It’s a very well known fact by now that Memrise is one of my favorite language learning systems. It’s free, it’s lightweight, it’s even available for mobile devices. It offers courses on over two hundreds languages as well as many other subjects such as geography and art history. It’s also loads of fun and it totally works. But what may not be as well known as Memrise is its silly side project cousin; Cat Spanish by the illustrious yet delightfully corny CatAcademy.
Enter Cat Spanish.
I’ve been meaning to write a decent review of this product since its release in November of 2013, but alas have been bogged down learning languages other than Spanish and hadn’t found sufficient time (or motivation) to power through it. I’ve studied Spanish off and on since high school and I’d like to think that I have a mediocre, intermediate-ish level of competency. I’m always looking for additional resources to assist me with my quest to improve this language so of course I jumped at the opportunity to check out a new Memrise product.
If you’re at all familiar with Memrise, it will be pretty easy to understand how Cat Spanish functions. Memrise, as I explained in a much earlier review that I wrote of the program last year, is based on the brain’s ability to associate certain words or phrases with “mems”. This leads to a great retention rate reinforced by good old spaced repetition.
A mem usually takes the form of a photograph or a phrase that can be associated with a word or combination of words that sticks in your memory.
This strategy turns out to be a fantastic way to learn and remember new vocabulary. check out the screenshot on the left comparing the character for “sauce” with a stoppered bottle.
Cat Spanish uses the same system of memory training except that the memes are all of cats and kittens performing adorable actions or striking poses that will theoretically help you remember your new vocabulary.
Check out the Cat Academy video. It’s pretty much awesome.
Cat Academy is adorable. If you enjoy cute pictures and consider yourself a cat person it’s hard not to melt at some of these often incredibly memorable pictures. That is the idea after all; you love the cats, you take pleasure in learning and progressing, and you remember your vocab. This product has received extremely positive reactions from major news networks including Forbes, The Wall Street Journal and TIME Magazine, most of them simply gushing over the novelty of cats being used constructively on the Internets.
It’s mobile. By now you’re probably aware that I love mobile language learning apps. They make it easy to take your projects on the go, they’re often fun and can be whipped out at a moment’s notice when you’re sitting around at a bus stop, in a waiting room, or virtually anywhere else that you might otherwise be mindlessly texting or Facebooking anyway.
It’s really, really pretty. For the longest time Cat Spanish had a mediocre overall appearance that wasn’t exactly eye-popping. This all changed a couple of months ago when they rolled out a major update that included this beautiful board game-like progression map. It now allows you to compete with other friends and shows their pictures above their own progress as you make your way along the path to conversational Spanish. I’m not quite at the end, but there are fireworks! I can’t wait to see what happens.
It teaches phrases rather than individual words. I think there’s a lot to be said of a program that focuses on how the words are used in context with one another rather than simply teaching individual vocabulary. This also allows for a lot more content to be taken in in a shorter time frame. Cat Spanish claims to offer over 1,000 words/phrases (and thus cats). That won’t make you fluent in Spanish, but it does set a new learner well on his or her way to a solid understanding of the language.
It’s inexpensive. One of the biggest things I like to promote is the use of free or cheap programs. Like Memrise, Cat Spanish is free to get started with. They do require you to pay $6.99 to unlock the full 1000 cat/word course. This is mildly annoying but the cost isn’t exactly prohibitive, and I would say that it is still worth it for those who have given the program a try and find it to their liking.
It’s fast paced. It’s important to feel like you’re progressing and accumulating new content at a good clip. Cat Spanish, using the aforementioned phrases rather than individual words, allows you to plow through a solid stack of vocabulary – as much or more than 30 words per hour. This is pretty fast compared to
|Yeah, it’s pretty cool.|
Most unfortunately I’m unable to give Cat Spanish the fancy, shining review that I so desperately wish I could provide. The app works, but in my semi-professional opinion it doesn’t work as well as it could, or as well as it should.
It’s basically just Memrise, with less stuff. Sadly, the harsh truth is that the app comes off as little more than a highly polished, professionally crafted Memrise course, except without the community input and creation and discussion boards and analytics, or basically anything that makes Memrise so incredibly awesome. The beautiful thing about the Memrise platform is that it allows for learners to create their own content, their own language courses, and then it allows the learners who select those courses to provide mems of their own design to help others. Cat Spanish doesn’t have this. It’s basically a single course with a theme in a sexy package.
There are no penalties for mistakes. Typically I don’t really advocate punishing mistakes too harshly. This can often end up discouraging learners and doesn’t really seem to help. However, in this case the total lack of any penalty for messing up a word or phrase whatsoever, for me at least, results in minimal language retention. If you make a mistake the program gives you the answer, and then promptly moves on to the next phrase. Mistakes are good, they should be taken advantage of and learned from, not simply circumvented with the easy answer.
On that same note, there is also no reward system. Again, I’d love to say that the language you’re gaining is its own reward – and it certainly is – but if you want to maintain motivation it’s better to have short term goals such as gaining a perfect score on your session. Memrise has a points system as well as leader boards that allow you to see how you compare in progress and time spent studying to others working on the same course as you. Cat Spanish lacks any real incentive leaving you with nothing more than the satisfaction of inching along the board one more node at a time.
If you’re not really into cats it’s a bit lackluster. Cat Academy relies on its cuteness factor to bring you back time and time again. But what if you’re just not the gushy type, or what if you’re not really a cat person? If this is the case this probably isn’t the app for you. Unless you’re into cats doing adorable things, you probably won’t experience the intended retention rate. The silver lining? There are rumors of a dog edition for those of you who lean more towards canines.
Very much a beginner program. This isn’t entirely a con – having a beginner-oriented program is great, especially if it can inspire language learning interest early on in a project. But what about those of us who do speak a bit of Spanish already? Unfortunately there’s no way for you to test out of the lower levels, so you are still stuck re-doing the basics. Reinforcement is good, but feeling like you’re not really learning anything can also be boring and can result in the loss of interest.
Despite the cons; I still think the app is worth your time (and maybe even your money). It’s free after all, and it’s not like it’ll make you worse at Spanish. As with all mobile apps I will continue to assert that they are companion tools for a language learner, not a be all; end all ticket to fluency. Any learner who throws all of his or her eggs into one basket is doing something wrong.
I still give Cat Spanish the benefit of the doubt because I know that it is always being improved. The Memrise team works hard to consistently produce high quality products and if their original program is any indicator, we can probably expect expanded features in the future. We already know that CatAcademy is planning to release other languages in the near future for those of you looking for something more along the lines of “Feline French”.
Keep up the good work, Memrise team!
You can check out the app here on iTunes:
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