I started using Memrise probably about seven years ago in 2015, two years after the Beta was released. I had previously tried Anki because everyone used it, but never got along with the tricky, unintuative UI. So Memrise was perfect for me! It had a really nice UI, was super easy to create flashcards in Excel and upload them, and had a great SRS program. The level-up system was pointless as it capped out after two years at level 15, but that didn’t matter so much.
But in recent years, probably since about 2018, Memrise has done everything it can to move away from being a great SRS program for custom learning (a good alternative from Anki) to being an invasive, useless software that no longer helps users learn in a way that works best for them.
Poorly Designed Languages Courses (at least for Japanese)
First of all, when you sign up to Memrise now you pick what language you want to learn then are automatically signed up to the first level of Memrise’s homebrewed courses. Which would be fine…if they were any good.
I can at least comment on Japanese which in Level 0 gives you a horrible mish-mash of polite and causal speak mixed in with hiragana without any context for what you’re learning. Then you moved onto Level 1 which throws the learner straight into kanji, again without context or explanation.
Memrise’s courses are made for people to learn how to speak the language if they visited the country by remembering phrases. (Which kanji makes even more difficult!) But memorizing phrases isn’t good enough to learn the language fluently. (Any casual learning looking to learn phrases will just buy a phrase book.)
Most people actually use Memrise to learn how to use Japanese so they can use it. Which means learning vocabulary, grammar, and kanji together. Like me, most people used it for the user created courses and their own courses which they could use to memorize information in the long run. You know, everything Memrise promised seven years ago–effective memorization.
Actively Hiding User Created Courses
The reason I started using Memrise was to help people learn Japanese in a way I wish I had learned it. That’s why the first thing I made was the Hiragana Through Vocabulary course.
It was a great hit! Clearly people were interested in learning Japanese that way too. I then made more courses for beginner vocabulary and kanji. I eventually ran out of steam/time to make new courses for intermediate levels, but seeing how my courses helped people made me incredibly happy.
However, you wouldn’t know my courses existed unless you already knew what to look for. Memrise changed their programming so a) you’d be signed up to their Japanese course instantly; b) their courses would appear before user created ones, even if the user created ones were more popular; and c) made it impossible to search for new courses (that aren’t Memrise made) on the app.
A large portion of people who use Memrise use the application and they probably have no idea that there is some amazing user created content out there! And not just mine! I used loads of courses made by other people over the years.
Then came “Decks”. Or almost came Decks.
In 2019 Memrise announced they were going to split the user created content onto a different platform from Memrise called Decks. Everyone who used Memrise to create and used the user-made courses pushed back to say what a terrible idea that was. I was also especially vocal, because it felt like a huge slap in the face to the people who had used Memrise for so long.
However, I almost wish they had created a separate service now because then maybe new users would actually be able to find user-created courses. Because now they feel even more hidden than ever.
Changing the SRS Algorithm
I don’t know when it was but there was a point where I noticed the quality of the SRS efficiency had dropped.
When I started using Memrise they really pushed their SRS algorithm and if you got a card/question wrong it did a great job of making sure you went over it a number of times before it was filtered back into the deck. Then it would come up again later.
But I guess people didn’t like this system and it eventually shifted to limited exposure even if you got the question wrong. This really made it hard (at least for me) to memorize information in the long run.
It didn’t help when they removed their mnemonics feature either.
Removing “Mems” (The Notes Feature)
Another thing I loved about Memrise was their Mems feature. It basically allowed you to create personalized notes for individual flashcards, or use ones made by other people. They encouraged the creation of mnemonics and other memory-aiding techniques.
But in 2021 I noticed the Mems feature had been completely removed! Memrise released a clunky update that removed Mems and made the website UI larger to be used on phones (even though you’re automatically sent to the App when you try to open Memrise website on your phone…)
Another nail in the coffin.
Changed the Website UI and Forces You to Download the App
They recently changed the UI for the website, making all the buttons and icons incredibly large and clunky. This would be great if you needed to open the website on your phone, but you can’t open the website on your phone. At least not easily.
Instead the website forces you to open the app if you have it or install it if you don’t. Very annoying if I want to find new courses not made by Memrise!
This has been an issue for a number of years, but I often used the website anyway. That is, until the ugly UI to this…
Invasive, Unskippable, Long Ads on the App
I went back to Memrise this year to review some vocabulary, updated my app (because I hadn’t in a while) and started studying. And I like to learn 5 new words at a time (even though the app keeps automatically switching to 7 – a bug that hasn’t been fixed for years now.)
I finished learning 5 words and get a five second unskippable advert. Huh. They have ads now. Okay. I learn another 5 another and get another five second unkippable advert.
I’m fine with apps using ads, but not when they get in the way of my experience using the app. Being forced to stop every minute for five seconds of ads was annoying and instantly made me close the app and leave a bad review on Google. Memrise’s response was “you can pay a subscription to remove the ads!”.
Dropped Memrise and Moved to Anki
So that was it. After seven years of loyalty to Memrise I downloaded Anki and looked up YouTube videos on how to use it.
Anki is still annoying (to me) and I’m still getting used to it, but I’ve already noticed a massive difference in my retention for vocabulary and kanji.
The flexible customization allows me to easily adjust cards to help me learn (like how Mems used to do), and the SRS system that clearly shows the time between each study session really helps me mold my learning to suit my poor memory.
I’ve only been using Anki for a week but am really enjoying it!
Will Japanese Talk Online Courses Move to Anki?
This is a question I’m still asking myself. I’d love to create some courses of the more popular ones on Memrise (kana, vocab, kanji, and grammar) but it’s also a lot of work that I don’t have time for right now.
I need to check my old excels for mistakes that were corrected on Memrise. Need to make sure all the audio files I have work. Then add them individually to Anki (unless there’s a way to bulk upload – I’m still working this out myself.)
But I also have a full-time job, am studying two languages, writing for four websites (including this one), mentoring, and trying to read at least four books a month. So my free time is pretty limited.
I will not delete the jtalkonline.com courses that are already on Memrise, I don’t want to punish people or disrupt their learning.
I really wished Memrise had seen value in what they had, but I guess they wanted to be the next Dulingo (which is also not great for Japanese study) and no longer create a system that actually helped long-term learning.