Memrise is a language learning app that uses techniques like spaced repetition to help you better memorize vocabulary and phrases, as its name suggests.
But is Memrise the best app for learning French? Over the past few days, I’ve tried Memrise’s French offering.
Here’s what I think of it.
What is Memrise?
Like French Together, Memrise is available as a web app that you can use on your computer or mobile device. Memrise is also available as a mobile app that can be used on tablets and phones.
Whatever version you use, Memrise focuses on memorizing vocabulary and a few phrases. This is especially fitting since its founders are neuroscientists, including Grandmaster of Memory Ed Cooke. Memrise uses techniques like spaced repetition to help users acquire vocabulary. This may sound impressive, but a number of other language learning apps also use techniques like these (including French Together). Still, Memrise does stand out in a few notable ways.
What’s good about Memrise
Memrise focuses on memorizing vocabulary, using audio and video clips that you match with their written version or English translation. There are also a few other types of the typical sorts of vocabulary exercises you’d find on most language learning apps. But the best thing about Memrise for me was its videos, hands down.
Memrise’s videos are shown after you complete a lesson and start acquiring new vocabulary. The videos are short clips of a few seconds at most that feature real native French speaking actors in informal settings, often just their apartments (or an apartment that could be theirs). The actors will say a word or phrase just as a real French person would say it, which, in many cases, might mean using several different intonations. But instead of just repeating it, they try to make it interesting.
For instance, a short clip showing how Salut is used has an actor playing two roles, one of whom says Salut and walks into his own door. It’s not played like broad comedy, but rather with the subtle tone of ridicule that flavors most French humor, making this video, like so many others in the series, a bit of an incidental cultural lesson as well.
Another thing I appreciated about Memrise is that you can choose how many vocabulary words you want to learn per lesson, which makes learning more flexible and better adapted to your rhythm in terms of time and content.
A third strong point of Memrise for me is its Membot feature. Membot is a chatbot that lets you communicate in short French dialogues. Because it’s a chatbot, it’s limited, but no matter what I threw at it, its responses stayed reasonable and in correct French and even felt fairly realistic. You can use Membot to improve your French reading and writing skills, reading the ‘bot’s dialogue and responding in writing. Or you can click the speaker button to listen to it and then record your responses.
So, there are some really great things about Memrise. The only problem is, they may not be easy to find or use….
What’s not good about Memrise
Although I have strong opinions about my experience trying out Memrise, it’s weirdly hard to write a review of it. That’s because what I was able to do – and wasn’t able to do – hardly seems like it’s universal. Some of these inconsistencies may come from the fact that Memrise seems to have recently had a major overhaul or update, but I’m not even entirely sure about that. So, keep in mind that there may be some things I complain about here that won’t be the same for everyone who uses the app.
There is one thing that does seem to be concrete and true for pretty much everyone, though: Memrise’s limitations in terms of what you can learn. I’ll get to that a little further on….
In my research of Memrise, I came upon recent reviews and informative posts that talked about features like personalized flashcards, but I never found any way to create these, let alone any kind of hint from the app that they were an option at all. At one point, I saw some sort of grammar review option that was inaccessible to me, and then disappeared entirely, like some sort of mirage.
My at times fever dream-like experience of Memrise hardly seems exceptional. In all the reviews I read, the most common complaint about Memrise is that its user interface is tricky to figure out and there are enormous differences between its web and mobile versions.
But for me, both versions of the app were difficult to navigate. I couldn’t, for instance, get a clear picture of all of the lessons being offered, or even access them. And those videos that are my favorite part of Memrise only seem to be accessible if you finish a lesson and can’t be revisited. On the other hand, if you select “videos”, you’ll be taken to a selection of YouTube offerings in French. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s strange that the app has native content that could help you practice and review, but it just…disappears, or rather, gets hidden, once you’ve watched it.
Another way the user interface is needlessly complicated is that while Memrise often touts its Membot chatbot feature, the tab for this is called “Conversations”, rather than just “Membot”. This is a minor detail, but still made it a bit tricky at first to locate this Membot I’d heard so much about.
