Thursday, November 10, 2011

Memrise: Slick, Free, and Super-Addictive Language Learning Site

For me, the biggest challenge in learning a language is the vocabulary. I tend to pick up grammatical patterns fairly quickly, but gathering enough words to express myself is a bit of a struggle. 

Recently, I've been trying to overcome this through some flashcard apps on my iPhone, which have helped me make better use of those scattered moments of downtime you have in the course of a day. However, these flashcard apps have one major weakness: there is no mechanism for encouraging you to practice words you've already learned, so that by the time you get to lesson 5, lesson 1 has started to fade.

Enter Memrise, a simple, well-designed, and addictive website-slash-dictionary-slash-social-network-slash-mini-game for language learners. The basic premise of Memrise is very familiar: take a word list, learn the words, move through progressively harder quiz questions on the words. What Memrise adds, however, is an odd little gardening game in which each word starts as a seed, grows into a plant as you practice it, and starts to wither if you haven't practiced for a while (at which point the site sends you an e-mail message, and prioritizes that word in your randomly generated quizzes). 

Basically, it's a stripped-down Farmville for language learners, harnessing the mindless addiction of such games in order to keep you coming back to your flashcards. There are some problems with the Japanese section of the site, which is still in beta: some questions don't recognize kanji in addition to hiragana, and the timer is a bit too short for frequent switching between hiragana and katakana, which requires some quick mouse work in Windows 7. Overall, though, the site is pretty effective - I blew a good 90 minutes on the site last night!

So thanks to our MUN advisor colleagues in Seoul last week, who showed us the site - and thanks to Nana, who kept mercilessly bugging me until I gave Memrise a try.

Today's Lesson

私は 日本語を 勉強しています。
わたしは にほんごうを べんきょうしています。
watashi-wa nihon-go-o ben-kyou sh(i)tay-imasu.
I (subj.) japan-language study do am.
"I am studying Japanese."

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