memrise logo on the right side and duolingo owl mascot on the left side against a green and yellow background

Memrise vs. Duolingo: An In-depth Program at a Price or a Free Crash Course on the Basics?

Duolingo and Memrise are extremely popular language learning apps in 2024. These are the differences and similarities you need to know to decide which one is right for your goals, time commitment, budget and more.


What Is Memrise?


Available: iOS | Android

What would you call an app that is designed to help you remember words?

Right—Memrise seems like the perfect name! It seems even more so when you realize that one of the app’s founders, Ed Cooke, is himself a memory grandmaster.

The other two masterminds behind the project are Ben Whately, who studied experimental psychology at Oxford:

And Greg Detre, a neuroscientist who studies the science of remembering things:

Memrise teaches 22 languages through interactive courses.

The courses are designed on spaced repetition and comprehensive input from native speakers—you watch videos with native speaker pronunciation from the very first lesson, have conversations with an AI chatbot, review words at optimal intervals set by the spaced repetition algorithm and more.

memrise indonesian course lesson quiz

Memrise uses spaced repetition to help users remember vocabulary. This means that difficult words show up in the exercises more frequently while those that you have already mastered are replaced by newer words. Memrise’s algorithm “knows” the words you are struggling with because of instances when you make errors while the app is testing you on a particular word.

If you want to learn a language that’s not included in the 22 offered courses, you can also visit Memrise’s community website to find user-made courses for tons of languages—including endangered and less-studied ones. This site also lets you create your own courses.


There’s a free version, but the 22 official Memrise courses can only be fully unlocked with an affordable premium subscription. The community website is completely free.

You can read our full, in-depth review of Memrise here.

How Memrise Works

Memrise offers several mini-courses for each language course, letting you choose the topics that are most important to you first. For example, most languages include a Basics Course, General Course, Activities Course, Opinions Course, Relationships Course and others.

Before starting a lesson, you can see which words and phrases you’re going to learn.

Once you start, new words will be introduced to you progressively. When you see a new word for the first time, you’ll see a video of a native speaker saying it along with the translation underneath.

memrise new vocabulary word flashcard screenshot

Then, you’ll learn the word through a series of exercises—translation, multiple-choice, listening tests, etc. Once you’ve completed enough exercises to have mastered the word, a flower will appear.

Usually, Memrise introduces five new words per study session—which can be done in about five minutes.

Once you’ve learned new words, the spaced repetition technology will start to tell you when to complete reviews in the app so that your new vocabulary stays in your long-term memory.

Memrise Features

The “Build Vocabulary” Feature

Memrise’s process for learning a language is divided into three steps: build vocabulary, practice listening and practice speaking.

The “build vocabulary” step is completed by learning new words and phrases in your Memrise course(s).

memrise courses page for indonesian language screenshot

You learn new words through the process I described above, and then you’ll practice the words again later with the “Review” features we’ll discuss in a bit.

Memrise asks you to set a goal for vocabulary building—how many new words you’ll learn a day. I have this set to 35 new words per day. You can see your progress in the “weekly progress” overview, displayed on the home page.

memrise weekly progress feature

Most lessons contain 10-15 new words, making it easy to squeeze study sessions into a busy schedule.

memrise "learn" feature vocabulary list screenshot

Review Features

Memrise has three review features: Review, Speed Review and Difficult Words.

The normal “Review” feature takes you through translation exercises. You’re shown the English meaning of a word and have to type the target language translation in the box. Normally there are about 25 words in one review session.

“Speed Review” is a run-through of up to 100 words, but with the pressure of being timed. You’ll see the English word and four options. Your job is to tap on the correct translation of the English word before the allotted time expires.

The longer you take, the more your screen will be taken over by the color red. The speed review is an important gauge of how well you recall learned words under pressure, which reflects how deeply embedded the vocab is in your memory.

Finally, “Difficult Words” is a review session with only the words you’ve missed or marked as “difficult” yourself. However, it’s only for premium subscribers.

The “Practice Listening” Feature

Based on the time commitment goal you set, Memrise assigns you a goal number of videos to watch per week. Because my goal is 35 new words per day, my listening practice goal is five videos per week.

The videos are skits featuring native speakers. They’re very accommodating to your level—even after learning only nine words in Indonesian, I was able to understand the videos they gave me.

At the end, you rank how well you understood the video. If there were words you didn’t understand, Memrise then teaches them to you through the same process as your normal vocabulary lessons.

memrise video course screenshot

The “Practice Speaking” Feature

Memrise uses an AI chatbot—called “Membot”—to help you practice having conversations. Just like you have a custom listening practice goal, you also have a weekly speaking practice goal. For me, it’s set to five conversations.

