So I have been using both Memrise and DuoLingo for over a year now to learn Spanish and thought it would be fun to compare the two. I’ve used DuoLingo longer and have recently finished the entire Spanish track.
What are they? Memrise is an online memorization tool. It uses flashcards, mnemonics, and spaced repetition to help memorize things. I think anybody can create a course and the courses vary from all sorts of topics, not just languages. I use it mainly for Spanish. DuoLingo is a language learning tool presented in a gamified way, complete with leaderboards, trophies, unlocking levels, and points.
Let’s try to compare them over various criteria randomly chosen from my brain.
Design – Winner: DuoLingo
They are both nicely designed actually, but DuoLingo is absolutely beautiful. It plays out so much like a video game, or journey of sorts that you can really tell they put a lot of thought into. Memrise, on the other hand, while still nice looking, isn’t quite as polished as DuoLingo. That isn’t to knock Memrise, though, because I can’t think of many websites or apps quite as polished as DuoLingo. It really is tops for design.
Usability – Winner: DuoLingo
Slight edge here, but the controls on DuoLingo are just slightly more intuitive. You press Enter or number keys or hover over words and DuoLingo just responds exactly the way you’d want it to respond. Colors change and sounds are triggered appropriately if you do something right versus wrong in both programs. If you get something right, things turn green and you hear pleasant sounds. Things go wrong, and things turn red. With Memrise, you don’t quite have the flexibility in controls like you do in DuoLingo, in my opinion. It’s hard to explain, but sometimes you are forced to use the mouse only in certain exercises versus being able to use the keyboard, too. With DuoLingo, it is a more consistent experience.
Effectiveness – Tie
Tough to tell. Memrise is simply memorizing words and phrases, with little helpful mnemonics to help you better understand whatever you are trying to memorize. DuoLingo, on the other hand, has a larger focus on the traditional way of learning languges, with nouns and verbs and sentences and all of that fun stuff. It’s hard to tell if one is better than the other, but I will say that without a doubt they complement each other very, very well. Many times I’ll be doing a lesson in DuoLingo and know words I have already memorized from Memrise, thus helping with my understanding of the lesson.
Fun – Winner: Memrise
Memrise is just more fun, period. Because when you are done “planting”, aka doing a lesson, there isn’t a pass or fail. You get a message, some stats and a percentage of how accurate you were, and you can’t fail and are never forced to do the lesson again. You just simply get more practice on the words and phrases you struggled with during your next “planting” session. And when you are ready to “water the plants”, aka refresh lessons, you conveniently get more practice on the words you struggled with, and less so on the words you breezed through. With DuoLingo, not so much. I can’t even tell you how many times I cursed at the screen because I’d accidently spelled a word incorrectly, thus losing a heart. Three hearts is all you get, and then you fail and have to start over. So many times I was on the very last stage of a lesson with zero hearts left, only to fail because of something silly. You ever play a video game and are right at the end only to get stymied? You know how frustrating that is, right? Well DuoLingo is like that x1000. They have recently improved the three hearts rule by letting you fix your mistakes in a stage, thus only removing half a heart, but it is still nowhere near as fun as Memrise. This one isn’t even close.
Replayability – Winner: Memrise
Now that I am done the Spanish track on DuoLingo, I’m not sure what to do. I still do the daily practice, and I try to do the timed practice and fail miserably, but aside from that and the real life translations, there isn’t much to do except for try and pick up another language (which I don’t want to do as I still haven’t even gotten Spanish yet). Memrise, on the other hand, has so much material on Spanish alone it is staggering. I won’t be done with it anytime soon. I recall reading something recently about DuoLingo opening up their platform to allow others to contribute courses as well, so their limited language courses/materials might change in the future.
Innovation – Winner: DuoLingo
Overall, I think DuoLingo is moving at a quicker pace than Memrise. They both have mobile apps, but DuoLingo keeps rolling out features like crazy. DuoLingo is actually really cool, because it not only helps you learn Spanish but it also helps translate real articles and websites into different languages. That’s the innovation from DuoLingo: take an article from the interweb, let 100 people try to translate it into a different language, if they can come to an agreement with a certain amount of accuracy, chances are the translation is pretty good. Genius! Memrise also has a pretty innovative approach. Take a word as a flashcard and add a mnemonic to it. Let anybody add a mnemonic, thus you have a crowdsourced version of flashcards. I have found that looping through various user submitted mnemonics helps reinforce words quite well. Anyway, I’m rambling. Bottom line, DuoLingo now has courses, practice – both regular and timed, immersion of real world articles, forum discussions, and vocabulary practice, and they keep on coming. Memrise still goes with the flashcard and spacing approach, but they are mixing it up a little bit with different ways to interact and answer questions.
Overall – Winner: Memrise
Fun and replayability go a long way. Despite many of DuoLingo’s advantages, I still much prefer Memrise to DuoLingo. With DuoLingo, some days I actually don’t want to do anything on it, but never with Memrise. I almost always look forward to plant and water in Memrise. However, there are some things I absolutely hate about Memrise. For example, the word for car has many alternatives in Spanish (like 3 or 4 that I have run into so far). Well the answer it is expecting is only 1 (or 2, at best). So even though you are right, it isn’t the answer Memrise is expecting and you get the question wrong, wtf!! Super annoying, but at least you get to keep playing unlike DuoLingo which fails you and forces you to start over if you run out of hearts.
So which should you choose? Well, none, if language learning isn’t your thing. But if you have the time, and like free, and prefer to learn at your own pace, then do both. Like I said earlier, they complement each other quite while. It does take a little bit of dedication and consistent practice, though. Dabblers beware, you’re just wasting your time if you can’t get into a routine with them. Also, I definitely wouldn’t say that either of these programs are the best way to learn a language. There are paid alternatives such as Pilmsleur and Rosetta Stone, as well. Are they more effective? Perhaps, but again they do require some dedication. I still think the best way to learn a language is total immersion – that is, move to the country that speaks the language, and only speak that language and not your native tongue (I have never done this so this is a very light opinion). However, for practicality purposes, I think that DuoLingo and Memrise are very attractive choices.