Memrise Review: Benefits for Free Users, Disappointments for Subscribers

If you’re interested in language learning, you’ve probably heard of Memrise.

Launched in 2012 and growing in popularity in recent years, the Memrise app and website has been making waves in the language learning world.

You may have heard of Memrise from an article or review, or maybe a polyglot YouTuber mentioned it was a central part of their language learning routine.

We’ve found Memrise to be a flexible, engaging and effective way to learn vocabulary and phrases. What it lacks in in-depth language learning, it makes up for with varied language exposure and scientifically proven memorization methods.

Contents

Memrise at a Glance

Features: 
– Teaches languages with flashcard decks
– Uses scientifically backed “spaced repetition” method
– User created courses and a huge number of available languages
– Authentic native speech

Pricing: 
Core program and most features available with free version.
Additional features offered with membership for price of $8.49/month, $59.99 for a year ($5.00/month) or $119.99 lifetime.

Pros:
– Methods backed up by solid science
– High-quality video and audio
– Customizable learning where you set your own goals

Cons:
– Words and phrases taught in isolation, not in context
– Limited grammar explanations
– Not much writing or speaking practice

Memrise’s Main Features

Spaced Repetition

Like the name suggests, Memrise helps you to “memorize” things using a technique called spaced repetition.

This means that Memrise keeps track of the flashcards you have trouble remembering, and prompts you to review them more often than those you can recall easily.

Memrise uses a spaced repetition algorithm to expose you to these flashcards at critical intervals. This ensures the words transfer from your short-term memory to long-term memory.

Memrise has hundreds if not thousands of foreign language courses, which the program refers to as “decks.”

While I was exploring the program, I noticed that each deck comes with a preset number of words and phrases in the chosen language, which are divided up into lessons.

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The learning process is simple: each word or phrase has its own flashcard, and I could master each flashcard through a series of repetitions.

Each repetition grew my knowledge of the word, and this is represented by the growth stages of a flower.

memrise-review

 

There have been hundreds of studies showing the high effectiveness of spaced repetition as a language learning technique.

For example, one study found that, with just three minutes of daily SRS practice, EFL students were three times as effective at retaining vocabulary in the long term.

A Huge Number of Courses

Aside from spaced repetition, Memrise’s secret power is that it hosts two types of courses: decks created by the company itself as well as decks created by users.

Memrise focuses its efforts on creating and promoting their company-created courses. These decks are highly professional with videos, native audio and accurate translations between the target language and native language.

These official courses also span multiple levels. For some languages, this means that you can learn across many levels, often starting at the beginner stage and working toward advanced.

For example, I explored the Spanish courses, and there were 7 levels, each with dozens of decks.

memrise-review

With these courses, I could master thousands of words in a given language, starting with the most useful and then growing in complexity.

But Memrise also has user-created courses, which are usually curated by fellow learners or native speakers of a given language.

There are far more languages and levels covered by user-created courses than by the company-created ones.

In fact, we language learners can also create our own decks for Memrise. This allows me to master words and phrases that are most useful to my language learning needs.

For example, I could use Memrise alongside my favorite French podcast, and create custom flashcards based on new vocabulary I heard in the episodes.

Because of these different options, the amount you can learn on Memrise is virtually limitless. You can legitimately learn thousands of words!

23 Languages Offered

I found that it’s possible to study 23 languages on Memrise via the “official” company-created courses.

These courses tend to teach the most commonly studied languages, and they offer high quality decks complete with native audio, vetted flashcards and even videos.

These languages include Spanish, French, German, Japanese, Italian, Korean, Chinese, Portuguese, Russian, Arabic, Dutch, Swedish, Norwegian, Polish, Turkish, Danish, English, Yoruba, Icelandic, Mongolian and Slovenian.

But (unofficially) the number of languages offered by Memrise is unlimited, due to the potential of the the community-created decks.

That means there are decks for languages like Cree, Afrikaans, Navajo and Swahili. There are many others available, and the quality of these community-created decks is always increasing.

Maybe you’ll even create a custom deck for a language you want to study! 

Authentic Native Material

Native content is crucial to speaking and understanding a language as it’s actually spoken, so Memrise makes sure to include loads of authentic material in its flashcard decks.

In fact, all official courses include native audio and video in the target language.

During my trial of the official deck in Spanish, there were actually videos and audio clips in native Spanish speech to help me master the flashcards in the course.

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The audio clips are part of what’s called “Pronunciation Mode,” which unlocks after you’ve learned at least three cards in a deck. The audio can be played at either regular speed or 50% speed.

Pressing the microphone allows for the learner to record their own audio and have their pronunciation automatically graded by Memrise.

While this is a staple in the company-created courses, I discovered that many user-created decks also have recorded audio. And there’s an option to record audio for my own custom decks.

Furthermore, many different accents are represented in both official and user-created courses.

For example, Memrise hosts courses for both Mexican Spanish and Spanish from Spain. And you can find user-created courses in Argentinian Spanish and Chilean Spanish, just to name a few.

General and Specialized Courses

In addition to general language courses that aim to teach based on a level, I also found courses based on different topics.

