The Fall of Memrise and My Search for Alternatives

Memrise is a language learning app that I started using a just over a year ago. I liked using it as it offered a large range of courses made by its community. However, on the 20th of February 2019 Memrise announced that they will be moving the community-made courses to a sister website called ‘Decks’, separated from the official Memrise courses that will remain on the app. At that time, I was using an official Memrise course and a community-made course to learn Chinese Mandarin. So, I was very annoyed to hear the news, and I didn’t like the idea that I had to switch between using an app and a website.

I initially decided that I would scrap the official Memrise course and only use the courses on Decks when it is released, hoping that they would eventually create an app for it. The only reason I used the official course was that it provided a large stock of sentences that I could practice. But I also liked the ‘learn with locals’ feature, which are short video clips of native speakers that I found useful for developing listening skills.

So I stopped using the official course and only carried on using the community-made course. However, Memrise announced that they did not plan on creating an app for Decks. I was so uncomfortable with the uncertainty, I decided to look for a back-up just in case I didn’t like using the Decks website.

Duolingo

The first alternative I tried was Duolingo. I will be comparing it to the official Memrise course as that is what I intend to replace with Duolingo. Firstly, I feel that the Duolingo course has a better structure than the Memrise course. Duolingo starts simple and slowly adds complexity, while Memrise just gives you a load of stock phrases to memorise. While I think the latter approach is ok as long as you supplement your learning with information from other resources, I think Duolingo’s approach is more accessible to beginners. Duolingo’s lessons are a lot more effective for learning grammar. While Memrise’s course does have grammar modules, these are few and far between and are really limited in content.

Screenshot of the Duolingo App.

More specifically to mandarin, I like how Duolingo forces the learning of characters. Duolingo always provides characters, and pinyin (a romanisation system for Mandarin) is only supplementary. Also, Duolingo introduces new characters in large images rather than just small text. This is the opposite of the Memrise course, where it provides pinyin and the characters are just side-notes that are easy to ignore and forget about.

However, there are a few things that annoyed me about Duolingo: Firstly, the audio isn’t very good. Actually, it’s alright with individual words, but the longer sentences are made of stitched together audio clips. These sound really robotic and unnatural, which makes them difficult to use to learn pronunciation. Another problem is that there is no spaced repetition system like Memrise has, so I find that new vocabulary is more difficult to remember. However, Duolingo does encourage repetitions of lessons, as each lesson has five levels of difficulty to complete. But this is not as good as a spaced repetition system as it does not give a prompt at the appropriate time for a review.

Overall, I think Duolingo is very good for learning grammar, but pronunciation and vocabulary are more difficult to learn through Duolingo. I feel that Memrise is the opposite of this, so I decided that I would use Decks with Duolingo, and ditch the main Memrise app.

Anki

When the Decks website was released, I decided to give it a try. However, I was immediately disappointed. Despite Memrise claiming it to be ‘phone friendly’, the website did not work well on my phone. Whenever I tried to type something in, the keyboard flickered on and off. To make things worse, there is now a timer that is not possible to remove. This made decks incredibly frustrating to use. Memrise did, however, announced that they have changed their mind and will release a Decks app. However, they haven’t specified when they will release this app and I don’t feel certain that I will be satisfied. So I started to look for something to replace decks.

So I thought I would give Anki a go. I have used Anki for a bit before I discovered Memrise. I only reason I switched was that I preferred Memrise, but it’s likely that my opinion about that has changed. Like Memrise, Anki is a flashcard software with a spaced-repetition system. Unlike Memrise, Anki is open source which means other people are permitted to modify the code. This means if Anki undergoes a terrible change like Memrise has then the older version may still be available. It also means that there is a range of add-ons available, making Anki more customisable.

Screenshot from the AnkiDroid app.

A major difference between Anki and Memrise is that with Anki you have to grade your flashcard yourself, while with Memrise you have to input the answer and the app assesses the answer. This can be a good or bad thing depending on your preference: With Anki, you have to be honest with yourself, while with Memrise there is a possibility that you will get things wrong from typos in the typing exercises or that the answer is given away in the multiple choice exercises.

Like the community-made courses on Memrise, the decks on Anki are variable in quality. I found a few decks I like using and it does help me to memorise words just as well as Memrise did. There is not much else I can say about Anki without talking about a specific deck, but overall it’s a decent alternative if you don’t like Decks. However, Anki lacks any grammatical explanations, so I feel it should be used as a supplement to something like Duolingo.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m glad I’ve made the switch to Duolingo and Anki. I feel a lot more confident learning with those platforms rather than waiting around for Memrise to get its act together and create a decent app for Decks. What Memrise used to be was better than Anki and Duolingo, but now that Memrise has ruined itself they are the next best thing.

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