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Memrise vs Duolingo – Not An Either/Or Decision

Memrise vs Duolingo

Memrise and Duolingo have made language learning more accessible to people all over the planet. A ridiculous number of people use these platforms to study. Duolingo has over 300 million users, while Memrise has over 35 million users.

These platforms have made a mark on the world of language learning largely because they’re free to use. While both platforms do have a premium subscription option, most users will find more than enough value in the free versions.

Do you want to start learning a language but aren’t sure which platform to choose? 

The truth is, it’s not actually an either/or decision. The platforms teach languages in completely different ways that complement each other very well.

Memrise is good with the same things Duolingo struggles with. Likewise, Duolingo can help fill in the gaps where Memrise is a bit weaker.

Memrise is much better for learning and remembering individual words or phrases.

Duolingo is much better for learning how to construct sentences.

Both platforms make it super easy to get started and do a little bit each day. The fact that they’re available to everyone regardless of their financial situation is amazing.

Both are better for casual learners. These platforms work best for those who are just curious or want a low-risk way to try studying a language.

If you need to learn a language for work or are planning to live abroad, you may want to look into more comprehensive language-learning programs and use Memrise as a complementary resource.

Memrise

You can read our full, in-depth review of Memrise here. 

Memrise is basically a platform that teaches languages through flashcards. That sounds pretty boring, but it’s actually a lot more fun than you might expect.

There are lots of courses available for tons of languages. Obviously, the more popular languages have more courses, but pretty much every language you can think of will have some courses.

There are even courses for a fictional language like Dothraki or the simple, practical Morse Code. Memrise isn’t exclusively for language learners, either; you can also study topics like history, math, science, and more.

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You can find a ton of different courses on Memrise, and they vary significantly. This is because the vast majority of courses are added by users.

So, the quality and content change from course to course. This can sometimes be frustrating as some courses aren’t so great, but it’s made up for by the fact that you can find really unique topics.

For example, if you’re studying Korean, you can find courses based on popular textbooks, about Korean slang, grammar, K-Pop, and much more. In addition to these options, you also have the Memrise-created courses which are a bit more clearly structured.

So, while Memrise is best for learning vocabulary, it can also be used for other topics.

Memrise teaches using flashcards. The flashcards use a spaced repetition system (SRS). The simplest way to describe this is that when you answer a question correctly, you’ll see that card come up less often. The more often you get it correct, the longer the duration will be until you see it again.

Similarly, the cards you struggle with most will reappear more frequently. If you keep making mistakes with a particular word or phrase, that card will keep showing up.

This method is an efficient way to commit new words to long-term memory.

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Studying with flashcards may sound dreadfully dull, but Memrise does a good job of making it more fun. They incorporate game-like elements, nice graphics, points, stats, timers to make you answer quickly, and other things to help keep you going.

They also use something called “mems” to help you remember words. They’re mnemonic devices – often pictures or some words to make it easier to remember the word you’re learning.

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Usually, other users will have already added mems, or you can add your own. They may seem kind of stupid, but they’ll help you remember the words.

After being introduced to a new word, there are several different ways in which you’ll be tested on that word. These include multiple-choice, listening, and writing exercises.

Memrise Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Free
  • Great for memorizing vocabulary
  • Wide variety of languages and courses
  • Game elements make it more fun than traditional flashcards
  • Quick to get started

Cons:

  • The quality of courses can vary
  • Not great for learning sentence structures or grammar
  • Needs to be used with other resources

Duolingo

(Our rating of Duolingo increased to 4 stars as they’ve made some improvements since this video was published.)

You can read our full, in-depth review of Duolingo here. 

Duolingo does a great job providing a beginner-friendly introduction to over 35 different languages. It does not dive deep enough to work well as a comprehensive course for a serious language learner, but it does focus on different things than Memrise.

It isn’t as good as Memrise for teaching vocabulary, but it’s far better for teaching the language as a whole. With Duolingo, you’ll get more practice forming sentences and will likely gain a better understanding of the language.

Lessons start from the beginning and move up to somewhere around a lower intermediate level. There isn’t any user-created content, so you’ll find that everything fits together nicely.

Duolingo offers courses in over 30 languages, including High Valyrian, Navajo, and Hawaiian.

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Each course consists of a bunch of different lessons organized by topic. For example, you’ll be introduced to some vocabulary by matching the word to a picture.

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Later on, you’ll be given sentences in English and need to translate those sentences. Although they may use words that you’ve never learned, if you do get confused, you can just click on the word to see a translation.

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Other times, there will be multiple-choice questions.

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The lessons all follow a similar format to this and can be completed very quickly. One of the things that makes Duolingo so popular is the gamified style outfits lessons. You earn rewards, points, streaks, and achievements to help motivate you to study.

In fact, Duolingo’s biggest strength is that it takes people who may be intimidated by studying a language and gets them to do to a little bit each day. Memrise also excels at this.

