Your Plants Need Watering: A Review of Memrise - LATG

Your Plants Need Watering: A Review of Memrise

It’s 9:30 AM on a Sunday and I’m trying to break a personal record for coffee consumption while regretting staying up as late as I did the night before.

Rather than being lulled back to sleep by I look for something to do to entertain my mind while I attempt to drown myself in caffeine. I reach for my phone – 20% battery – whatever, it’ll do.

After checking Email quickly – yep, nothing interesting, my iPhone notification goes off with an obnoxious “whooshing” sound I never remember to change and a little message appears on the screen:

Memrise – Your Plants Need Watering!”

It’s a call I’m all too familiar with these days, having spent the past few months with this app a near constant companion.
I tap the little multicolored hexagon icon on the screen, angrily displaying a little red 199, indicating that I clearly haven’t attended to my long term memories recently enough. My dashboard appears and I can choose from the numerous language “courses” I’m currently playing around with.

I’ve been using Memrise for four years now, since before the apps were released for iOS and Android platforms, since before it had a premium option and since it expanded into the language learning titan that it is today.

And it I can comfortably state that it is the most effective and engaging language learning program I’ve encountered, hands down. There are other great ones, but Memrise is my bread and butter.

What is Memrise?

So here’s how it works: You register an account (or you can log in using Facebook, or G+) and you are prompted to browse the various courses available.

The selection is virtually limitless and with new courses added all the time it would be practically impossible to run out of content. The content is entirely user created and anyone with the skills and motivation to make a language course can do so and educate others. I haven’t created any of my own courses yet, but I look forward to doing so in the future.

Once a course has been selected, Memrise uses a series of mnemonics, called “mems” that aid short term and long term memory with the use of associative images or phrases. When you practice the individual items, you are prompted to recall a given word using your brain’s ability to retain the image associated with the word(s).

If you get it wrong, it brings you back to the “mem” selection screen for that word, where you have an opportunity to review it or choose another image that might better help you remember that word for next time.You can also create your own “mems” if you have a good idea that you want to share with other learners. I’ve created a couple. It’s a fun way to personally interact with the course and feel as though you are a part of the process, not just another consumer using a rigid, pre-constructed program.

But it doesn’t stop there. Depending on the ease with which you recall answers as you go through your course, Memrise will send you reminders at opportune times to refresh your memory. It knows which words you’ve struggled with, and prompts you to practice them more frequently than others. I receive little notifications on my smartphone as well as emails when its time to “water my plants”.

Memrise can be used both on the computer in a web browser or on your iOS or Android platform. The app does differ significantly from the full version  so I strongly recommend using a combination of the two.

The computer version is much more structured and includes many more features than the extremely lightweight app. The full version is timed and the questions seem to be much more open ended. In short – it’s harder. But that’s better for serious work and I would argue that the computer version is ultimately the more beneficial of the two if you’re looking to sit down and hammer out some language learning. The desktop version is also the only way that you can really analyze your Memrise Premium statistics.

Mobile version

Regard less of the functionality of the desktop version though, the app however is where Memrise really keeps me coming back day after day.

While the computer version is great, the app allows me to take Memrise with me anywhere, and the ease with which it operates allows me to use it every time I have a few minutes to waste in a constructive way. Using the app you can turn any 5 minute period of free time into constructive language learning, something that really pays off in the long term. It excites your mind and gets you thinking about the language even when you’re not actively using it.

Between Memrise’s ability to actively track your strengths and weaknesses and apply them to your learning schedule, its ability to be incredibly portable and accessible and the fun and interactive way with which it involves you in your own learning, its not hard to see why this program takes the cake among similar programs.

It isn’t perfect though.

The mobile version of Memrise is not as complete as the full version. One cannot access most of the premium features with the app and the selection of words and tragically one cannot create and upload their own “mems” either, which is one of Memrise’s most essential features.

Just as I would suggest with any language learning program I’ve checked out, Memrise is largely supplementary and I would definitely classify it as a “secondary” language learning resource. (More on the distinction between primary and secondary language resources here).

If you’re serious about learning a language, Memrise is a fabulous tool that is sure to help, but its important to remember that it isn’t going to get you there on its own. You need to use every edge you can get when learning a language and using only one product – even this product – is no way to do it.

Did I mention it’s free?

And the best part about it, apart from its effectiveness – it’s free! With the cost of language learning systems such as Rosetta Stone or The Pimsleur Approach turning so many potential language learners off, it is truly a breath of fresh air to see such an effective system available to anyone looking to supplement or begin their language projects!

Memrise premium

Memrise also has a premium version that costs $10 USD per month. This feature unlocks a bit of bonus content to really help you analyze and focus on your learning.

The premium, VIP version includes a detailed summary of your performace, the times of day that you are the most effective, the speed at which you accumulate new words and other useful stats to help you identify your strengths and weaknesses.

In addition to that it also has a “difficult words” section that identifies words that you struggle with and separates them from your normal review sessions. It offers them as a separate lesson that allows you to really focus on the words you need the most assistance with.

Memrise premium’s cost has been called into question by some people but my overall opinion is that it’s a great addition to your language learning toolkit. I would recommend giving it a shot for one month. If you’re dissatisfied, don’t continue!

Groups and teaching capabilities

A more recent addition to Memrise’s capabilities is its capacity for being used as a teaching tool for teachers at all levels of language instruction.

The group feature allows you to create or join a group of your friends, classmates or students and either create a specialized course for them or select existing courses to add to your group’s projects.

The group has its own separate leaderboard and allows members to compete against one another.

As I mention, these features can even be used by grade school or university teachers or professors to create a custom course from the vocabulary that is being taught in the course. Course creation is quite simple well worth the effort. As a teacher you can assign your students to make accounts on Memrise join your group(s) and assign Memrise as home or classwork!

It’s a lot more engaging than many other vocabulary study methods and tossing in a competitive edge may go a ways towards motivating your students.


Many online language courses are either too costly or of low quality, and that’s where Memrise really strikes gold – providing a solid platform for user based content. People know what they want, Memrise makes it easy for them to make it!

Other than keeping that fact in mind my criticisms of Memrise are relatively few and far between. I would like to see more features attached to the application, particularly the ability to create new mems.

Be sure to visit their website,, and follow them on Facebook for some fun updates, language learning motivation and more cats than you can handle.


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Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he’s not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

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Brian Powers

Brian is the creator, owner and Apex Editor of Languages Around the Globe. When he's not hanging around with linguistics nerds and learning languages, Brian works full time at Kolibri Online, a Hamburg based international content marketing and translation agency as a copywriter, human dictionary and general doer of great things.

  • Anthony659225

    Brian, are you familiar with edx? They offer free courses through universities around the world, including Harvard, Stanford, etc. I am currently taking an Italian course through Wellesley. It’s excellent, and it’s taught by a Wellesley faculty member who is fluent in Italian. And, for a nominal fee (which I paid), at the completion of the course one can get some sort of official certificate. I figured, why not? It was only $39, or thereabouts. But if you have no interest in the certificate, the course is free.

    And what I love about it, among other things, is that the teacher is a native speaker. There is no such guarantee with Memrise, Duolingo, or the rest. It’s not unusual to find errors on those sites. I use both of them, as well as a few others, but there are no guarantees as to the qualifications of the person putting the course together. Not so with Wellesley.

    I highly recommend edx.

  • anders bolinder

    memrise is a great secondary language learning resource, i use it alot, but ive tried the premium subscription but it didnt boost my language learning so i used the 30 day money back guarantee. its worth a try for you, you can always use the money back guarantee if youre not saticfied.

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