That means I could choose to specialize my learning and focus on mastering words related to business, science or even literature. For example, I could take a course in Business Dutch or Medical German.

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There are even courses that focus on frequency lists, which are collections of vocabulary words that are sorted based on how often a word is used in the language.

These types of decks focus on the most common words in a language so you can watch your comprehension soar fast.

I also found it fantastic that users can also cross-pollenate and use Memrise to enhance other courses or language learning apps. This is most commonly done through custom decks.

These have been created to accompany outside language learning materials such as textbooks or other programs. For example, I found a Russian deck that exclusively reviews vocabulary from the Russian Duolingo course.

Language Learning Support Features

Memrise isn’t just a straightforward spaced repetition flashcard app. There are a number of support features to maximize the learning experience.

memrise-review

Learn New Words

Memrise’s “Learn New Words” feature is the starting point for most vocabulary.

Here, new words are presented in written, audio and video form. The program showed me “growing” my knowledge of them through repetition.

This repetition includes various translation activities from the target language to the native language and vice versa.

Classic Review

The “Classic Review” feature shows you words that you’ve already learned and prompts you to review them with multiple choice questions, listening tests and more.

This is the basic review tool for Memrise, and arguably the most important tool for getting words and phrases into your long-term memory.

The spaced repetition algorithm determines which words need review and when, so revisiting these words keeps them fresh in your mind and accessible for real usage.

memrise-review

Each bit of vocabulary you learn is represented by a flower which grows bigger the more you review.

If it’s been some time since you went over a word or phrase, the flower will fade. Going back to review with either Classic or Speed Review will make it bloom again.

Speed Review

This is a timed practice of words that need to be reviewed. I found this particularly useful with words I thought I knew well, since it increased the challenge.

Two types of reviews only available to paying subscribers are the “Audio Review,” which features only audio flashcards, and the “Difficult Words” review which focuses on words you’ve had trouble recalling.

Learn Grammar

Memrise also has a grammar explanation feature, though only for certain language pairs.

From what I saw, the tutorials were quite short.

Rather than an in-depth explanation of a grammar rule, they show patterns within the language in an attempt to demonstrate a grammatical concept. After being shown the pattern, there are a couple practice exercises.

More courses are having grammar exercises added all the time. You can see which language combinations are currently supported in this official article.

Difficult Words

This feature analyzes which words you’ve been having trouble with and prompts you to practice them in a special session. You can also manually mark words as difficult if you wish.

These sessions let you review 20 challenging words at a time, though you can have an unlimited total number of difficult words per course. You can also remove a difficult word manually once you’ve learned it.

Listening Skills

Memrise also lets you specifically practice your listening skills in audio-only review sessions. This will test you on comprehension of words you’ve learned so far in a course.

The exercises in these audio-only sessions include choosing which word you’re hearing out of four options, typing the word you hear and multiple choices questions for pronunciation.

Learn with Locals

These exercises are only available in Memrise-created courses.

These were short videos in the target language where I had to transcribe what was being said. I thought this was a great way to hear the language as it’s actually spoken.

memrise-review

Lastly, I noticed that Memrise includes a pretty cool feature called “Explore Mode,” which uses picture recognition to help you learn vocab.

You simply point your smartphone’s camera at an object and get the name of that object in your target language.

This feature is only available to Apple product users, however, and is not available for Android or on the Memrise website.

Subscription Plans

The good news is that Memrise is mostly free.

The core program—including both company-created and user-created courses—can be accessed on Memrise’s website or app without cost.

In fact, most of the program’s basic and most useful features like “Learn New Words,” “Review” and “Speed Review” are available to all users who sign up for a free account.

In my opinion, there are enough free features for a fruitful language learning experience (but more on that later).

A premium membership to Memrise Pro includes additional features such as the “Audio Review” and “Difficult Words” review function.

The membership also includes access to learning statistics, grammar bots, chatbots and what the programs describes as a “full range of official Memrise courses.”

The premium membership also gives learners access to “immerse” features such as a “Listening Skills” section. This tests learners on audio clips of the words and phrases they’ve learned.

There is also an “Offline Mode” for paying subscribers that lets them download decks to their smartphones for offline use.

As of September 2022, a premium plan costs $8.49 a month. You can get it for $5.00 a month if you purchase an annual plan, or else a lifetime membership costs $119.99.

But of course, be aware that prices are always subject to change.

Memrise in Practice: Can You Learn a Language with Memrise?

Now that we’ve had an overview of Memrise’s theoretical background as well as its features, let’s take a look at the question on everyone’s mind: can Memrise actually teach you a language?

Memrise’s Pros

Based on solid science

We know that spaced repetition is proven to maximize memorization, helping you learn new words in a language.

And Memrise does spaced repetition in an orderly and seamless fashion. In fact, its interface is so sleek, it’s easy to forget that you’re simply working with flashcards.

Real native content

Native content is important for improving your accent and tuning your ear to the language, and Memrise features high quality audio and video in its official courses.

Customizable learning regimen

The flexibility in what you learn is definitely a plus. And I love how the lessons sort new words and phrases into manageable chunks for learners, normally focusing on 20 to 30 words per lesson.

