Memrise and Duolingo are two of the biggest names in language learning.
I’ve written extensively on both of these platforms over the years, and used them to varying degrees in most of my language missions (especially Memrise).
The userbase is huge, and this is primarily due to the fact that both services are offered for free, although there are now paid/premium options which I’ll explain the details of in a moment.
It was recently reported that Duolingo alone has a worth of $1.5 billion, and Memrise, although nowhere near this value, continues to receive tens of millions in outside investments.
This would indicate that the companies are still trending in a good direction.
People everywhere still use and rely on them to learn languages.
But what’s the difference between Memrise and Duolingo?
How do they compare?
Well, they’re not really competitors (in the same way that Babbel and Duolingo are, for instance).
Memrise and Duolingo are two totally different tools that compliment each other rather than compete.
It’s like comparing apples to oranges.
But if I had to choose one of these resources for learning a language, I’d definitely stick with Memrise over Duolingo.
I’ll explain why below (skip to the comparison if you want).
What is Memrise?
Although Memrise is known as language learning tool, it’s actually more accurate to describe it as a general memory trainer or interactive flashcard program.
In addition to foreign languages, you can find courses on there for other study topics, like history, entertainment, maths, science and more.
The company was founded by Ed Cooke and Greg Detre, two experts on memory and neuroscience, who sought to gamify flashcards (take what would otherwise be a boring, monotonous activity and make it fun).
It’s hugely addictive.
It’s done through a mneumonic technique of associating the word or phrases with a memory anchor of some kind (e.g. the Arabic word for “door” is “bab”, so you might have an image of a ‘bab’y trying to open a door).
The general concept is: you select a course or “deck”, which is made up of words or phrases accompanied by audio, images and now video, and as you progress through the deck, you’re ‘watering plants’.
These plants grow but they require constant study in order to keep them growing/grown.
Something deeply satisfying about keeping your plants all watered! 💧 🌳
The platform is made up of content put together by Memrise and the much larger ‘community decks’, which are courses that anybody can make and contribute for free.
Of course, this means that course quality varies considerably (some are excellent and some are frankly rubbish).
You’ll also find that some decks include media (audio and video), whereas others are just text.
Memrise → Decks → Back to Memrise
Just a quick note on this.
A while back, Memrise announced that it was branching off and creating a separate site called “Decks”.
Their goal was to separate the community-created content from their premium, paid membership which would reside on the primary domain. I talked about this in a video where I explained how to download Memrise decks:
Well, it didn’t last long.
The Memrise userbase weren’t happy with the changes, so Memrise ended up scrapping the idea and returning to the original model (with a Premium option).
Just in case you were wondering where Decks went. 😄
What is Duolingo?
Duolingo is a gamified linear course with a heavy focus on grammar.
Very similar to Babbel.
After choosing your language, you progress through a learning path where you’re expected to complete highly repetitive translation and fill-in-the-blanks tasks to win achievements and progress on to the next level.
Course content is created by an army of volunteers and community contributors.
Like Memrise, Duolingo is also highly addictive but offers a much more constrained learning direction as you can only progress in one direction.
Duolingo was founded by the same guy who invented reCAPTCHA and originally had a business model based on selling user-generated translations (as you completed lessons, those submissions were then sold to major companies).
They’ve since moved away from that model and now offer a Premium service, like Memrise.
Comparing Memrise Pro with Duolingo Plus
Memrise Pro pricing: €8.99 a month, €5.83 a month (annual payment), €139.99 lifetime
Duolingo Plus pricing: $6.99 a month
For an inexpensive monthly fee, this gives you:
- No ads (their ads aren’t bad anyway)
- Progress tracking (literally just a percentage indicator)
- Offline access (who’s ever offline these days?)
- Streak repair (cheat mode)
- Unlimited hearts (also cheat mode)
This slightly higher price gives you:
- “Learn With Locals” feature (thousands of short videos of native speakers)
- Grammar (app only)
- Pronunciation (speech recognition testing)
- Listening skills feature (listen and select the correct answer)
- Speed review (gamified review of learned words)
The frustrating part about Memrise Pro is that not all Pro features work on the web app. Only mobile. These features are also restricted to Memrise content only (not on community decks).
Without doubt, paying for Memrise is a much smarter investment than Duolingo.
I see no good reason to pay for Duolingo other than to support the company.
Memrise actually provide content and additional features that enhance learning, whereas Duolingo is basically selling the removal of ads, and some absurd ‘cheat mode’ features that are actually encouraging bad behavior in a sense.
However, even though Memrise offers more value for money, I don’t see a need to pay for either service personally.
They both offer enough value with their free content - especially Memrise.
Alternatives to Memrise and Duolingo
I’ve talked at length before about Duolingo and Babbel which is without doubt their primary competitor.
Babbel is basically a more professional, comprehensive version of Duolingo (albeit with less languages). It’s also designed and created by linguists and experts, rather than crowd-sourced.
For Memrise, Anki is excellent and completely free/open source (but no gamification).
Clozemaster is another addictive option for those wanting the gamified app experience (but it’s quite different in its aims to Memrise).
Memrise vs Duolingo: There’s definitely more long-term value in Memrise in my opinion
As I’ve already said, these are totally different products with unique aims.
So it’s hard to say “this one’s better”.
But in terms of long-term usefulness and value, I would hands down pick Memrise over Duolingo.
It’s an excellent tool for learning vocabulary and whole lexical chunks, and offers a totally flexible supplement for your learning (at every level).
Memrise’s paid version actually gives you some value for money, whereas Duolingo’s does not.
Used Duolingo and Memrise before?
Which tool do you find more useful?