If you want to learn a foreign language, all it takes is downloading the right mobile app. Whether you want to study French, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese, or Swahili, there is an app for you. But how do you know which one is the best?
In this post, we are comparing two very popular language learning apps: Memrise and Duolingo. These two apps both have very high user reviews. They both have a large number of language courses on offer, too. Memrise requires a subscription, while Duolingo is free all the way through. The merits of the apps should not be based on just their cost though. For this reason, we are using the following set of criteria:
For us to be able to examine both apps from an even perspective, we will set a few limits. First, we will look at how they teach French. This is because the French course, along with Spanish and German, is what most language learning platforms have in common. Second, we will be looking only at the apps’ Lesson 1. While apps do follow different paths, they tend to start from the same point. This way, we will see their similarities more than their differences.
That said, let’s begin.
Both Memrise and Duolingo are great for beginners. They do a good job at introducing new words and phrases. The tests are reasonable, easy, and clearly designed to aid in retention. You can also access them from multiple devices, even your computer. This means you can comfortably study the course at home or on the go.
Memrise and Duolingo do not look too different either. They both use similar colors (red, greens, and blues) spread out over a plain, white background. Both apps capture the eyes and look great for young learners. However, Memrise’s design appears cleaner and enables better focus, which makes it superior to Duolingo’s in my opinion.
Memrise is also easier to operate. Its buttons are bigger than Duolingo’s, so you tend to commit fewer mistakes. You also don’t need multiple taps to move to the next page. Because of these, Memrise wins in this area.
Both Memrise and Duolingo use studio-recorded audio to show how words are pronounced. That’s as far as their similarities go.
Duolingo gives you speech exercises near the end of Lesson 1. They give you words you need to pronounce. Their voice recognition feature determines if you spoke the given word properly or not. This exercise familiarizes you with how the words roll on your tongue, which is great especially if you are not used to sounds that are specific to certain languages, such as the French’s infamous “r.”
Memrise, on the other hand, offers short videos of actual people pronouncing the words. If you want to know how words are spoken in the real world, this feature will answer a lot of questions. There was a time when I could not repeat the recorded audio’s version of “bonne nuit.” The short video fixed that for me.
Given the above, I’m declaring this area a tie.
In terms of vocabulary, I feel as though Duolingo does a better job at teaching more words. If your goal is to learn as many French words as you can, I would recommend choosing the app. Memrise doesn’t fall very far behind though.
Neither Duolingo nor Memrise offers much in terms of grammar. Both apps are more focused on teaching you the words and what they mean. However, Duolingo does tackle how verbs vary depending on context, albeit not very deeply. This is a very important aspect of French grammar, so Duolingo definitely wins in this area.
Repetition is key to ensuring that learners remember what you teach them. Both Duolingo and Memrise perform excellently in this regard. Words and phrases will be repeated to you several times over the course of the lessons. Tests vary to ensure that you not only recall the word but that you also understand it. In Duolingo’s case, the words may be repeated even after you have moved on to more advanced topics.
However, Duolingo wins this round because of its generous use of images. Humans are naturally visual creatures, so pictures play a great role in learning and recall. Duolingo’s lessons use plenty of images which learners freely associate with the word. Memrise uses so-called mems—images that show puns of the word, instead of depictions. The problem is that it can disrupt your focus on what you are studying. Oftentimes, I opted to not view the mems at all. If you hate puns, I would recommend you do the same.
Both Duolingo and Memrise use a “gamified” format. This means that the interface and mechanics are similar to that of video games. You even win rewards whenever you answer questions correctly or finish lessons. This does a good job at keeping your enthusiasm high. It also keeps you glued to the app for long.
They even take this approach further by permitting you to compete with your friends. Duolingo allows you to compare your score with your friends. Memrise does the same and even displays the best scores in a scoreboard, just so you know where you stand.
This area is a tie.
Memrise requires you to pay for a subscription for the entire experience. You do get a free trial which is more extensive than what other platforms offer. If you are after basic French, this free trial should be good enough to get you by. As you advance through the trial and obtain achievements, you may also unlock discounts and other freebies.
Duolingo is free. Enough said. The app gives you rewards in the form of in-game currency as you advance through the lessons. You can use your credits to buy new features. Essentially, you are studying free and getting paid for it, too. However, take note that because it is a free app, it comes with lots of ads.
I don’t see ads as much of a problem, so I think Duolingo wins this round.
There really aren’t many differences between Duolingo and Memrise. The experience isn’t too far apart. If you want a less quirky app and you don’t mind paying, then Memrise could be for you. But if you want freebies, look no further than Duolingo.
While Memrise and Duolingo are two of the best apps to learn foreign languages, they are plenty more available in the market with different teaching methods (live tutors, flash cards, online games…etc.). Check our Language Learning page: some of the solutions listed there will surprise you!
Text by RJ
Photo by Andrew Robles