Using Memrise on the Web

Another member of the spaced repetition flashcard family, Memrise isn’t quite as versatile as Anki, but it does offer more flexibility than Babadum. Memrise has a web interface and a free smartphone app. The two aren’t really integrated with each other, so I’ll come back to the app another time.

ETA: since I last wrote this, I either figured out how to use Memrise properly or they made some changes, because now my web account and my mobile account seem to be synchronized. More on the mobile version at a later date!

Today I just want to talk about the web-based program and familiarize you with it. Once you get into it, Memrise is pretty straightforward, but it can take a little getting used to. It took me some getting used to, at any rate!

Getting Started

You can sign up for Memrise with Google, Facebook, or email. I dislike using Google and Facebook for everything, so I chose a throwaway email address. When I later decided to try the smartphone app, however, I was unable to log in with my already-created account, which was annoying.

After you create your account, you’ll be greeted with a homepage that looks something like this:

Memrise home page.
Memrise home page.

On the left you can see your account summary, including the points and trophies you’ve earned. There’s also a countdown clock until the end of the day (midnight local time), and an option to sign up for Memrise Pro. It doesn’t look like much to start with until you sign up for a course, at which point the homepage is your portal into daily practice.

Memrise home page after you start a course.
Memrise home page after you start a course.

After you select a course, the Memrise homepage will helpfully show your progress on your homepage as well as give you suggestions for users you can follow—these are people taking the same or similar courses.

You can set Memrise to a limited number of languages in your account settings: English, German, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, Polish, and Chinese. You access this portion by clicking on the blue portrait on the right-hand side of the blue toolbar and selecting “settings.”

Memrise account settings: selecting a language.
Memrise account settings: selecting a language.

The not-entirely-intuitive thing is that changing the language in your settings only has an effect on the site interface, not the content. If you don’t speak any of the above languages, don’t worry: there’s still plenty of content for you!

Courses

The meat and potatoes of Memrise is the courses. These are like decks in Anki. Each course is a list of words or phrases; some courses are put together by Memrise staff, while others are put together by Memrise users. Some users are individuals, some are teachers, and some are other organizations. It’s very common to find Memrise courses based around a particular textbook. If you’re taking an English course, you might want to see if someone’s created a course based on the book you’re using. Saves you the time of creating an Anki deck or a Memrise course yourself!

Memrise will, initially, suggest popular courses for you to take, right on your home page. If you want to see a more detailed list, select the “courses” tab (that’s the one in the middle) in the blue toolbar.

Memrise courses homepage.
Memrise courses homepage for Chinese speakers, including the most popular courses among Chinese speakers.

Once on the “courses” home page, you can select your native language (or preferred study language) on the left, under the “I speak” pull-down menu. As you can see, this list is much more exhaustive than languages available in your profile settings.

Memrise course language selection.
Memrise course language selection. Here you can see the English courses available for Korean speakers. The top three are courses created by Memrise, while the bottom three are courses created by the users (left to right) Mr.Kimchi, EasyAcademy, and newgosto.

When you find a course you want to take, just click it. You’ll be taken to the course’s homepage, which has an outline of the different lessons as well as a scoreboard. If it looks like something you want to study, just click the big green “start learning” button!

Diving In

Once you start a particular course, the course home page, much like your personal Memrise home page, will tell you how you’re doing.

Lesson progress in a Korean course on Memrise.
Lesson progress in a Korean course on Memrise. You can see that I’m in the middle of Lesson 4, and that I’ve looked at 54 out of 1568 words so far. Only 30 of those words are in long-term memory.

Within a course you will have a few activities based around vocabulary and phrases, similar to the games in Babadum:

  1. Hear the L2 word and select the L1 translation (multiple choice).
  2. See the L1 word and select the right recording of the L2 translation (multiple choice).
  3. See the L1 word and select the right L2 translation (multiple choice).
  4. See the L1 word and provide the right L2 translation (written).
  5. Hear the L2 word and write what you hear (dictation).

I’ve noticed that different courses will have different activities. The French 1 course for English speakers includes videos of native speakers, which is lacking in the above Korean course, for example. But all of the activities are taken from this pool of five.

Unlike Babadum, you’ll periodically have “cards” that involve no challenge or activity; they exist simply to introduce the new vocabulary.

memrise7
New French vocabulary in Memrise.

If you find yourself struggling with a particular word, you can elect to choose or create a “mem,” an image to help you remember the word, by selecting “Help me remember this” at the bottom. The lightning bolt is a premium option (allows you to mark a word as “difficult”), while the “no” button next to it tells Memrise to ignore this word because you already know it or don’t want to learn it. As you correctly answer questions about the word or phrase, the image in the circle will transform from a hand planting a seed, to a plant stem, to a flower. Seeds are new words, while flowers are words you know quite well.

