Memrise manages to be both one of the most useful apps to learn Chinese and one of the most overused. It works best as a complement to other resources. Beginner students or those interested in learning about a specific topic would benefit the most from using Memrise.
What Is Memrise?
Memrise is available as an app or from their website. They are essentially flashcards that have a bit of a game element to them. They excel in helping you learn new vocabulary in a manner that’s more fun than traditional flashcards. They make heavy use of mnemonics to help make the words stick in your memory.
Memrise uses user-created courses that can be as short as a few words or sentences or as long as thousands of them. Some have audio and pinyin and others don’t. Some use mnemonics and others don’t. There are tons of courses on different topics. Some examples are HSK word lists, most common radicals, reading a Chinese menu, sentence patterns, grammar, Chinese history, Chengyu, measure words, and lots more. Because the courses are created by users, there is a huge variety and the quality can vary drastically.
As I mentioned earlier, Memrise uses lots of mnemonics to make the vocabulary easier to memorize. They’re basically cues to make it easier to retrieve a memory. Everyone is different and what works great for someone won’t work for someone else. Luckily, for most of the more popular courses, there are around 7 user added aids that may help you.
Lessons And Review
Most courses start by showing you the English word, character, pinyin and the most popular mnemonic. After that, you’ll move onto a quiz. For example, you’ll be shown the character and have to match it with the definition. They’ll test your comprehension by switching the question, so next, you may be given English and have to choose the character. You’ll also have to put words in the correct order, both in English and Chinese.
The words you’ve learned will also come up for review at appropriate intervals. Sometimes it feels like maybe it’s too much, but they really drill the new words into your head. The speed review is actually a really fun component of the app. You have to answer questions very quickly and have three lives to do it in. I found myself using this even when I didn’t want to necessarily review, just because it was a fun game.
How I Used Memrise And My Recommendations
When I moved to Beijing, I knew almost no Chinese. I love trying out random small restaurants but if their menu didn’t have pictures, I’d be stuck eating whatever random dish I happened to point at. Using Memrise, I was able to fairly quickly get a general idea of what I would be ordering at pretty much every restaurant. Any foreigner in China would benefit from a quick course like this.
Memrise is an incredibly useful app to learn any language but it’s a complimentary resource and will need to be used in addition to others. I’ve seen many people try to work their way all the way to intermediate and higher levels of Chinese only using Memrise. I think once you get past the absolute beginner level, you should avoid learning based on of pre-made lists. It’ll be much more effective to learn new words from context and they’ll be much easier to retain in your memory. Plus, you can improve other important skills. ChinesePod is a fantastic resource for improving your listening skills. Du Chinese or The Chairman’s Bao are both great for reading practice. Saving words you learn from resources like these will be much more effective than focusing on word lists.
I think Memrise is great for beginners. As a beginner, you need to get a foundation of new vocabulary before you’re able to learn from context. It’s really the only time when it makes sense to use a pre-made list to learn vocabulary from.
If you are new to learning Chinese, I recommend reading this resource guide I wrote for beginners. It’ll help you get a better idea of what tools to use and where to focus your attention.
Everything I’ve written about so far is completely free to use. They also have a premium option that I’ve never used. The premium version also includes stats of your studying, audio review, and targeting of difficult words. The premium plan costs $8.99/mo or $59.99/year. I can’t speak to whether or not it’s worth the upgrade. Here’s a link to the discussion on Quora about whether or not the pro version is worth paying for.
The free version provides a ton of value but it’s important to make sure it doesn’t become the only resource you use to learn Chinese. After you use Memrise (or Pleco or Anki) to get a basic foundation of words, I suggest looking into other resources and phasing out Memrise.