Learn Chinese with 'Mems' that Create Vivid, Sensory Memories
Memrise Chinese is a fun, community-oriented (i.e. 'social') and - gasp! - scientific way to learn Chinese online.
The idea behind the interface is a merging of science, technology, methodology and community that helps increase your ability to effectively memorize and retain new information.
Oh, and it's totally free! At least for the time being. Hopefully this will still be true when you read this article. They do offer a $10/month upgrade which gives you more in-depth reporting and customization of your learning experience (see more on this below).
What are 'mems' and why use them?
Memrise is based on some honest-to-goodness Chinese learning science. It combines principles of memory association for better retention ('encoding', see below), spaced repetition for reinforcement, fun for internal motivation and peer interaction for external motivation. (There's much more to it which you can read about below and on their website, but that's the bare bones.)
In order to combine these learning and memorization aids in one online environment, Memrise uses 'mems' to "form vivid, sensory memories". These are, in the words of their creators, "the morsels of interesting and relevant information you see beneath every word on Memrise."
Mems can take the form of mnemonics, etymologies, videos, photos, example sentences or anything else that aids you in connecting what you're learning with something memorable and, thus, bringing it to life. (Spiritually-enhanced Chinese learning anyone? ;)
So by making what you're learning far more entertaining and rich, you enhance the speed of acquisition and length of retention.
A bit about 'encoding' and your brain.
All the memories in your brain are interconnected, and when you can more easily relate a new concept to something already lodged somewhere in the depths of your noggen, you are able to 'encode' (relate or associate) this information faster as well as retain it longer. All this boils down to faster and better Chinese learning.
Coreographed testing and scheduled reminders.
Two additional goodies supplied for free in the Memrise learning system are regular testing and ideally-timed repetition.
If your brain is a muscle and you're an learning athlete, the more you exercise the stronger your memories get. Thus, regular testing for memory retention is a great way to flex this muscle and be sure that, in key moments of real need, you can recall the Chinese word or phrase you require.
There are specific times at which it is best to go over and remind yourself of words and phrases you've learned. If you manage to continously do this at the right times, you will get the best results (increase of memory strength) and be able take the Chinese knowledge with you for longer.
The Memrise system handily takes care of both of these things for you, allowing you to focus on the subject matter at hand without the need to structure everything on your own.
Internal and external Chinese learning motivations.
Many people suffer from a lack of motivation when learning. There are two basic motivational factors for pretty much any endeavor: internal and external.
Internal motivation is something you inevitably have to come up with on your own, but a fun learning process goes a long way to scraping together the energy to start the (preferably daily) process, and Memrise aims to make Chinese learning fun.
External motivation comes from outside factors, and the mempals you schmooze with on Memrise are a good bet for getting your competitive juices flowing, as well as giving you a group of online peers with whom to share and learn from.
So you're not alone out there, and engaging with a community of fellow Chinese learners is a great way to boost your internal and external motivations.
Contribute by submitting your own Chinese courses and mems.
Another social aspect of Memrise is the ability to share your own courses and mems with the community. If you've come across particularly helpful vocabulary lists, travel phrases, business & technical jargon, etc, on your Chinese language journey, sharing with the community allows others to reap the benefits of your success. There are loads of users contributing courses to the system, thereby expanding the material available for everyone.
Adding more mems to the system helps provide others with more nifty ways to better memorize Chinese language material.
You can build up a reputation in the community by submitting courses and mems that become popular with fellow learners.
The free Memrise app for iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and Android includes Chinese.
All the goodness of Memrise is available on your mobile devices. Just search for Memrise in the iTunes Store, on Google Play and in the Amazon Store. This is a great way to take your Chinese learning on the go and make otherwise idle time into productive learning sessions.
Learn all levels of HSK vocabulary for free.
All the Mandarin Chinese HSK (Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi) vocabulary you need to pass the test is available for free!
Upgrade to Memrise Premium
For $10/month, you can upgrade to Memrise Premium to enjoy more in-depth reports, self-experiments and more for improved performance. The idea is to help you tap into a richer data set and algorithms that "let you become a more focused learner".
What Memrise is not: a complete Chinese course.
Memrise is not a one-stop Chinese learning system. It is a great way to enhance learning and memorization (particularly of vocabulary and phrases), but it is not a guided system that takes you from A to Z.
That said, it is a fabulous and free resource to accompany a fully-fledged Chinese course such as ChineseClass101.
Beyond just Chinese learning.
Chinese, the focus of this article, is only one of many topics you can study at Memrise.com. Additional topics include many other foreign languages as well as Arts & Literature, Maths & Science, History & Geography, Memory Training, Professional & Career Topics, Standardized Tests, Trivia, Entertainment and more.
Final notes on this free Chinese learning website.
Memrise.com is not only free, it's also beautifully-designed, fast and quickly growing in popularity. The more it grows, the more courses and mems are made available to everyone.
Many courses have been created in and for other languages, and you can find these easily using the site navigation.
It's possible to sort courses by popularity, allowing you to narrow down which ones have been the most useful for other learners.