You can set daily goals for a particular course: point amounts that are equivalent to 5, 15, or 45 minutes a day. Note that you can earn points either by learning new words or by reviewing the words you’ve already learned.

On Review

Memrise is based on the spaced repetition philosophy. If you delve into any particular lesson in a course, you’ll see a countdown with each word. This is a countdown to when you need to review the word to help maximize retention.

Detailed information about a lesson in a Korean Memrise course.
Detailed information about a lesson in a Korean Memrise course.

Here you can see that I’ll need to review most of this vocabulary in around 23 days, though I have two words that I should review right now.

Note that Memrise will not automatically remind you of the words you need to review; you choose between reviewing and learning new words at your own pace. To review words, select the blue “review” button. The review button will always have how many words you have left to review. It’s my preference to move on to new words when I don’t have any words left to review, but your mileage may vary.

Social

Memrise has a few limited social features: you can follow people, but following seems limited to seeing their scores on your homepage. There are also groups, but these are private and invite-only. Like following someone, being a member of a group allows you to compete with other group members in terms of scores, and that’s about it.

Courses once had their own forums; now all interaction between members seems to happen on a separate community page. I wish I could tell you more about the forums, but at this moment in time I’m unable to log in. They certainly look lively and robust. Note, however, that the forums center around Memrise and Memrise courses, rather than language exchange.

Premium

Memrise has a few features that are only available to paying members. You can purchase membership in bundles of 1 month, 3 months, or a year. Obviously, the larger the bundle, the better the unit price. A year-long membership is a little less than $5 US per month. Do I think it’s worth it? Hard to say. The ability to focus on difficult words is definitely a plus; while other people are enthusiastic about your learning patterns stats, I don’t know how important those actually are when it comes to improving your language acquisition.

That wraps up the basics of using Memrise! I’ll be back with a later post on how to get the most out of Memrise in your language studies, but until then feel free to ask any questions or share any tips/corrections here or on Twitter.

Greek and Latin Roots: “I,” “J,” and “K” Base Words

Time for our next installment in this tour through classically derived English vocabulary: base words starting with “I,” “J,” and “K.” (There aren’t too many of each, so I decided to combine them.) If you want to review previous letters, you can refer to the links below:

Remember, these are all base words. I’ll tackle classical affixes (prefixes and suffixes) in a later series.

Base Meaning Example
i(t) go transient, exile
iatr doctor pediatrician
ig(u), ag, act drive, go ambiguous, agile, action
jac, ject throw eject
kilo thousand kilogram

Greek and Latin Roots: “H” Base Words

Somehow we’ve made it to “H” in our tour of classically derived English vocabulary! Again, these are all bases: the foundations to which we add affixes to form words. Affixes are coming in a later post. If you’d like to review past letters, use the links below

Base Meaning Example
habit dwell, keep inhabit
hal(e) breathe inhale
haute high “haute couture”
(h)em, hemat blood anemia, hematology
hemer day ephemeral
hemi one half hemisphere
hepta seven heptagon
her, hes stick, cling adhere, cohesive
hexa six hexagon
hor(o) hour horoscope
horr frighten horror
hum damp earth humidity
human human being, mankind humane
hydr(o) water hydrant
hypno sleep hypnosis

Greek and Latin Roots: “G” Base Words

We’re trucking right along in this overview of classical base words! Our next installment is the letter “G.” If you want to review previous letters, you can refer to the list of links below:

Base Meaning Example
gam marriage monogamy
ge(o) earth geography
gen(er) be born, give birth, produce genius, generation
ger(ont) elderly geriatric
glob globe, sphere globular
gnos(t) read, know diagnose
grad, gress step, go gradual, congress
graph, gram write, draw photograph, telegram
greg flock, herd gregarious, congregate
gyn(ec) woman misogyny

Greek and Latin Roots: “F” Base Words

Today’s list of classically-derived word bases is another longer one, so buckle up. If you’d like to brush up on previous entries:

Base Meaning Example
fac(t), fect, feit, fic, fit do, make facilities, factory, benefit
fal(l), fals, fail, fault false, mistake, fail fallible, default
fel cat feline
fend, fens strike offend, defense
fer, lat bear (v.), bring, go confer, collate
fess speak confess
fin(it) end, limit, term final, finite
flat air, blow inflate
flect, flex bend deflect, reflex
foc focus focal
for hole, opening, doorway perforated
forc, fort power, strength, strong enforce, fortify
form form, shape formal
fo(u)nd, fus pour, melt foundry, refund, confuse
fum smoke, vapor fumigate
funct perform function

Thoughts on Babadum Flashcard Tool

Say what you will about rote memorization, vocabulary is the foundation upon which language fluency is built. While Anki remains the king of flashcard tools, there are other options. Maybe you don’t have time to learn the interface and make your own decks (you can download other people’s hard work, though!). Maybe you want something in addition to Anki, or maybe you’re just looking for a way to kill some time online. Enter Babadum.