The downside to this platform is that, aside from a few tips like the pop-up below, you will not get a solid introduction to grammar.

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Another thing that can get pretty frustrating with Duolingo is the audio for the sentences. Individual words usually sound fine, but while you’re completing exercises you’ll often hear full sentences.

Words used in isolation sound different than words used within a sentence. So, since none of the sentences were recorded together, it’s just a mashup of individual words. This creates very awkward-sounding sentences.

Another common complaint is that Duolingo often teaches nonsensical sentences. So, you may end up learning things that you’ll never say in real life. There’s even a Twitter account to document some of these.

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Duolingo Pros and Cons

Pros:

  • Free
  • Great at getting people to study a little every day
  • Clear course structure
  • Teaches you how to construct sentences
  • Quick to get started using

Cons:

  • Covers a lot of content but isn’t the most thorough
  • Nonsensical sentences
  • Sentence recordings often sound strange
  • Can be very bad for languages that don’t use the Latin alphabet

Should you upgrade to Duolingo or Memrise’s premium plans?

Lots of apps offer very limited free versions and then require you to upgrade to a paid plan. Both Duolingo and Memrise are the exceptions to this — they offer a ton of value for free.

Let’s look at what’s included in their premium plans…

Memrise Pro:

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Memrise Pro starts at $9/month, but the monthly price falls significantly if you purchase an annual plan, though the annual price in the image above is discounted. Recently they have been rolling out more features in the plan. Previously it made no sense to use Memrise Pro, but now it could be worth trying for one month to see if you like it.

The extra features include:

  • Grammarbot
  • Chatbot
  • Immersive videos with native speakers
  • In-depth analytics
  • Offline learning

Some of the features aren’t available in every language, so you’ll want to check to see what’s included in the language you study before subscribing.

Super Duolingo:

Previously called Duolingo Plus, the paid version of Duolingo, called Super Duolingo, offers a few advantages for the game side of the program. It also removes the ads you have to see in the free version.

You can try Super Duolingo free for two weeks to see if you like it. After that, Super Duolingo costs $12.99/month and falls to $6.99/month if you purchase the annual plan. 

Unlike Memrise Pro, where there are a lot of extra features included, Super Duolingo doesn’t give you access to much else.

With Super Duolingo, you can:

  • Remove ads
  • Download lessons on mobile
  • Get a free streak repair each month
  • Recieve access to unlimited hearts and personalized practice

Perhaps the best reason to subscribe to Super Duolingo is if you love their mission to make language learning more accessible and want to support them.

How to Use Duolingo as Part of a Language Learning Program

Use these tips to help you use Duolingo to the max and make it an effective part of your language learning program!

  1. Set a daily goal for how many lessons you want to get done in Duolingo. Or set a timer on your phone every day or night, and challenge yourself to meet your time goal every day. Duolingo offers tons of gamified rewards to help you feel victorious as you progress through the lessons, too! For example, every new crown you earn can help you see the number of skills you have mastered in a new language. You could set a goal to earn a new crown once a week rather than setting a specific time goal for study, too.
  2. Make sure you read every tip that pops up as you go through lessons and activities. These often provide helpful information about grammar. Duolingo does not emphasize grammar heavily, so the tips can help you understand the structure of your target language more than many of the lessons.
  3. If you need a conversation partner and can’t afford to hire a tutor, you may want to check out the student forum on Duolingo. You can find other language learners who may want to join you for a virtual conversation session! If you do not feel comfortable with this, you could try an all-conversation tool like HelloTalk, which pairs you with conversation partners around the world in a safe, free, virtual environment.
  4. Keep in mind that you will need additional learning resources if you really want to get serious about gaining true fluency in your new language. Duolingo gives you a fun intro to the language and provides some great beginner lessons and vocabulary, but you will likely need a more immersive and deep dive into the language to gain true fluency. You can check out the alternatives to Duolingo recommended in this article to get some ideas for a more comprehensive program.
  5. Even the best language-learning app can’t replace a true immersive experience. If you can, visit a part of the world that speaks your new language. If you can’t afford a trip, try to spend as much of your days as possible surrounded by the sights and sounds of your new language. This immersive approach will help you adapt to the unique sound of the language.

How to Use Memrise as Part of a Language Learning Program

If you love the idea of learning vocabulary via a flashcard-style game, you definitely need to give Memrise a try!

