What I learned (and wish I knew) in a year of Memrise

So, in honor of me reaching a 365 days streak of constant everyday study on Memrise (been using it for 3 years, but not daily) , I thought I’ll share with you my experience with the website and language learning as a whole; also want to establish some do’s and don’ts that I consider are important to boost your learning a little bit.

First off, I’m going to say it right now. Yes, you need to study or at least review everyday . Every SRS-type system is made in such a way that skipping a day can set you back ages ago, and thus you lose momentum. With that out of the way, let’s begin :

1. Make your own course and stick to it like glue
On both Anki and Memrise there’s this “quick way out” of learning from pre-made courses. While that’s not inherently bad, it creates the notion that all you need to get fluent is already out there, which is not the case.
Take for instance the very simple Japanese verb 違う which means “to differ”. A lot of people (myself included) just leave it as that in their courses, but some of you might be aware that it also carries the meaning of “that’s not it”. Things like this one get lost in translation because there’s not always a one-to-one correspondence, but if you make your own course you have the freedom to give 違う any meaning you like.

2. Be skeptical of A-Z courses and topic-based courses
I have nothing against this type of courses, believe me. In fact, I recently studied from such a course for Italian (https://www.memrise.com/course/1415384/5000-most-frequent-italian-words-audio/). But it just sounds a bit monotone to learn 100 words that start with A, then move on to B. As a very respected polyglot called Steve Kaufmann points out “The brain requires novelty” , if the information is interesting and diverse, you’ll be more engaged which in turn means you learn faster. The key to absorbing vocabulary faster is to be as engaged as you possibly can (for this, I also suggest meditation for those who are interested in getting even more focused when studying).

3. Go straight to native-like content as soon as possible
This might sound a bit harsh of me, but think about it. Ever heard of that one guy who went to China and in 2 years spoke flawless Mandarin? How did he do it? Well, he was forced to. He listened and read Mandarin on a daily basis, 24/7. This is what you eventually, as you get decent in a language, have to do. If there is a better reviewing method than spaced repetition, that would be constant immersion; just getting bombarded with words you either know or you don’t (those you DO know get essentially “reset” kind of like how Memrise resets the date for a word you got right/wrong). You might think “This is too tough for me. I am not ready for native material yet” , but you’ll never truly be ready… I know I’m not ready for complex novels like 重力ピエロ in Japanese, that doesn’t mean I won’t read it.

4. Combine tip #1 and #3 and you’re good to go
Remember that course I advised you to make? Ok, now go read something in your target language and make an entry for every word you don’t know, bonus points of you also take your time to make an example sentence. This is basically called “sentence mining” and it combats what I discussed in tip #2 , that being artificial and tedious studying. Moreover, this is your experience and your course which will make it that less likely to forget the words you add into that list.

5. Have fun and try to one-up yourself everytime
So, there’s this guy I never heard about before called Gabriel Wyner who did a TedTalk last year (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iBMfg4WkKL8) and he talked about a lot of things but one of them stood out to me; the fact that he “cheated language”. He did a very stupid thing, cheating on a placement test in French. He didn’t know, however, that he’ll also be interviewed in 3 months’ time. Luckily, 3 months were more than enough to get him from basic French to advanced thanks to peer-pressure. What I want to highlight here is that, whether we like to admit or not, procrastination is a big part of most of us and to counter that we need to be pressured.

I’m not saying you should cheat on a test, that would be stupid. What I’m saying is that you should make yourself look better than you actually are. Tell your friends “My French is great, I’m basically fluent right now” even though the only thing you know is “Bonjour”. Positive thinking is a very real thing, if you tell yourself and everyone around you “I’m fluent” you will be fluent someday because it’s expected of you to be fluent.

And with this, I conclude my very lengthy post. For some of you these stuff might seem obvious, but as I know there are constantly new (and old) members who get overwhelmed by their target language, this might be somewhat helpful. Some of these tips are the very foundation of a method called AJATT which I personally recommend if you are a fellow lang-addict like myself.

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This is what I have done and I can tell it really helps. Usually I group the words, and put each month (or 2 weeks if I have too many) in one level. Inside the month I group the by meaning or context - whatever creates for me the most meaningful associations. I also put them first in Excell, and have one column ‘Note’ where I note the context or sentence where I found the word.

One of the contexts I got the words from was an instant messenger. The vocabulary is usually quite limited - often the same topics. So after a month or so I was able to read 80% of the messages. Of course, when people start talking something very specific, such as a specific illness or hospital treatment, I was lost, but that was the minority of the conversations.

If you wanted to learn English, you could do easily with this forum - start with a conversation with shorter messages, and learn the words you don’t know from the first post. You’ll find that you will be able to understand the next one easier, though that one will have again other new words. Learn those too and so on.

Thanks, Adrian @LangAddict, for your very good suggestions and sharing of experiences!

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