Self-Study Language Learning App: MEMRISE

One of my goals this year is to improve my Korean vocabulary, and so I was ecstatic when I found out about a language learning app that will help me achieve that goal. That app is called Memrise. A month ago or so, I decided to download it and give it a try. It is accessible through web and mobile (free on iOS and Android) based platforms.

Starting to learn a new language is done essentially through memorization. The main concept for Memrise is that everyone’s memory is like a garden that is cultivated by continuously planting seeds and tending to them so that each seed grows and blooms into a flower. Memrise uses flashcard/spaced repetition approach for memory building and it ties the garden concept in the graphics and interface of the program. According to their website, there are 2 phases for memory building – “Learning New Words” and “Review of Long-Term Memory”. Once a memory is “planted”, it is necessary to make repetitions to review and strengthen this memory, just like a garden needs water and tender loving care to keep flourishing.

Various flashcard decks for all levels of learners are available to download through the app. This app is not exclusively for Korean language learning, and there are dozens of languages to choose from. So to start, one should pick the language to study, then select a course/deck. Korean 1 by Memrise contains flashcards for single letters and basic words and expressions, and is ideal for absolute beginners. Korean 2 and Korean 3 are available for continuing your studies after the beginner level. Other decks designed for specific topics, ie. Hangeul, TOPIK, Common Words, etc., are also available.

I was thrilled to find the “500 Basic Korean Verbs” deck containing words from the book of the same title by Kyubyong Park. A few years ago, I bought this book at a BMV store in Toronto and I have been using it as a reference book ever since. If you want a new copy of this book, it is sold in most Chapters/Indigo bookstores or online. The book contains 500 basic and useful verbs, and each page shows one verb, its meaning, and then a full page for the conjugation guide.

The 500 Basic Korean Verbs Memrise deck contain 15 levels but none of the levels provide conjugations. That’s fine because I think flashcard is not the approach for learning how to conjugate anyway. If I’m curious about a verb and its conjugation, I consult the book itself.

Screenshots: 1 - Choosing a language; 2 - Choosing a Course; 3 – 6 sections or learning modes
Screenshots: 1 – Choosing a language; 2 – Choosing a Course; 3 – 6 sections or learning modes


There are 6 sections or learning modes. I’ll give a brief summary of each one below.

Learn New Words (planting new memories)

Screenshots of 3 sample new words (from 500 Basic Korean Verbs).
Screenshots of 3 sample new words (from 500 Basic Korean Verbs).

For this section, each new word is shown written in Hangeul on the top left corner of the page. Below each word is the English meaning, as well as a short pronunciation audio clip. Sometimes, the part of speech, ie. action verb, noun, adjective,  is also shown, but since the deck is all about verbs, this part is redundant and other pages do not show it anymore.

“Mems” are important part of Memrise flashcards, and they are found in the center yellow box for each new word. A mem could be a mnemonic, a picture, or a quick tip. Mems are mostly contributed by the user community, and it aim to aid the learner in retaining the new word in his/her memory.

The icon at the top right corner shows a hand holding a seed, to symbolize planting new memories. The speaker/audio icon can be clicked anytime to repeat the pronunciation.

Classic Review (strengthening fading memories)

We all know about 2-sided flashcards, since we’ve all probably encountered them during our school days. But I admit that I just learned through this app that computer-based flashcards can be made into “3-sided flashcards” by adding an audio component. Instead of just having 2 visual sides (Q/A), each flashcard is composed in this manner: Q/A,A* or Q,Q*/A, where Q* or A* is an audio clip of the question or answer. These audio clips make it easier for learners to pick up the true and correct pronunciation of the words they are learning.

In Review mode, the flashcards are mostly Q/A,A* in form. The learner reads the given word/s (question) and then selects an answer. Once the correct answer is selected, then the computer repeats the answer in Korean.

Screenshot: 3 question types in Classic Review, 1 – type the Korean word using the given syllables, 2 – select the correct Korean word, 3 – Select the correct audio clip
Screenshot: 3 question types in Classic Review, 1 – Type the Korean word using the given syllables, 2 – Select the correct Korean word, 3 – Select the correct audio clip

Listening Skills (PRO)

There are listening skill questions like the ones below that pop up here and there during the Review Mode. But if you select to go Pro (and pay an additional fee), you can practice your listening skills as much as you want. For the screenshots below, I was able to get them through a trial session (after I completed a certain level). I still did not make a purchase as I think it is unnecessary, since there are a lot of audio clips throughout all the sections in this deck.

Screenshots of Listening Skills questions
Screenshots of Listening Skills questions

Speed Review (game mode)

The Speed Review is a time-pressured quiz set and I must say it’s really fun! I actually look forward to the Speed questions because it trains my brain to think fast and read faster. I think a lot of beginner learners have trouble reading a word without slowly reading the syllables one by one. This section is a fun way to develop not only memory but one’s reading skill too!

Screenshot of Speed Review. I can't get more screenshots because I can't pause the timer. :)
Screenshot of Speed Review. I can’t get more screenshots because I can’t pause the timer. 🙂

Immersion Mode and My Difficult Words are 2 sections in the app that are only available for Pro-users. I am only enjoying the free sections at this time, so I can’t comment on these parts.

Screenshot: My progress so far…
Screenshot: My progress so far…

Final Thoughts

As of now, I have “mastered” or memorized 107 out of 500 verbs. At anytime, I can go back to the main page and click on the course name and it will show a summary of my progress. I can also take a peek into future lessons (still in grey).

A few more good features that this app has are:

  • The Daily Goal setting, where you can select the number of words to master (5 words, 15 words, or 30 words).
  • The Scheduled Reminders. The app will automatically ask the user to set these features in order for the app to be effective. I appreciate this a lot because it keeps me on track and reminds me not to be lazy.

As of Level 7, I noticed there are not a lot of descriptive verbs (adjectives) included in the decks. I am hoping that I will find them in later levels.

To supplement the learning from this app, I still recommend studying the conjugation from the “500 Basic Korean Verbs” book and also write sentences using the verbs.

“500 Basic Korean Verbs” by Kyubyong Park
“500 Basic Korean Verbs” by Kyubyong Park

4 thoughts on “Self-Study Language Learning App: MEMRISE

  • August 9, 2016 at 12:18 pm

    I’ve been using Memrise Pro for a while now and find it to be really great for helping learn. I’ve been really happy to find extensive lessons for both Ehwa Korean and How to Study Korean,and Integrated Korean which are some of the main self-study tools I’m using. The difficult words section just keeps track of words you’ve had particular difficulty with and provides some extra drilling on them. The Immersion Mode is only available in limited languages at the moment. Korean isn’t one of the currently published immersions or listed as being in the next upcoming batch. The Pro version adds a few features but even the free version is fantastic for improving your knowledge!

    • August 9, 2016 at 4:09 pm

      Hi Lynn, I had a feeling that Memrise is an effective tool. I’m glad that you have such a positive experience using it. Once I finish the 500 verbs deck, I’ll check out the Ehwa Korean, How to Study, and Integrated Korean too. I don’t think I’ll go Pro though. If you like, you can follow me – my user is noreennoreen. It’s funny because I didn’t realize you can add friends on it, until I visited the website. I guess it will be more motivational if I have some friends to catch up to. 🙂

      • August 9, 2016 at 4:38 pm

        Sounds great! I’ve followed you on Memrise! You should give me some motivation to work on my words. I’ve been a bit off and on while taking courses over the summer and have been trying to get back to regular use. 😀

  • August 15, 2016 at 4:21 pm

    Wow this app has changed a lot since the last time I’ve used it a few months ago! Time to use it again!

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