The session starts with Memrise initiating a conversation (usually by asking a question). You then type a reply and hit “enter” to submit your response. Membot then immediately replies to continue the conversation.

If you don’t know how to respond or don’t understand something, you can ask Memrise for suggestions.

memrise indonesian course membot ai practice speaking feature

How Much Does Memrise Cost?

Memrise’s Premium version—called Pro—costs $22.99/month, $71.99/year or $124.99 once for lifetime access.

The free version lets you access almost all of the same features except you have limited access to videos and conversations and no access to “Difficult Words.” The free version also doesn’t unlock every lesson in the courses.

What Is Duolingo?


Available: iOS | Android

Duolingo is an incredibly popular language learning program, offering courses in over 40 languages. The app has been downloaded over 100 million times. You can’t seem to get into language learning without coming into contact with, or at least reading or hearing about, Duolingo.

Duolingo is the brainchild of Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker. The former invented the “Captcha”:

And the latter is a multi-awarded entrepreneur and brilliant Swiss computer scientist:

Duolingo is a language learning app and platform that shares a lot of the features we have already talked about with Memrise. That is why these two programs have naturally been pitted against each other. Duolingo offers language exercises and drills that train users in both vocabulary and grammar. It engages learners through tasks like translating between languages, identifying pictures, listening to audio and typing on a keyboard.

Duolingo bills itself as “the new way to learn a language,” incorporating game elements into its standard operation. It’s also highly loved because you get so much content for free. (There is a Super Duolingo, but they don’t push it very hard.)

You can read our in-depth Duolingo review here.

How Duolingo Works

Like Memrise, Duolingo is also available as a website and an app.

Duolingo question screenshot

The layout is easy to navigate and you shouldn’t have any issues getting where you want to go.

Because gamification is Duolingo’s “thing,” it’s more playful than Memrise—for example, it features cartoon-like images, leaderboards and awards. The Duolingo mascot—a green owl named Duo—is known for his distinct personality and garners a lot of attention on social media (you’ve probably seen the memes about Duolingo coming for your family when you haven’t studied).

The app is pretty vocal, meaning that introduced words and phrases often come with an audio component—which you would do well to repeat after. So it’s best to be somewhere private where you can say the words aloud.

Duolingo Features

Building Memorable Sentences

Your language course is one long learning “tree” divided into numerous mini-sections that go from the absolute basics to an intermediate level (depending on the language). Each mini-section has an overarching theme, like sports, recipes, couples, etc.

There is a set sequence to these sections, and each one is locked until you complete the previous sections.

duolingo german tree progress screenshot

Duolingo gets you to perform different simple tasks, like matching words and their translations, matching images with their foreign language names, saying a word or phrase presented on the screen, listening to audio or typing on the keyboard.

They drill the vocabulary over and over again from English to the target language (and vice versa!) so that what you are learning becomes firmly embedded in your long-term memory.

Duolingo starts with vocabulary and slowly builds words into phrases until you get to full sentences. There’s a seamless transition between old words and new ones because they are presented side-by-side. The mastered words are slowly phased out while the new ones are gradually worked in. Before you know it, you have already picked up several new words in your target language by simply working on pint-sized tasks.

Admittedly, Duolingo’s sentence examples do have a lot of room to improve. Sometimes they can be funny, even downright weird (there’s even a whole subreddit about its sometimes ridiculous example sentences).

Gamified Language Learning

Duolingo says it only takes five minutes a day to learn the language. But, you can bet your bottom dollar that they want you in the Duolingo ecosystem for the long haul.

Look at how the whole experience is set up: The platform has poured gaming elements into every lesson, making it fun and motivating. There are also game elements in Memrise, but it just seems that Duolingo has the high ground on this one.

Each move you make in Duolingo is recorded. Each correct answer has a corresponding number of “Experience Points” (XPs), and the longer you work on tasks, the more XPs you earn.

Reaching a certain number of XPs leads to “lingots.” They are the virtual currency of the platform that you can use for things like buying bonus skills and power-ups. You can even give lingots to other users and spread goodwill. You can also use lingots at the virtual store to buy different costumes for Duo, the mascot.

In my opinion, Duolingo has not really tapped the full potential of its lingot system. If they add more uses for these, it could potentially be a game-changer.

Another metric to watch out for is your “Streak.” This refers to the number of days that you have met your daily XP goals. (You can set your goals in the “Settings” section.)

duolingo's add friend feature and progress overview duolingo personal records, awards and achievements page

Additionally, Duolingo uses “levels” to determine the complexity of the material and the mastery you have of a topic. After completing each of the lessons’ mini-sections the first time, the next mini-section is unlocked. You can return to previously completed mini-sections and level them up, each level making the material harder.

