Duolingo vs Memrise: Do You Speak Apps?
Learning languages is cool. Few things can compare to the pleasure of chatting about strange things with strangers in strange places (yet, great burgers can). Languages are the department where robots will never beat us, and I stand by this statement. But what they can do is help us learn better and more.
In my two years of struggle against Mandarin, apps were of great help, and automated services have always struggled with correct translations. Let’s have a look at the two stiff competitors in language learning - Duolingo and Memrise.
The two apps are very different at their very core.
The First Look
Memrise is very thorough in its desire to force you to get every word, every tiny bit of the sound right. This is not exactly a bad feature, but it may be discouraging to beginner users who find it hard to persist. Getting away? Not anymore you won’t.
Duolingo is trying to gamify the learning process and appears more casual and less mnemonic than Memrise. The rules of engagement aren’t that strict and overall it would be easier to start with Duolingo if you’re not a complete beginner. The app lets you test your level, so if you’re any good you can skip a level or two.
Both apps prompt you to create a daily goal that you’ll have to reach. There are three tiers in Memrise are 1.500 pts (5 minutes daily), 6.000 pts (15 minutes) and 20.000 (45) minutes respectively. Duolingo goes straightforward and strangely doesn’t include points: the four levels are casual (5 minutes a day), regular (10 minutes), serious (15 min daily) and insane (20 minutes respectively). There’s nothing insane about 20 a day spent studying, but it just sounds cooler, right?
One can say that Duolingo is more useful when learning the language from scratch as you’ll practice sentences and grammar, which is different from Memrise. With the latter, you’ll build a strong vocabulary, but that’s it - no grammar or sentence building.
Memrise treats the learning process as growing a tree from the seed - you plant new memories, grow them, water them and reap the crop. No matter what you call it, it’s akin to flashcards - you’ll be subjected to browsing them almost endlessly, and it sure does help - at least with Mandarin, where the characters are nothing like you’re used to.
Duolingo doesn’t offer Chinese, which actually surprised me a lot, but it does include options like Turkish for speakers of English. Memrise offers a wider choice, but not all of the languages available are crafted up to a high standard.
Duolingo is very flexible on different kinds of typos, accents, but not word order when you complete sentences from word blocks. With this app, you can take your time as there’s no pressure to give the correct answer in time.
For Memrise, it’s hard to be flexible given its flashcard-based nature. To score, you have to be 100% correct, which is not a bad thing per se, but where a person would understand you the app wouldn’t. Also, you have to provide the answer within a tight timeframe - usually 15 seconds. It’s pushy, but effective.
Duolingo doesn’t rate deep memorization as your top priority. You can pass with not knowing certain words with pure context guessing. The app focuses on categories and general knowledge, not specific items. Also, you can get tips from every word so it’s easy to weasel through with lax rules like this.
On the other hand, Memrise sticks to its name and focuses on deep, almost rote memorization. The words you miss or get wrong will come back to haunt you a thousand times after. The next time you’ll see the word you’ll hate it, but you won’t forget it. Such words will give you a blooming flower.
The Bottom Line
Both apps are similar and different at the same time.
Duolingo offers a fun, almost childish interface. The app is focused on grammar and sentences, and you can rely on the help of a broad community.
Memrise has a wider choice of languages, a broader selection of levels, forces you with flashcards and you will never finish a level without getting all the words right.
My choice? I’m combining the two, with Mandarin in Memrise and Spanish in Duolingo.