There are a lot of apps and programs out there that help people learn Japanese. One of them that I took a look at a long time ago was Memrise. I decided to update my Memrise Japanese review because it has been several years since I used them and I wanted to see what has changed.
There are some pretty big changes such as the design, colors, and overall general feel. I went through some of their lessons to see if the material or teaching method had changed at all and I was a little surprised at what I discovered.
The Science Behind Their Method
While I don’t know every single method or technique that Memrise uses to help users learn a new language, there were a couple of them that really stood out to me as I went through the course.
The first thing that I noticed was that they present the same information to you in multiple ways throughout a lesson.
For example, you might learn five new words throughout a single lesson, but they will all be mixed up and presented to you in a systematic method.
At first, you will be given the word and its meaning. For example, in some of the earlier lessons they teach you that 久しぶり (hisashiburi) is a casual way to tell someone “long time no see” like in the screen shot below:
Then you will learn a few other new words before they then test you on 久しぶり to see if you remember what this particular word means. They might do this by showing you the word and then having you select the correct translation in English.
Or they might let you listen to the word, and then you have to choose which option is spelled correctly.
There are actually quite a few different ways that they have you interact with new words through both reading and listening.
These tests are of course mixed in with learning other new words and then being tested on those other new words, so it forces you to recall information that you had learned not too long ago.
You learn a lot of new words in this way, introduction followed by a lot of different review, before moving on to new words.
The Memrise program knows what words you know and how well you remember them by the number of times you get the answers right (or wrong).
This comes into play with their primary learning method: SRS.
What Is SRS? Spaced Repetition System
I won’t go into the science too deeply on what a spaced repetition system is, since it might become a little boring and I’m sure a lot of you are familiar with it already.
The basic explanation is that it is a system that is able to track how well you remember certain words and phrases and can then organize the review sessions in such a way that the stuff you know really well gets reviewed less often and the things that you struggle with come up more often.
It’s actually a pretty great tool since it allows you to spend your time efficiently by focusing on the things that need your attention the most.
I used it a lot with the flashcard program Anki, but it’s something that almost all language learning companies are taking advantage of, so it’s quickly becoming the norm.
The thing that I like most about SRS is that it does all the “back end work” for you, so you can spend all of your time learning.
What I Like About Memrise
There are actually a lot of really great things about the Memrise Japanese courses that I would like to talk about now.
One of the coolest things about them is that you can get started for free. There is a premium version with a lot more features that I will talk about more in the next section, but for now just remember that you can try them out without having to spend anything.
I really appreciate that they have native Japanese speakers doing all of the voice work for words and phrases as it allows you to learn how the words are supposed to sound with they are in isolation, and also when they are a part of a natural sentence.
Something that’s unique to Memrise is that they have a lot of short videos of the natives speaking, which adds both some liveliness to the lessons, and it also allows you to watch their mouth movements which can help you imitate it to improve your own accent.
When I checked out the courses, there were seven main ones that you can go through and have been created by the Memrise team.
You can also check out the courses that other users have created if you want to cover specific vocabulary like the common words in popular anime, or if you are using the Genki books and want a nice way to review what you’ve learned.
That being said, the quality of the lessons is usually higher on the courses made by Memrise themselves.
It was also great that there were a lot of the words and phrases written in full Japanese so that you could learn new kanji and improve your reading abilities at the same time.
But I wasn’t totally in love with them since there were a few things that I didn’t like.
What I Don’t Like About Them
First of all, let me start off by saying that I fully understand and appreciate that Memrise is a language learning business and as such they need (and should) earn money through providing value to their users.
That being said, I felt that the sheer frequency of their “upgrade to premium” ads was a bit too much.
Again, this is just my personal preferences, but they asked me when I first signed up, after each lesson, and even when I was just exploring the app!
That aside, let me switch over into some of the learning things that I wasn’t wild about.
The first thing that I noticed was that this app is really designed around being mobile and spending a little bit of time (like 10-20 minutes) each day learning a few new Japanese words.
This is fine for the casual learner, but in my experience you really need to spend more time (like 1-3 hours) each day reading, listening, and then later on speaking Japanese if you want to be able to become skilled in the language.
I wish there was a shortcut, but it really does take a lot of time and effort and the way that Memrise teaches the language felt much more like an app game and less like I was fully engaging in the language.
I actually think that this “gamification” of learning Japanese is intended on their part, so I’m not saying that it’s bad. I just didn’t really like it myself.
I’m also not huge on being quized. I just don’t like it and would rather focus on the intended meaning behind a Japanese sentence, rather than be asked to correctly identify it.
I think it took me 10 minutes to go through about two lessons in the course in which time I engaged with about a dozen different words.
Normally when I’m reading a Japanese book, website, or listening to an audio-book I can encounter hundreds of words in the same time frame.
But what I have to keep in mind is that my current level in Japanese allows me to do that, and it wasn’t really that long ago that I couldn’t.
So who do I think Memrise is a good fit for?
Who Should Use Memrise? Is It You?
I think that Memrise is a pretty good place to start off when you are brand new to learning Japanese, or when you are still at that beginner level.
It can be great for helping you become familiar with how the language works, pick up some of the common words and phrases, and begin to learn how to read hiragana, katakana, and some kanji.
Beyond that level however, I feel that it’s much better to use as a supplement to learning Japanese rather than as the main course.
You can check in with it for 10-20 minutes each day when you are out and about doing things and you have some down time.
But if you are able to really devote yourself to Japanese for a solid block of time, then I think there are better ways to go about it.
In all honesty, I think that you will have to decide for yourself if it is a worthwhile tool to use or not.
My own personal thoughts are that it’s a great way to get started, but once you are at that intermediate level it is much better to start consuming native Japanese content through assisted reading systems like this one.
Have You Used Them Before?
If you have never tried using Memrise before, then you can do so by checking them out in the App Store or Google Play depending on which type of phone you own.
They also have a website that you can use to learn on your computer (memrise.com) but I think that their lessons are really meant to be taken through your smartphone.
At any rate, you now have a pretty good idea on what it is and how it works. You also know my opinion on it, but don’t take me too seriously. Your own experiences with it will be a much better indicator on if it’s the right thing for you or not.
If you have any questions at all, please let me know by leaving them in the comments section down below.
Also, if you’ve used Memrise before (for any language) I would love to hear what your thoughts and ideas on it are. Let me know what you like about it and if there is anything that you wish they would change.
Further Resources for Learning Japanese: