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Memrise Languages review

Memrise is easy, fun and best of all it’s free... but is it any good for learning languages, beyond a few key words and phrases?

Memrise Languages review
(Image: © Memrise)

Our Verdict

Memrise is free, and you get a good all-round knowledge of words and phrases that require other resources to turn the user into a fluent speaker. It’s fun and easy to use, but isn't joined up enough to make a cohesive language-learning system.

For

  • Free
  • Great for vocab and phrases

Against

  • Far from comprehensive
  • Doesn't feel like a proper learning system

Memrise is a fun way to learn basic words and phrases in a new language. It also functions well as a way to refresh your knowledge of the language, if you’re a bit rusty. What's even better is that it's properly free, so ideal for filling in gaps in your knowledge. However, don’t expect fluency unless you’re using another language program like Rosetta Stone to really get a feel for the structure, culture, and systems inherent in the language you're trying to master. Memrise is a newer entry to our list of the best learn French software apps, and it's available for PC, Mac, and all iOS and Android tablets and phones.

Memrise Language review: Method

Memrise works by combining a process of ‘encoding’ and ‘testing’. Encoding works using mnemonics or ‘mems’, a word or phrase set alongside a corresponding image that allows users to associate the two elements as one. This is combined with a method of ‘testing’ that essentially challenges users to remember and apply these mems to various scenarios. It'll be familiar to anyone who has used Pimsleur. Memrise uses graduated intervals that increase as you get into the course: the user learns a sentence or phrase and reviews it shortly after, but the time between the given sentence/phrase and the review increases, which helps lock the sentence/phrase into the user’s memory. It sounds more complicated than it actually is.

The mems are presented as flashcards (or basic exercises) and this is where Memrise differentiates itself from other language learners. The images and associated words and phrases are designed to be as memorable as possible so they tend to be on the funny, witty side, making the learning experience more fun and less like a chore. It also uses a system called ‘elaborate encoding’ to help you remember different concepts by creating an association between a word you know in English and the word when translated into whatever language you're learning.

We tested the French version of Memrise. The official French language course devised by Memrise is pretty good, but many of the other French courses are created by Memrise users, so there are loads to choose from in a bunch of different categories… but this isn’t always good news. Some of the courses lack direction and others are just downright poor. We found that shopping around for the course that feels 'right' (or beginning a course and discovering that it's not good) casts doubts on the efficiency of the product. Yes, this basic level is free, but if you're presented with a poor lesson, this can do harm to your learning process.

There are Memrise subscription options which unlock more features: video and audio modes, one-to-one chat with experts, learning statistics, chatbots and grammabots to check words, spelling etc., but we don’t think it’s necessary. The method here is best suited to vocab and learning phrases for vacations - it isn't a fully fledged learning method like you find in many (more expensive) language apps.

Memrise Languages review

(Image credit: Memrise)

Memrise Languages review: Cost and app

Memrise is free for the basic lessons but, as we mentioned above, you can pay for extras. The costs are: $8.99 per month, $59.99 per year, or $99.99 for a lifetime subscription. We honestly wouldn't recommend paying for a year or lifetime sub, but if you like Memrise's method of learning, you could opt for a few additional lessons on a monthly basis and still feel like you're getting good value.

Memrise has official courses in 21 languages (and dozens of unofficial languages) and the app has over 35 million registered users. It's a smooth experience on whatever smart device you use it on, and is widely supported across all platforms.

Should you try Memrise Language?

How does Memrise compare to Duolingo, which is also free? Having used both we feel that for learning words and phrases, Memrise has the edge. Duolingo is better for constructing sentences and learning the language as a whole, so it’s better to lead with the former then bring on the latter when you’re ready. Both are free. Even if you do marry the pair, you’re still not going to get the language course you need to become fluent, so again we'd recommend something like Rocket Languages or Rosetta Stone as your main learning tool. Overall, we enjoy using Memrise - it makes learning fun - but it isn't deep enough to take you beyond beginner level.