I’d want to feature a web service I’ve come across recently that I’m fast beginning to find outrageously useful. It’s called Memrise.
Memrise is a webapp devoted to helping you learn things. Languages, mostly, but I believe other large knowledge sets are available, not just vocabulary… It aims to do this in a way which is free, novel enough to keep you entertained, and powerful. Not many other language software packages offer all of those things, on- or offline, and Memrise even manages to do it with a very pretty interface.
I’ll talk through the basic concept, using the example of someone who’s looking to learn a set of basic Japanese vocab. We’ll call this person Steve (Hai-oohhhh! See Borderlands 2 trailers…). So, Steve goes onto Memrise. He clicks login, and is allowed to do so with Facebook one-click login. He can also register manually with Memrise independently if he wants to/doesn’t use Facebook.
Steve then finds himself a course – there are loads to choose from; he just has to click Japanese in the list of languages and he has a great choice – he chooses a basic vocab course. And this is where we get to the meat of Memrise; now Steve’s enrolled on this course, he is presented with his ‘gardens’.
The garden concept is the kernel of how Memrise organises your learning, and it works in stages;
1) New words that you are taught are represented as newly planted seeds.
2) Once you’ve been taught them, you have a couple of initial tests on a word; at first, easier recognition tests such as choosing the correct English from a list for a given Japanese word you’ve been taught before. Once you complete a couple of these for a word, it moves on to become a sprout. You can find it in your greenhouse :)
3) The greenhouse is the place for all the words which you’ve been taught, and have demonstrated the ability to bring back from your short-term memory. The sprouts each have a little graphic that tells you how far along they are on the way to being harvested.
4) When you’ve shown that you’re getting to grips with a word by repeated testing (which increases in difficulty the longer you’ve known the word, to make sure you recall it fully), it’s fully grown and harvestable. When a word can be harvested, you have a window of time in which to harvest it before it wilts and goes back down to sprouty levels. Harvesting consists of another test of your knowledge of the word.
5) Harvested words are moved to your garden, which represents your long term memory. Periodically, words in your garden have need of watering – refreshing your memory with a couple of tests – or they go back down to sprouts and you have to prove you know them again.
It’s a gimmicky but effective way of enforcing the principle that you should learn a word, and practice recognition and later recollection after increasingly long intervals for the best retention. Along the way, you’re offered fun mnemonics suggested by other members for each word, and you can choose the one that best helps you remember it, or suggest your own.
If you’ve ever wanted to get into the beginnings of a new language, or are already an intermediate user of one, you’ll know that one of the biggest walls is building your vocabulary. This service lets you practise and learn new words in short, effective sessions that you can fit in around the other things you do, maybe in a work break or while you’re waiting for the kettle to boil. You know, if you like tea enough that waiting for the kettle to boil represents a frequent, regular time slot in your day.
I’m using it, and finding it way preferable to other systems like basic flashcard apps, or more advanced online language-learning courses. My rating; many stars!