I’d like to share with you a timeline. Memrise, made by, and I kid you not, a “Grand Master of Memory” and a princeton neuroscientist by the names of Ed Cooke and Dr. Greg Detre, was first launched into private Beta in 2009. Duolingo entered its private beta in 2011. June 19th, 2012, Duolingo opens for the general public. November 13th, 2012, Duolingo hits the IOS app store. October 1st, Memrise’s website opens to 100 people. May 2013: Both Duolingo and Memrise hit the google play store. Both apps have very similar layouts, very similar crowd-sourced course creation, and general feel. Duolingo was made by two computer experts, Memrise by two memory experts. It’s a fascinating timeline, and one can’t help but wonder if the two knew they were competing for the same market space at the same time.
For those that don’t know, I’ll grade this app on 3 distinct areas:
-Design (Good to look at, easy to use)
-Fun (Does it feel like a chore to do, or like a game)
-Worth (Does it help you do the thing it says it will help you do)
Obviously not everything worth doing is fun, not everything fun is easy to do, and not everything pretty is substantive.
Memrise’s slogan is “Unlocking your learning superpowers”, but it’s real promise is to teach you a language.
While Duolingo is content with an owl and some geometric shapes, Memrise goes all in on a space themed learning experience. You “lift off” from the bottom of your screen to the top, unlike most apps top to bottom approach. You even have a little alien friend that evolves as you learn languages along the way. It’s cute, and the metaphor is both apt and entertaining. Unfortunately, the theme gets in the way of simplicity, and the names of all the lessons are less than helpful. “Code Cracker” for “Alphabet”, “I come in Peace” for “How are you” and “What is your name” (But not “Hi” or “Bye”) and “Restaurants” for… Restaurants. It also doesn’t help that there seems to be no rhyme nor reason to language progression, and lessons in grammar are severely lacking.
There is also a lot more content than Duolingo has, which isn’t a bad thing, but it clutters up the screen. 7 different types of lessons. Chatbots. Different types of language lessons. Memrise created lessons. Crowd-sourced lessons. Sometimes less is more, especially when ½ your lesson types are hidden behind a paywall.
Too infinity, but not beyond understanding: B
Fun, when it comes to learning apps, is all about enticing you to use the app and not making you want to put it down. The best ways to do this is through gamification type activities that keep you moving forward, entice you to review, and reward you for challenges. Memrise’ gamification is split into two, distinct areas: Leveled progression and experience. Leveled progression pushes you through the course, while experience levels up your little alien friend who always seems happy no matter how badly I’m doing. Memrise tries to get you to challenge yourself, and review past words, but it doesn’t reward you for doing so.
The pro version (5-10 dollars a month), tries to get over some of the forward progress monotony with new games such as comparative pronunciation, native speaker listening activities, and, the most fun, AI chatbots. But these activities aren’t available on all languages, and nearly none of them were available on the official memrise arabic lesson. I had to switch to spanish to try the AI Chat Bot, which was fun, but definitely needs more work.
Memrise wants you to feel like you are having fun without giving you anything fun to do or any reason to do it. It’s a coat of fresh paint on a boring wall that looks nice, but honestly just gets the job done: C
Duolingo has around 30 courses that it offers, all made and curated by a large group of people. The lessons are well thought out, focusing on grammar, logical progression of topics, and quality. Memrise offers over 100 languages with multiple smaller courses within those branches. It even offers two different types of spanish (Mexico and Spain). But many of these smaller, offshoot courses aren’t well planned out, and are more just word memorization games. Even the bigger courses don’t focus on “language” and focus more on “words”. Language isn’t a dictionary, it is also a set of rules. Memrise is good if you need to introduce yourself quickly to a conversational level of any language, but it was never enough to make me feel comfortable.
It has what you’re looking for, but only just: B-
Memrise offers nearly every language on the planet, even dead ones. It even has a course on “Atlantean” and “Memeology”. But most of these courses are made and curated by a singular person, and these people are rarely educators. Duolingo takes the wikipedia approach, more minds on one topic, while Memrise allows for a much greater variety of uncurated content. It’s good, but it’s not great, and it requires you to be on your toes about what you’re learning: B-