But the user interface issues aren’t the only things I wasn’t a fan of. Another big issue for me is that while Memrise has lots of ways to help you learn vocabulary, it has no grammar lessons, explanations, or exercises. For instance, you may sometimes come across a phrase in French that uses a particular verb tense, but the phrase’s English translation is the best you’ll get – there’s no attempt to teach you how to use and conjugate verbs on a larger scale. And yet, there is the Membot feature, which assumes that you’ll be able to conjugate verbs to some degree, to make sentences.
You could say that you can get by in French with the phrases you’ll learn from the app, but from what I saw, there were so few phrases as opposed to individual words, that it’s hard to imagine anyone could use Memrise for more than vocabulary-based learning.
The best and worst things about Memrise
To sum it up…
Here’s what I liked most about Memrise French
- Memrise features short, fun videos that show vocabulary used in context by real French speakers, often in funny and memorable ways.
- Users can choose how many vocabulary words they want to learn per lesson, making lesson times and learning flexible.
- The Membot chatbot feature lets you have reasonably realistic dialogues in French.
- The Membot feature can be used to practice both reading/writing French and listening to/speaking French.
Here’s what I didn’t like about Memrise French
- Memrise’s user interface is extremely confusing and difficult to navigate.
- User interface and accessible content vary a great deal between the web and mobile versions of the app.
- Not all lessons can be accessed – let alone easily located, in many cases.
- Many features seem to disappear or no longer be accessible, including the app’s awesome videos, once you’ve watched them.
- Memrise has no grammar explanations or exercises whatsoever.
- Memrise is a limited app that really only helps with acquiring vocabulary
Will Memrise make me fluent in French?
If you’ve read some of my other French learning app reviews, you’re probably expecting my answer: No single language learning app will make you fluent in French – not even French Together. Even the most thorough language learning app won’t cover everything. This is especially notable with an app like Memrise.
While Memrise can teach you French words and phrases – even enough of them that you could string together to make a few conversations – it doesn’t cover other aspects of French, notably grammar. So, you’ll learn helpful phrases like Ça va? Or C’est génial or J’ai aidé, but you won’t understand how to use or conjugate those verbs in other contexts, or how to build on these phrases to make longer sentences or statements.
Although many things surprised me when I was researching Memrise, one thing that didn’t was that pretty much anyone who’s had any experience with this app considers it a good resource for learning vocabulary, but that’s about it. Unlike so many other language learning apps out there, Memrise is extremely limited. For instance, French Together focuses on contemporary French conversation skills, but along the way, you’ll build your vocabulary and learn about grammar and culture, as well. Memrise essentially stops at teaching you vocabulary.
So, if you’re planning to use Memrise, keep in mind that if you want to be able to speak French, you’ll have to use other French learning resources and apps, as well. For instance, you could use Memrise to build some basic vocabulary and train your ear a bit with its fun videos. But along with it, use an app that covers more ground, like Rocket French, to learn other things like grammar. As you get a handle on the basics of French, you can then incorporate conversation practice with an app like French Together, and then, as you get more confident, by finding a French conversation partner on a free language exchange website. Along the way, continue to build your vocabulary, grammar, and listening skills, as well as your cultural knowledge of French, by reading, listening to, and watching things in French.
How much does Memrise cost?
Like many things about Memrise, information regarding the types of courses offered feels inconsistent or vague. The app’s official site seems to imply that, like some other language learning apps, you can download a free version of Memrise, but it will contain limited features. An official page describes this as “early learning courses and content”, but when I tried Memrise’s free version, it was hard to see what exactly I had access to or not, until I was barred from something – and some of those things, like the mirage-like grammar lessons, don’t seem to be available on the paid version, either.
So let’s say that the sure thing is that Memrise currently has a paid version, called Memrise Pro. As of this writing, this paid version of Memrise costs 11.99 euros per month (check the site on your computer for localized prices), 71.98 euros per year, or 185.99 euros for a lifetime subscription.
If you don’t mind dealing with its often confusing interface, Memrise could be a great resource for building your French vocabulary. But its lack of other lessons, notably grammar explanations and exercises, ultimately makes it more of a niche app for vocabulary building only. If you want to become proficient or fluent in French, you’ll have to look elsewhere for everything else.