After five “level ups,” the mini-section becomes golden, meaning you have mastered the skill. These act as progress bars, and the golden status eventually goes away (appearing “broken”) the longer you do not practice.

Duolingo also has leaderboards that tell you your position vis-à-vis others.

I think the most important metric is the “Streaks” number—the consecutive days you have worked on Duolingo. Language learning needs consistency. If you work at it sporadically, you will never reach fluency. So, you better make those “Streaks” as high as you possibly can.

Supplementary Duolingo Features

In addition to the base Duolingo trees, some of the popular languages have additional study features.

Firstly, Duolingo also has a “Stories” feature, which can easily rival Memrise’s chatbot function. For English users, Duolingo “Stories” are only available for Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian and Japanese.

The stories also happen in a chat environment. You are taken to a specific scenario where you need to answer comprehension questions to move the story along. For example, in a French story between a husband and wife, you might be asked to choose the correct word that you hear or that works in the sentence.


Finally, Duolingo has developed podcasts for two of its most popular languages, Spanish, French and English. These are a great way to learn these languages on the go.

How Much Does Duolingo Cost?

Duolingo gives you access to the entirety of your courses for free. You can also study as many languages as you want for free.

The premium version is called “Super Duolingo.” It removes ads and gives you access to certain review features, like the ability to review previous mistakes.

Super Duolingo costs $12.99/month or $83.99/year for individual users. The family plan costs $119.99/year.

Memrise vs. Duolingo Pros and Cons

So, after all has been said and done, which one is the better platform: Memrise or Duolingo?

Memrise Pros and Cons


  • The courses are well-developed and high-quality, available in 22 languages
  • The interface is user-friendly and easy to use
  • The courses teach highly useful, important vocabulary fast
  • Various vocabulary teaching methods for fun and effective learning
  • Tons of native content within the courses
  • A good variety of study and review tools to increase memory retention
  • Spaced repetition technology times reviews at optimal intervals for long-term memory


  • Not many grammar lessons or much content for advanced learners
  • Need a subscription to access all course lessons
  • Sometimes the chatbot conversations are too advanced for your current level

Duolingo Pros and Cons


  • Completely free to learn entire courses, no limit to the number of languages
  • The interface is user-friendly and easy to use
  • The courses teach basic grammar and sentence structure
  • All the learning is gamified—from the reward system to the exercises
  • Popular languages have a good variety of supplemental study resources (like podcasts and stories)


  • It needs to use more relevant sentence examples
  • There’s not much content for advanced learners—and in many languages, none at all
  • There’s limited speaking practice
  • The less popular languages have significantly less content

Alternatives to Memrise and Duolingo


FluentU uses authentic videos—like music videos, movie trailers, TV show clips, commercials and more—to teach languages in context. You can study all the languages offered—there are currently ten—with one FluentU account, and there’s content for absolute beginners to advanced learners.

The languages offered include Spanish, French, Korean, Japanese, Portuguese, Chinese and more.

FluentU focuses on teaching you words in context. So you’ll see a vocabulary and grammar list before starting a video, but you can also hover over words you don’t know in the subtitles to get their definitions, example sentences and pronunciations. You can then add words to your flashcard decks and take personalized quizzes.

Like Memrise, FluentU also uses spaced repetition software to schedule your reviews.

Clozemaster clozemaster language learning app logo

Clozemaster also teaches new words in context, but through “cloze” exercises (hence the name). When you start a study session, you’ll get sentences one-by-one where there’s a word missing. You fill in the blank with the new word, either by multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank exercises (you choose).

Clozemaster has various “decks” of words you can learn, letting you choose based on your level. Each deck is a collection of words used by frequency. So if you’re a beginner, you learn the most common 500 words first, for example. Most languages have up to the most common 10,000 words.

You can study over 50 languages on Clozemaster—including rare ones like Icelandic, Serbian and Maori—with one account.

Memrise vs. Duolingo: Which Program Should You Use?

There’s no straightforward answer—only you can decide which program works best for you.

I recommend Duolingo if you can’t dedicate more than 10-15 minutes per day to studying, you don’t know how seriously you’re going to take it yet, are a beginner or want a program you can use completely for free.

I’d choose Memrise if you want a more in-depth language course that teaches you more grammar, commonly used vocabulary faster, more review features and you don’t mind paying about $23/month.

But if Memrise fits your budget, I think the best option is to use them both. I would use Memrise as my main resource and Duolingo as a supplemental resource for days I don’t have a lot of time.

Ultimately, the decision is yours. But now you have the information you need to make an informed one.


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