It seems that every year brings a new language learning app, bringing just another source of angst for language learners, new and old alike. Every time I start (or start over!) learning a language, I feel an overwhelming urge to spend hours researching every app… which, of course, just serves to derail my learning before I even start! So in order to save YOU some time and FOMO, I decided to tell you which app I keep coming back to, to help you make a choice quickly.
The best free language learning app is Memrise. It has been given an average rating of 4.8 by over 177k users in the app stores, and has over 60 millions users. It offers a combination of proprietary and community generated language courses. Even only using the flashcards in the free version, you will have access to vocabulary that can take your language level from absolute beginner to a solid B1 level. Use the app to its fullest potential on a regular basis to complete the proprietary language courseas the basis for your learning, and you will be well on your way with any language.
So what makes Memrise the best?
- Memrise Teaches Useful Language
- Several Popular Languages… and more
- Choose Your Own Level
- Community Created Content
- Complete Language Courses
- Full Access – No Paywall
- The Paid Version Truly Adds Value
Memrise Teaches Useful Language
With the language courses that have been prepared by Memrise themselves, there is an emphasis on language that is immediately useable. Unlike certain Green Owls that like to teach such sentences as “The dog makes pancakes and fried eggs for the man in the morning“, Memrise vocabulary is comprised of words and sentences you will be keen to use early on in your language journey. Like most other programmes, the vocabulary is presented in themes, and it builds on previous learning. At first simple words and phrases are introduced, and later it moves more into phrases and sentences.
In addition, with the community contributed content (more on this below), there are many ‘specialty’ courses available, with vocabulary sets for specific themes.
Several Popular Languages… and more
Memrise has designed and produced language learning courses of up to B1 level for the following languages..
- Chinese (Simplified)
- Spanish (Mexican)
- Spanish (Spain)
They have also developed partial courses for these languages:
- Japanese (no script)
- Portuguese (Brazil)
- Portuguese (Portugal)
And these are just the languages using English as a source language. If you wish to, you can study English, French, German, Spanish, Turkish and others from Arabic; English, Spanish, German, Japanese and others from French; English, Spanish, German, Chinese and Japanese from Korean; and many other combinations.
On top of these Memrise developed courses, there are hundreds of community created content for numerous other languages, making Memrise one of the most comprehensive language learning opportunities available.
Choose Your Own Level
Memrise makes it possible to start at any level within any course, and progress from there. This makes it fantastic for false beginners, who typically find when they start with a new app or program, they have to trawl through vocabulary they already know. With Memrise, you can ‘fast forward’ to a more appropriate stage; and if you find that you have overestimated your abilities, you can simply go back to an earlier level at any time. Or you can simply pick and choose from the different topics (levels) within a course.
Community Created Content
Memrise has opened its platform to the general public, to allow them to create and deliver their own course content using the Memrise servers. Do you simply want to learn the Russian vocabulary for colours? There is community created course for that. Are you into learning vocabulary by frequency lists? You can do that too.
HINT: The community courses are not viewable from inside the app - however, if you go to the web interface and enrol in a course from there, it will become viewable in the app!
One caveat is that there are no guarantees regarding the quality of community created content, nor the accuracy. Memrise takes no responsibility for supervising the community created courses, so you might want to check some of it. However, as it is all free, it isn’t like you are losing anything by trying it… except a little time, perhaps.
Of course, this means that you, too, can create a course. Do you have a particular set of vocabulary that you want to create flashcards for? Perhaps the Memrise platform will work for you, and it means others can also benefit. (However, be warned – the platform is a little clunky to use, and sometimes if you make a mistake it is simply easier to completely delete that set of informaton and re-enter it.)
Complete Language Courses
Each Memrise proprietary-written programme can be a complete language course in itself, if used to its full potential. Each language programme is comprised of seven courses, further broken down into around 21 levels. Courses 1-3 roughly cover level A1; courses 4-5 are roughly A2; and courses 6-7 are roughly level B1.
In addition to learning new words and phrases with the flashcards, the free version of Memrise also allows you to practise words that you have been finding difficult, to review the whole level, and to do a speed review to test your recall. It also gives you the opportunity to immerse yourself in the sound of the language with an audio-only section.
There are opportunities at each level to develop your reading, writing (typing), listening and even speaking skills (if you choose to imitate the audio tracks). Of course, you will learn far more if you take the information you learn in the app, and play with it away from the app – for example, making up new sentences in an exercise book.
While Memrise doesn’t provide the capability to download vocab lists directly from the website, there is a site called “Memrise Scraper” (use at your own risk – last time I visited it, the SSL certificate was not valid) where you can enter the URL of the course you want to download, and it will return the file. It will also give you an option to download a recently generated file, if the course hasn’t been updated for a while.
Full Access – No Paywall
The free version of Memrise offers complete access to all their courses. There is no ‘one week trial’ or ‘first level free’ and then having to pay for the rest. If you want to, you can enrol in any or all of their courses, and complete them all – free. There are a couple of features missing, but providing you have access to the internet, you will not be prevented from completing a course.
Nevertheless, you may choose to upgrade to the paid version… why, you ask?
The Paid Version Truly Adds Value
It might seem strange to include this as a benefit of a free language learning app, but the fact that Memrise has allowed free access to complete courses might make you question why you would bother to pay for the app at all. Well I do – and it is totally worth it.
For a small monthly, annual, or lifetime subscription, you can have access to extra content for every Memrise created course. The prices vary a little, depending upon your location and the format you choose to subscribe with (iPhone, Android, or web), but generally they are quite competitive with other ‘premium’ levels apps such as Duolingo Pro and Babbel.
For a fairly minimal investment, you get these extra features within the Memrise created courses:
Download to Use Offline
By upgrading to the paid version, you can download the courses to your device so that you don’t need an internet connection to learn.
In this day and age of 4G/5G and wifi in cafes, you might wonder if it is needed. But there are always times you are out of range, and countries that still have expensive data plans. By downloading the course, you will minimise data usage if you have a restricted plan, have access while flying or in black spots … and even camping in the middle of nowhere!
Native Speaker Content
Memrise collected videos of native speakers saying over 10,000 words and phrases for each of their proprietary language courses. The contributors covered all demographics, from children to grandparents, and everything in between, from a variety of regions for each language. They have integrated these video dictionaries into their courses, so that you hear how the words, phrases and sentences actually sound in real life. The result is a natural immersion experience without ever leaving the comfort of your lounge room!
I have found this particularly useful while learning Spanish, as it gave me exposure to the Andalucian accent (the ‘difficult’ accent of Spanish) before I arrived in Sevilla.
Dedicated Listening Skills Activities
The paid version of Memrise has listening activities that immerse you in the language, and do not provide the ‘hints’ that having written language can.
These listening activities are included in the general flashcards as well, but in the immersion activities you can CHOOSE to practise with audio only, refining your auditory comprehension.
AI Pronunciation Assistant
If you want to get some feedback on your pronunciation, the paid version has an AI voice recognition facility to help with this. As with all AI voice recognition, the technology is still being refined, and it is possible to speak quite badly and have the AI tell you that you’re good… but this will only get better.
All in all, I prefer Memrise to the other apps that are available for language learning. And for quite a long time, I only used the free version.
In the end it was the ability to download courses that prompted me to pay for the app — and quite honestly, a desire to give back to the app designers.
The decision to deliver ALL the course content for free, and to open the platform to the general public for the generation of even more content, created a great deal of goodwill. So I wanted to reciprocate.
However, there is no need, especially when you first start to use the app.