What is it?
Memrise is a website which contains free tests on various topics, such as maths, geography, music, literature, and languages. Language learners can use it in order to learn words of their target language.
How does it work?
The tests in Memrise are games. They are constructed with the human memory in mind. According to the creators, studying by playing games is more effective than learning directly from text books, since “the memories that result from such processing last longer, stand out better, are just plain enjoyable and satisfying to recall” (source). In short, playfulness enhances the effectiveness of a method. One might state that this is general knowledge – many children learn English vocabulary by playing computer games. However, the theory behind Memrise is more complicated than that. Firstly, the tests are made up of several different mini games, such as learning from example sentences, descriptions, pictures, translating words from the target language into one’s native language, and providing the target language equivalents of native language words. The reason for this is that the more one has to work to recall a memory, the stronger it will become (source). But the games do not simply end when one has finished them. Whenever one finishes a level, he is allowed to proceed to the next one. However, Memrise does remind one that repeating levels is useful:
As the picture above shows, one may not replay levels immediately. Four hours need to pass before one is allowed to repeat a word list. This may seem restrictive, but it actually stimulates one’s memory, because people generally tend to forget some of what they have learned after a few hours. According to Memrise, the point at which one is about to forget things is the best time to recall memories. At that moment, one’s “memory will get the biggest boost in strength” (source). In short, one has a short term memory and a long term memory. Only a part of what one learns is stored in the former. Repetition ensures that more and more words are eventually stored in the latter. Memrise shows one’s progress like this:
Whenever you repeat a level successfully, the intervals between repetitions become longer (four hours, thirteen hours, seven days, etcetera). This ensures that one’s memory is stimulated continually and it shows that memories become stronger every time one recalls them.
Overall, I like the concept. I am doing two tests at the moment: one for Norwegian words and one for French ones. My progress is as follows:
Long term memory
I am not a fan of textbooks which force one to learn lists of words. It is not interesting enough for me and many of them provide no guidance at all. The fact that Memrise is a game with various levels and learning strategies makes it more enjoyable. You may have noticed that the game uses the growth of flowers as an allegory for the improvement of one’s memory. One starts by planting seeds. Next, one needs to harvest them (the first repetition). Lastly, the flowers need to be watered (the second repetition). One watches his flowers grow and finds it easy to see why that is relevant instead of wondering why he needs to repeat levels multiple times without knowing why. The analogy, and therefore the game, is extremely easy to understand. Furthermore, Memrise is a competitive method:
One earns points for each word that he guesses correctly. The number depends on how much time passes before one answers. In addition, the indication of the percentage of correct answers provides information on how well one is doing.
Not all games are created by experts. Hence, some of them contain errors. For example: sometimes, one can choose between multiple answers. Only one of these should be correct, but I have found lists containing the correct answer twice (but with a different spelling), such as you and You. Such tests do not generate reliable results, which is a pity. Furthermore, spelling mistakes are counted as incorrect answers. Although this is unavoidable, it may be frustrating, because these errors suggest that one is not as good as he really is.
In my opinion, Memrise is quite an effective learning tool. It stimulates one’s memory and it is enjoyable. The only downside is that anyone can create tests. This entails that not all of them are reliable.