Babadum is a free online flashcard tool that claims to use 5 games to teach you 1500 words. Not bad!

The “games” are nothing revolutionary: just standard flashcard training. To say that there are 5 is also a bit of a misnomer; in reality, there are 4 different activities. You can:

  • Match the spoken/written word to the correct picture (out of 4 given)
  • match the pictures to the correct word (out of 4 given)
  • Match the spoken word to the correct picture (out of 4 given)
  • Spell the word to match the picture

The fifth game is to just go through a mix of those 4 activities.

What makes Babadum stand out, for me, is the design quality. The website itself is attractive and intuitive (a rare find) and the artwork is cute. Every time I switch from this browser window to the one where I’m playing Babadum (for research purposes, you know), I get sucked into answering three or four more questions. The site is just that inviting. The audio is also fantastic: high quality recordings from native speakers in careers like broadcasting and teaching.

You can read more about the history and design of Babadum by the creators themselves. Unfortunately, the one area I’d like them to expound upon at length is the one they skip over: their word list and how the word-selecting algorithm functions. I can only assume that their “1500 words” are taken from frequency dictionaries or other similar sources. What’s clear from the behind-the-scenes-peak is that the 1500 word list is common across all languages. This is important: Babadum is a top-down programYou cannot add your own vocabulary into the corpus. This aspect does limit its usefulness, making it the most effective for beginners and early intermediates. More advanced learners won’t see as many benefits. Unless you’re like me and have some surprising gaps in your knowledge:

Babadum is free to use. There are no ads, and the only feature you unlock by donating is a progress bar. There is no minimum or recommended donation, so you can pay however much or little you like for that option.

Of course, learning whole bunch of words won’t make you fluent. Any site or app that boils down to flashcards can only take you so far. But used in conjunction with other tools (such as Lang-8), or to supplement a course, they can be the difference between knowing the word you want right away and having to scramble for it.

What flashcard apps do you use? What do you think of them? Let me know here or on Twitter (@KobaEnglish)!

An earlier version of this post said that there was an iOS version of  Babadum. This is incorrect; it is only available on the Web. The post has since been corrected.

Greek and Latin Roots: “E” Base Words

We’re chugging right along in our classical tour of English vocabulary. If you’d like to review, or if you’ve just joined us, here are earlier posts:

Today’s list is pretty short. It has just four items.

Base Meaning Example
ec(o) environment, home ecology
elephan elephant elephantine
enni, annu year perennial
erg work ergonomic

Friendly reminder: these are base words, rather than affixes; these are the foundations onto which affixes are attached.

Greek and Latin Roots: “D” Base Words

We’re already at “D” in our journey through classical base words. If you’d like a refresher of posts past, help yourself:

I will absolutely be taking a second look at affixes from Greek and Latin, but for now I’m looking at base words (sometimes called root words). It’s a short list again this week, but useful!

Base Meaning Example
dec(im)(em) ten December, decimate
dei, divin god deity, divinity
dem the people epidemic
dent tooth dentist
derm(at) skin hypodermic, dermatology
dexter, dextr right hand dexterity
dic(t) say, speak, tell predict
dos(e), dot(e) give dosage, antidote
duc, duct lead (verb) induce, deduct
dyam power, strength, strong dynamic

Greek and Latin Roots: “C” Base Words

“C” is for cookie, that’s good enough for me…

“C” is the next stop on our journey through classical base words. This is our longest list so far, and there are quite a few helpful base words in here; you might want to take some notes. As always, this list is taken from Appendix C in Greek and Latin Roots: Keys to Building Vocabulary, with some small changes of my own in the “Example” column. You can see the “A” words here and the “B” words here.

Remember, these are base words, or stems: these are the main “chunks” onto which affixes are added, rather than actual affixes.

