Just over a year ago was when I first discovered the new learn everything site, Memrise.com. It was a site created to learn just about everything through the combination of mnemonics and gaming mechanics. I was instantly hooked as I love to use both of these tactics to help learn Japanese.
I also liked the site because it requires you to type in the exact answer, which keeps you from cheating. There have been more than a few times where I’ve kind of skipped past a word on Anki because I felt like I was close enough. Then on the test I would encounter it again and get it wrong. I know there is a way to force you to type the right word with Anki, but it is a little clunky compared to how Memrise does it.
The other cool thing about Memrise is that there is a community of people using it. This means there is a community of people checking and double-checking definitions and spellings, making it better and better over time. For example, the system will learn what words get easily confused and start to test you specifically on the differences between the two tricky words.
Memrise Growing Pains
But there was an unfortunate problem with these strengths. For one, every word in the dictionary had to have a separate and clear definition. For example, 知人 and 知り合い had to have separate definitions even though they both essentially mean ‘an acquaintance’.
This lead to squabbling over what was the one truly best definition for every single word. A process that was good in the sense that I learned a lot doing research to try to nail down certain definitions, but also a bit of pain because sometimes agreement could simply not be found on a particular definition. This led to arguments and headaches for some folks.
Introducing Version 1.0
So to address this problem Memrise is creating a new system. They are finally moving from beta and into version 1.0 of the site. This new version of Memrise will have some advantages over the old system and also keep all the goodies that everyone loves as well.
Now, users will be able to create their own courses. When they do that, they can pull words from the main dictionary and then modify them for their purposes. What this means is that a course creator can choose the definitions they want to use as well as how they are tested.
The courses will also be divided up into smaller levels so that users can stay more motivated to finish the course. Currently, some of the courses (like the N2 course I’m using to review) is just one big wad of 4000+ words. A course like that could take a year or more to learn all the words from, so they’ve shrunk the levels so that you can see your progress better.
Another cool thing is that they are creating a marketplace for different courses. This means that course creators can start charging for their courses. I know that there is this common belief that everything on the Internet should be free, but I feel like allowing people to charge for their courses means they will be able to spend more time on them (or hire people to spend time on them). This in turn means better courses and more creativity. I, for one, am really looking forward to seeing what others have to offer.
If you Love it So Much, Why Don’t you Just Marry it?
Ok, so I usually like to gush about how great Memrise is and all the wonderful things there are to be had at the Memrise site. And overall, I think it is going to be a great place to learn a language and it is probably the best place to learn the kana alphabet on the web. However, chances are there will still be some growing pains.
This isn’t Memrise’s fault of course. They are creating something new and sometimes things don’t exactly go according to plan. For example, there was recently an issue with people cheating the system to earn more points so they had to temporarily close down the leaderboards while they resolved it.
Sometimes features have been known to disappear randomly (e.g. a score bar) and reappear magically. And the site does occasionally, not so gracefully, go down or has loading issues from time to time. But these have been becoming less and less over the last couple of months, and I have a feeling that the site as a whole is getting a lot more reliable.
A Good Choice Overall
If you need something ultra-reliable, I might suggest sticking with Anki. But the features and the advantages of Memrise give it a clear advantage over a lot of other learning systems, so I encourage you to give it a try for a few months. I’m sure you’ll get hooked.
I have the honor of being invited to create the introductory Japanese course at memrise. At the moment, it is very much a beta project, but I will be adding to it regularly over the next few weeks. If you are new to Japanese or know someone that is, please check it out and tell me what you think.
I’m also going to try to put together a Harry Potter course for the first book of the series. I hope to get that out as soon as I can, so be looking for that as well.
What’s your Take?