement within an existing language study routine.
That being said, Memrise is so much more than just your average flashcard app. The sheer amount of content available (mostly very high quality stuff) simply blows other similar products out of the water. If you’re new to learning your target language, we’d recommend taking a look at our article on language learning routines in order to get a better idea of how to structure your learning schedule.
– written by Drew Grubba for Smarter Language. Drew has ACTFL-certified proficiency in Swedish, German, Portuguese, French and Spanish. He’s also studied Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian and Dutch, and is currently learning Russian.