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Memrise is a popular website for learning all sorts of things. The website is particularly popular for learning languages.

The website has a very simple system for learning just about anything. It is centered around a philosophy that is best described with this image of their “plant, grow and water” system.

memriseScience

I was rather skeptical of this, until I started trying it out for a few weeks and found that I could remember more and more vocabulary. It definitely works for me. There is also a points system with scoreboards and friends lists, so you can compete with friends to see who is learning the most. Memrise is a powerful tool indeed.

However, tools are only as good as the people who know how to effectively use them. And this is one of Memrise’s biggest problems – the website is only as good as it’s user generated content. I’ve used Memrise a lot for my Thai language learning, and some of the courses created by other users could be improved.

When I first used the site, I was frustrated that there was a lack of sound – when I am introduced to a new word I find it very beneficial to hear the sound as well as reading the word. Some courses on Memrise do have sound, but to my horror I found out that the users were using some wrong tones for words (which completely changes the meaning of a word).

This is a specific issue with Thai, but Memrise has limited support for Thai keyboard input. Thai has a character (for an “am” sound) which, on the Memrise website has to be inputted as followed by . It’s a small issue, but it does mean that many courses for Thai on the site teach you to type Thai in a weird way.

It’s not all bad news. There are workarounds that you can do as course creators and also as users. When designing a course, you can accept alternative spellings and it is possible to configure Memrise to look for the Thai character. As a user, you can choose to ignore certain words in lists (for example a word which is pronounced with a wrong tone or that has a wrong definition).

Each course has it’s own specific forum, and the Memrise community seems to be very friendly and welcome to receiving feedback.

Memrise is also home to some popular language hacking courses for Italian, French, Spanish and many more languages.

A general issue that I have found with Memrise is that depending on the way a course is designed, it will only improve your passive language skills. Some courses give you multiple definitions for a word and you select the correct word from a list. Other courses give you a word’s definition and you must type the word from memory. This second type of test is undoubtedly harder, but it means in a real life situation you can use the word without being prompted. It’s frustrating when you half-know a word really well because Memrise told you so.

A final closing point is that Memrise doesn’t seem to teach words in context. There are ways to integrate movies and slideshows into courses, but in my use of the site nobody seems to have used these features in a beneficial language teaching way.

I would also like to let readers of this blog know that I am working on my own “Hacking Thai” course. It’s very difficult to design! But I will update you on how it is going and share my experiences of Memrise course design.

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