  1. If you can find an official Memrise-created course for the language you want to learn, you may find this a great intro to the foundation of the language. If you can only find community-created courses, you may want to focus on using Memrise as an auxiliary tool simply to boost your vocabulary skills. In this case, you will want to look for another language learning program to serve as the core of your study program.
  2. Memrise offers tips on how to adjust the settings of your computer in order to play the flashcard games most easily. Make sure you check out these computer-setting guidelines before beginning. If you use the app your phone will probably automatically adjust so you can easily see the flashcards. But the app version does not offer some of the additional resources in Memrise that you can access in the online version.
  3. Because Memrise doesn’t offer direct speaking software, you will want to find another resource to help you build conversation skills. You can try a free conversation partner matching app like HelloTalk, or even hire a tutor!
  4. Take advantage of the review options you can find in Memrise, like the speed review tool that allows you to quickly refresh on words you learned. You may feel tempted to skip ahead to new material, which feels more exciting. But consistent review is one of the best ways to permanently learn new language skills.
  5. Just like with Duolingo, even the best Memrise course can’t take the place of stepping into a place and culture where people actually speak your target language. At some point, try to visit a community that speaks your language. Bravely test out your conversational skills, and don’t feel embarrassed if your conversation partner corrects you! You will do better next time, and it is all a learning experience.

Alternatives to Memrise and Duolingo

Both Duolingo and Memrise offer easy, bite-sized lessons perfect for the casual beginner. If you plan to study a language more seriously, you should look into alternative language-learning programs. 

Pimsleur App

Pimsleur offers over 50 languages through its comprehensive app-based language courses. Some languages offer more advanced options while others offer just a solid foundational program. Pimsleur’s method is based on the Spaced Repetition Theory, which uses timed repetitions to help you permanently remember new material.

Pimselur’s courses have a heavy audio focus to help you build your listening comprehension skills, which is key for conversational ability in a new language. The program also uses direct speaking software for pronunciation practice and has an emphasis on grammar and truly understanding the shape of a new language.

Overall, Pimsleur covers much more ground than the free version of Duolingo or Memrise. The downside to Pimsleur’s app-based courses is that they do require a paid subscription.

Italki

Italki is an app that helps you connect with a virtual tutor or teacher offering classes in the language you want to learn. You can search for a teacher based on many factors like teacher experience, available tutoring hours, or cost.

If you learn best through personal attention and find that you don’t focus as well when using a self-directed app, signing up for tutoring sessions could provide a solution. This is also a great way to get to practice real-life conversation in your new language.

That said, italki tutors charge varying rates that can range anywhere from around $6 per half hour to $60 per hour. Whether you will learn more from a tutor or through Duolingo depends on the individual tutor, too.

Storylearning

If you want a highly engaging language learning program that will keep you entertained while also covering all the key components of the language, you may want to check out Storylearning. This unique program uses an ongoing story to keep you hooked from one chapter of the course to another.

You learn the language by listening to, reading, and then analyzing each segment of the story. While this online course does not have the gamified approach of Duolingo, it does use a more engaging structure than many traditional language programs. The downside is that it does have a high one-time cost to register.

Final Thoughts

Memrise and Duolingo both use short lessons and a gamified approach to make language-learning fun for a total beginner. Both platforms excel at simplifying things, making it possible for anyone to get into the habit of studying a little bit each day.

One great thing about these two platforms is that they teach languages in completely different ways and focus on different aspects of language learning. There’s no need to choose between the two — they work very well when used together.

Anyone interested in learning a language but not yet ready to dedicate the necessary amount of time to become fluent should try both Duolingo and Memrise.

There’s also no need to decide how seriously you want to take studying a language right away. Start out with Duolingo and/or Memrise and see if you enjoy studying. If you do, you can look for additional materials later on.

That said, if you know that you’re willing to put quite a bit of time into learning a language and are ready to commit, try a more in-depth program like Pimsleur or Storylearning instead.

Even serious students may find that it makes sense to use Memrise as a first introduction to the language. You could quickly learn the most common words in the language and give yourself a solid foundation going forward.

Regardless of what you decide to do, have fun doing it!

2 thoughts on “Memrise vs Duolingo – Not An Either/Or Decision”

  1. Matt Battisti

    Nick, this article was EXACTLY the answer/sentiment that I was looking for (thank you!) – that Duolingo and Memrise can (and probably should) be used together, and that there’s no reason to feel like you have to choose just ONE resource to use! Just to give a concrete example, when I got to “Present 1” on the Duolingo Italian tree I was overwhelmed by the insane number of new verbs they threw at me! So I went on Memrise and mastered those verbs quickly with USER created flashcards (made on Memrise but specifically for the Duolingo Italian course) and then went back to finish the lessons on Duolingo with more confidence! And like you said, the vocab “mems” (mnemonics) are great on Memrise!

    Another note: This article mentions that you there are no grammar hints on the Duolingo app, but I think that has changed since this article was written. You can now read grammar “tips” pages before starting most lessons on the Italian Duolingo course on the app now (at least the Android version!)

    Thanks again! Ciao!
    Matt

  2. Excellent review. Used both apps in the past but stopped somewhere along the way, now thinking of downloading one or the other again just to tease my brain. Thanks for this comparison.

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