You can also learn as much or as little as you want with Memrise and even set your own goals for how long you want to spend on the app.

Since you can create your own flaschcard decks, Memrise can be a highly useful platform for independent learners self-studying a language.

Other positives include the sheer amount of variety offered in the program. Memrise allows you to learn at any level of proficiency and with a variety of specialties including business, academic or informal.

New courses are being added regularly by both the company itself and its users, so the possibilities are endless. It really is a polyglot’s dream in that respect.

Memrise’s Cons

Words and phrases taught in isolation

Memrise’s biggest limitation is that it’s great for learning individual words and phrases, but usually in isolation.

The flashcards in the program often present words or phrases by themselves. This can create a sort of “word salad” for you, leading to problems in seamless communication or understanding.

I found this particularly tricky with words that have multiple meanings.

If you’ve learned a word to have a single meaning, seeing it used in a different way to convey another meaning may lead to breakdowns in the conversation as well as confusion.

Lack of grammar explanations and usage practice

Another thing I noticed about Memrise is that in-depth grammar explanations and language usage notes are almost non-existent in the program.

Furthermore, there aren’t many opportunities to practice meaningful writing or speaking skills. This app is better used to learn vocabulary than gain experience in using a language.

User created decks are not vetted

And outside of official Memrise-created courses, there could potentially be errors in Memrise’s user-generated decks and flashcards.

The huge number of user-created decks would make it impossible for Memrise to vet them all. And while there’s a webform for learners to report an error in a flashcard, such issues could go unnoticed by beginners.

Is Memrise Worth It?

It’s undeniable that Memrise harnesses spaced repetition technology to help you master new words and phrases and keep them in your long-term memory.

It’s also a monster directory for vocabulary in many languages, and you could learn a lot from both its company-created and user-created courses.

Not to mention, Memrise gives learners unprecedented control over their learning, and Memrise is a great place to create your own flashcards.

Memrise works well as an app for memorization and vocabulary drilling. Just don’t expect a lot of grammar explanations or practice with putting the language to use.

I also noticed that there doesn’t seem to be much of a difference between the free version of Memrise and the paid version.

The free version of the app is more than enough for language learners, and there aren’t many apparent benefits for paying members.

In summary, I recommend Memrise as a vocabulary building app for all levels of language learners.

However, even with recent additions to the program, I do not believe it is worth paying for the premium features for the average user. 

Alternatives to Memrise

Memrise might have everything you’re looking for, but there are a lot of similar apps that might work just as well or better for you.

And there are also lots of programs that can help fill in the gaps in language learning areas where Memrise comes up short.

(If you’re looking for even more suggestions, check out our post featuring alternatives to Memrise.)

Anki

For learners who enjoy Memrise’s flashcard format, Anki is an app solely focused on flashcard learning.

Anki has a huge number of flashcards available (more than 80 million) and it gives you the ability to make your own flashcards that include words, images and audio.

Like Memrise, Anki uses spaced repetition to help you learn new information and remember it later. The review timing can even be customized.

Anki’s flashcard creation system is incredibly flexible, with customizable card layout and the ability to add audio, images, and clips to your cards.

FluentU

FluentU is a program that teaches language with native video content like real world news clips, music videos and vlogs. Like Memrise, it uses videos featuring native speakers using their language in a natural way.

The videos on FluentU include interactive captions so you can quickly check a word’s definition while you’re watching.

This lets you watch longer, more complex videos than you might be able to understand on your own. This gives you more thorough language immersion and listening practice than you’d be able to get with flashcards alone.

FluentU also does feature flashcards which include images, example sentences and a pronunciation guide. Flashcards can be arranged in custom decks and reviewed with spaced repetition technology not unlike Memrise.

Duolingo

Duolingo, like Memrise, is mostly structured around language exercises and drills in a gamified user interface with bright colors and engaging feedback.

Duolingo’s curriculum follows a more predetermined path than Memrise, locking some levels behind others rather than letting you start with any topic you want. 

But Duolingo is popular for a reason; It’s very easy to jump in on a language and quickly start feeling like you’re learning something.

And if you have a hard time keeping up the language learning habit, the app incentivizes you with perks and rewards that motivate you to practice every day and maintain your streak.

You can also check out our post with a more in-depth comparison of Memrise and Duolingo.

Drops

Perhaps more than Memrise or even Duolingo, Drops takes a very visual and game-like approach to language learning.

Drops claims that they can teach you a language with five minutes of use per day. Each session is five minutes long and the free version limits you five minutes every 10 hours.

Like Memrise, Drops uses repetition-based language learning (though the actual spaced repetition technology in Drops is only available in the paid version).

Drops also incorporates mnemonics to aid with learning, and lets you mark a word as “learned” if you don’t wish to review it any more.

Check out our full review of Drops for more info.

 

Like many apps and language learning programs, Memrise can be a part of a successful language learning regimen.

Knowing that Memrise teaches new words and phrases really well, you could match it with an online course, a textbook or even an immersion environment to maximize vocabulary growth.

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