Base Meaning Example
can dog canine
cap(t), cept, ceive take, seize, get capture, receive, perception
caps case capsule
cardi heart cardiac
ce(e)d, cess go, move, yield recede, proceed, excess
celer swift accelerate
cent one hundred century
cent(e)r center eccentric
chrom color chromatic
chron(o) time chronic
cid, cis cut, kill genocide, excise
clam(at), claim shout proclamation, exclaim
class classic neoclassic
clin lie, lean recline
clud, clus, clos close, shut exclude, inclusion, enclose
col strain, sieve percolate
corn(u) eagle cornucopia
cosm(o) world, order cosmetic
cotta cooked, baked terra cotta
cred(it) believe incredible
cu(m)b lie, lean incubate, incumbent
cur(s), cour(s) run, go concur, cursive, courier, course
cuss hit, strike percussion
cycl(e) wheel bicycle

Thoughts on DuoLingo Mobile

I’ve talked about DuoLingo and its strengths and weaknesses before. But as I’ve finally sorted out how to add international keyboards to the DuoLingo app, I thought it would be appropriate for me to share a few thoughts on the mobile version.

I will preface this (and my previous review of DuoLingo) with the caveat that as of this post, I use DuoLingo for two languages: Russian and Turkish. The lessons for each language are designed by different groups of people and cover different topics; as far as I can tell, DuoLingo doesn’t enforce any kind of strict universality across different languages. Later Russian topics include “History and Fantasy” and “Spirituality,” which Turkish lacks; instead, there’s “Nature” and “Turkey.” So what I see in my trees will not 100% reflect what you see in yours (unless you’re also using English to study Turkish and Russian).

At some point I will have to work my way through the English tree and offer my commentary on the available material, but that’s another post altogether. A study has linked competency in DuoLingo with competency in that gold standard, TOEFL, but it was a study sponsored by DuoLingo so it’s worth taking with a grain of salt (for now). For now, I will repeat my earlier concern with DuoLingo: it’s great for grammar and vocabulary, but lacks in long-form reading and writing practice. Also, returning to the Turkish tree has only reinforced my belief that DuoLingo requires supplementation to truly be effective; relying only on DuoLingo will not get you far. Fortunately, there are free options like Anki and Lang-8 to fill in the gaps.

What are the differences between DuoLingo web and DuoLingo mobile?

First and foremost, I want to say that the DuoLingo app has been really well modified for mobile. It’s really easy and intuitive to use. If you had to do as much typing as you do in the web version, it would be really tedious. Instead, you have the option of drag and dropping words. You can also opt out of the listening exercises without any penalty, which is great when you’re on a noisy commute or waiting room.

As far as structure and guiding principles go, there obviously isn’t much different. You still have all four language areas represented, there’s still a spaced repetition model that guides review, and there’s still a focus on individual words or single sentences instead of longer texts. What’s different is the implementation, though it does seem to depend on the language you’re taking. For example, in Turkish DuoLingo Mobile, one of the exercises on the mobile app is matching word pairs—a useful and effective review exercise that seems completely absent from Russian. Other things are consistent across both languages (and presumably across the entire board). For example, if you choose to review a specific lesson (rather than the catch-all “strengthen” option), right at the beginning DuoLingo mobile will show you the specific words that you’re weakest on (and that will presumably be the focus of the review). It also balances the lowered difficulty of dragging and dropping words with the increased difficulty of no translation hints. The occasions where you do have to write things out, of course, you get your standard mouseover translations.

The gradient on DuoLingo mobile is more nuanced, which I like. Here is the last leg of the Russian tree as of my progress today, as viewed on the web:

DuoLingoBars2

 

There’s a clear demarcation of five levels, and you can see that “Science,” “Politics,” “Colloquial,” and “Nothing” are all at the same level: 4 out of 5. Here’s how the same lessons look in the mobile app at exactly the same time:

 

DuoLingoBars

At a glance you can see that “Colloquial” and “Nothing” are weaker than “Politics” and much weaker than “Science.” I suspect by tomorrow they’ll both be at 3 out of 5. This is really great if you want to work ahead and target (relatively) weak areas; I wish the web version did this.

And, finally, in the mobile version you have the option to spend your lingots on cute costumes for the little owl mascot. It’s trivial and obviously imparts no new content or skills, but it’s adorable and that’s enough for me.

Which version do I prefer?

While I spend most of my day in front of a computer, making the web-based version of DuoLingo more or less a habit by now, I have to say I actually prefer the mobile version. Thanks to matching word pairs and cut-up sentences, there is a greater variety of activities on the mobile version than on the web. In terms of both usability and challenge, it’s probably a little easier on mobile than web, which means that on tough days I’m more likely to keep up my practice on my phone than at my computer. Challenge is important, but so is repetition. Whatever gets you to keep at it and keep training is good.

Hey, what about the Windows version?

I don’t use Windows myself, so I can’t really comment on it. But feel free to comment or Tweet at me (@KobaEnglish) with your thoughts—that’s something I would love a guest post about!