Learning Languages – Duolingo vs. Memrise

I’ve been learning languages since early ages, and always liked to fiddle with them. My main problem was the lack of practice, but I’ve found two sites that help. There are many other sites to learn and practice languages (FluentU is another one focused or listening to videos), but if you plan on taking a new language or some new skill, I’ll focus only on Duolingo and Memrise for this post. I’ve subscribed to Duolingo a few months ago (learning and improving several languages), and to Memrise roughly a month ago (took 5 classes of various languages and topics).

Both sites are based on community contributions and they are free (Memrise has a paying offer, but I’ll cover only the free stuff).

The base for Duolingo to release any new language is for a group of people to create a new course, follow a very well though structure on the site, which is then validated, goes to beta stage and is then fully released. This can take months, but the result is a very structured and homogeneous site – you’ll go through basically the same steps for any language you want to learn, even though every language has its own customization.

As for Memrise, anyone can post some new course, there is no unified structure, but topics can also vary from “learning a full language” to “learning a specific aspect of the basics of a language”.

This makes both sites very different, but equally valuable.

Let’s have a comparison table of the different features:

Aspect

Duolingo

Memrise

Goals

Good to learn a language from scratch, sentences and grammar are included

Good to learn vocabulary but will not help with the grammar.

Seriousness of the site

More professional. Better overall coherence even if the audio quality is not always great.

More amateur – sometimes really amateur. Audio is most of the times from different sources and different qualities (and volumes).

Variety of the offer

Limited number of languages (even though it is growing).

A lot of choice – but different qualities

Levels

Offers a test to place your current level and thus you can start directly from your level. It is approximate but quite relevant from my experience.

You can choose from different levels, but it is difficult to know if the level will really suit you.

Fast track

It is possible to fast track some lessons if you’re comfortable with them.

Need to go through all the vocabulary, no fast-track.

Flexibility

Very flexible on typos and accents.

Also very flexible on the different vocabulary or word order in the sentences as long as it is correct, vacation and holiday are both accepted (even if British people report that it is mostly US English).

Not flexible at all – must be an exact match (can be a problem in some languages if you don’t have the correct keyboard).

Not flexible about other vocabulary. Vacation is not holiday.

Learning means

Learning from both writing, hearing (audio) and seeing (pictures).

Generally only one means (writing).

Memorizing and extra information

No mems included, you have to imagine them yourself. Very valuable comments on every sentence from the community, greatly enriching the experience.

Mems are a good idea, but some of them are not helpful (I find 2 out of 3 are helpful). No possibility of discussing every word/idiom/sentence to ask questions to the community. You’re left with the dry words.

Feedback

Feedback can be given directly at each sentence (missing answers, mistakes, wrong audio, etc.).

No feedback built-in within the course.

Deep memorizing and smart recalling of memories

Not so precise about what you memorize, you can get away with not knowing the vocabulary, no real repetition unless you trigger some training, but this training doesn’t focus on the exact words you don’t know, it only focuses on categories (it will strengthen “food” but you may have forgotten how to say “apple” if it wasn’t in the test).

It is also possible to get tooltips with the mouse on every word, so you may be “lazier” and not try to recall the words from your memory.

Makes sure that every term is in memory and focuses only on the most difficult ones, thus less repetition and more focused learning. Has a nice “blooming flower” representation for deep rooted memories.

No tooltips at hand, what you type is directly from your memory.

Time pressure

No time pressure.

Pretty intense time pressure (esp. for slow typers and when you’re learning a new keyboard layout).

Interface and playfulness

Has a more playful and reward-based interface. The overall site also generally shows very good humor.

A little “dry”, quite similar to “flashcards”.

Daily effort

Each lesson can be from 5 to 10 minutes. The daily streak is counted for the sum of your efforts in all languages. Therefore you can change your focus every day if you want to.

It is also possible to greatly lower the streak (if you don’t have time etc.).

The streak is counted for each of the languages/themes so you have to do them all. The basic streak is quite intensive if you take on several courses like me.

Specialization

Not possible – you learn a language in all its diversity

Can be either general or specific depending on the course (for instance reading a menu in Chinese: focused on ideograms, no pronunciation or audio altogether, and focused on food)

Extended training

Offers material to exercise and translate when reaching a certain level

No extras – but you can most certainly find more advanced levels for whatever you’re learning

Android app

Quite similar to the website.

Similar to the website, but also offers the possibility of having a quick exercise where you need to recall your memories as fast as possible.

Found some few bugs (typically ideograms not fully showing).

Similarity between courses (only when learning different languages simultaneously)

When learning languages, risk of mixing up because you learn the same vocabulary at the same levels.

No similarity – no risk of mixing up

So to sum up, Duolingo offers a fun interface for you to learn or improve a language, focused on sentences and grammar, with a great community that will help you understand the subtleties (and sometimes the basics that you couldn’t get by yourself!) of a language – but that’s only if they offer the language you want to learn. Memrise has a very broad but heterogeneous offer, focused on flashcards (generally vocabulary or simple idioms), very smart on which memories need recalling, you will never leave with not knowing one word.

Edit: for those of you who are really serious about learning a language, you can actually combine these two sites. Memrise has several “xxx language Duolingo vocabulary”, that way you can learn and deeply root the vocabulary in your memory using Memrise, and use this vocabulary in context using Duolingo.

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2 thoughts on “Learning Languages – Duolingo vs. Memrise

    1. Yes, that’s true. On the other hand, it’s a pity that we can’t fix some of the problems in some lessons by ourselves, especially when the creator of the course is not active anymore. And their android app has some serious problems, lately.

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