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Want to memorize foreign language vocabulary? memrise.com

The Chinese characters for "Hong Kong".

Image via Wikipedia

I have been absolutely addicted. A week ago Thursday I discovered a new site. It was an article over at the makezine blog talking about the benefits of learning mandarin for what they do. I’ve always been intrigued by mandarin – I remember learning a bit of cantonese in Hong Kong and have a short book on chinese symbols. I must admit a lifelong fascination with languages (there’s the study new languages site, my how to learn spanish for beginners site and my onlineradiotv.com site which each have highlights of my interest in languages and the great exposure to other languages that the internet can bring. Anyway…. I’ve used a flash card program for a long time to work on vocabulary (mnemosyne) – I have around 10,000 spanish cards right now – a bunch of french (200) and italian (400) and german (6000+) cards as well. I’ve cracked the book a bit on chinese, but not much. So, one of the resource sites they mentioned was memrise.com


First off, let me say, this has been a busy week for memrise – after the mention in makezine which had them swamped with traffic, there was a mention on the Kim Komando show which swamped them with traffic and so…. at times this week, their site has been painfully slow. That much said, most of the time this week it’s been okay enough to work with.

Bilingual signs in Brussels.

Image via Wikipedia

So, what’s there? Basically, they have several languages that they (or their users) have created word lists for. You can edit word lists, add sounds, videos, mems (which might be mnemonics or other ways to help remember a word). Words can have pronunciation attached as well. So, I started by diving into the french list that I found of 200 basic french words.

Their analogy to memorizing words is “planting seeds”. So, you start by being introduced (7 words at a time) to your new words, and get multiple choice questions to identify them after their initial presentation. After a certain period of time these seeds will be ready to harvest (to move from a potted plant into the garden in their analogy.) After they have been harvested and are in the garden, regular watering keeps the memory from wilting. As you are more familiar with words, you will find the multiple choice entries progress to type in the blank entries. I’ve been impressed at how forgiving the type in the blank entries can be (missing diacritics work out just fine – typing a instead of á or n instead of ñ both are passable.) Some may not like this permissiveness, I think it makes the bar a bit lower (easier) for just anyone to sit down and try to learn without having to figure out keyboard mappings or copy/paste from character maps.

The other thing to note is that you have a fixed time limit to answer the questions – typically it varies based on the length of the word. You also get points for your answers 20 points for correct multiple choice, 50 for correct type in the blank and sometimes you’ll get points for being “close”. They have daily/weekly and all time ratings for site members (I’ve made it to #26 in one week!) At this point in time I’ve jumped in feet first to the russian alphabet (already learned it, but could use brushing up – this was something I needed a keymap to deal with.) the greek alphabet – I was always fuzzy on a few of those, morse code (yes, I already know it but it could use brushing up.) spanish, french, italian, german, swedish and mandarin comprehensive wordlists…. along with a few others. Yes… I’m ambitious I guess. So, in one week I’ve seen 1412 words on their site and racked up 353,759 points – expanded my vocabulary a bit in spanish – I found a two or three words I hadn’t run into before, expanded quite a bit of my italian, french and german vocabularies, learned my first 14 words in swedish and have got over 250 chinese characters (and pronunciations) under my belt.

It’s been very addictive as you can see. If I were planning a trip, maybe I would be a bit more focused and could add word lists of my choosing here.

So, how does it compare to mnemosyne which is what I’ve used in the past for word lists? Quite favorably. I’m still using mnemosyne and the one thing that it has going for it a website will not easily beat – SPEED. I can go through 60 words to review in mnemosyne in 5 minutes give or take. On the memrise site, it takes quite a bit longer to get through that many. They do plan to give a dashboard view showing all the items needing watering at a glance, currently you have to go to each list you have and then see what items are “wilting”…. All in all, the competitive and collaborative aspects of memrise.com make it a great option for learning vocabulary (or really any other list of information – I saw one list of world capitals for instance.)

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Posted by on July 15, 2011.

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Categories: General Web/Tech

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