The most frustrating part of learning Chinese (or any language) is that we really have few ways of telling how we am progressing. Test and quizzes are great, but I am in it for the long haul. I don't want to memorize just for test. Also, aside from the frequent "不错" from my Chinese friends, getting regular feedback on my progress was non existent. Sure my teachers are awesome, but outside the classroom...retention and recognition is a major problem(and I live in China). 

In comes Memrise, a tracking and feedback tool of sorts. Before using Memrise, retention and recognition was really a lot of work. Teacher introduces new word...we repeat twice...learn a bit of grammar...repeat word/phrase once more then "下课了“... class over.  If you attend class in China, there is good chance that this process includes about 20-30 characters/words a day. Five days a week. Feel me? 

We all have our favorite "办法” methods for learning, but I am a computer geek through and through so I prefer using computer-based tools. With that in mind, instead of creating 3x5 cards I decided to upload/input words from the day's lessons and spend about 30 mins reviewing the new words each day.  Great.. right?!! But what about previous lessons? I think this is where Memrise sets itself apart from other tools... its unique method for generating reminders to study old words as well as new words. 

That being said, I think there are three missing feature/benefits in the system. First, it doesn't allow to much flexibility with definitions. As we all know, some words are open to interpretation. Second, sample phrases are not included, so to really understand how to use new and old words, you will need to supplement your vocabulary study with another tool. And finally, its not truly mobile. Sure you can access using the web using your mobile device, but in this case a supplementary offline tool would be a great addition. As of this writing, updates for these missing features/benefits are in the works.

Overall, using this tool, I believe I am off to a good start with my new year's goals - resolutions (i hate using "resolution" but it is what it is).  If you are they are...

1. 2500 characters learned by Dec 15th 2012..(about 600 to date)

2. 10 min daily chinese conversation.

3. 1 idiom per month

4. 1 chinese song before the new year

I am using Memrise almost everyday now; usually spending about hour each session. Still not quite sure how it works(just glad it does), but I think I have found a system/tool for retaining new and old words. If you are looking to track progress for the new year, using this tool can be a good way to start.

Are you using Memrise to learn?  What do you think of it?  Or what other tools do you like?

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Comment by tom12ga on March 18, 2012 at 3:44pm

@ Mats & Marcus:

Brandon was kind enough to push my question from Facebook.  While I realize that Memrise may still be a bit buggy, I find them to be responsive to the easy fixes and open to the ones that are somewhat developer intensive.

Another friend of mine (in Poland) is pushing Supermemo, which I had used many years ago, but supposedly now has a new desktop interface.  Are you excited by any other tools, even if they are still in Beta?  (I'm really looking for an excuse to jump to a pad, apple or otherwise.)

Comment by Marcus Davis on March 18, 2012 at 9:54am

@brandon...i still use memrise...'though lately it has become more of a periodic measuring stick. I'd say I use it about four to five times  a week; depending upon how busy I am. 

@Mats. you are so right about the bugs in the systems(slow connection, iphone sync). it is part of the reason I don't use it daily. I like the distillation method you suggested. It seems especially useful for remembering how to write characters.  Thanks for the tip!

Comment by Mats Fredholm on March 18, 2012 at 2:51am

Howdy, I have used memrise since Dec last year when I started mandarin studies from scratch. Now I have started getting tired of the bugs and waiting times every time you want to 'water plants' etc, so I'm not sure if I will continue, we'll see.

Meanwhile I have just started another method called the gold list method, it is very hands on so to say as you write down characters in a journal, come back after 2 weeks and 'distill' out the 20-30% you know and write down the ones to keep again, then come back after 2 weeks etc. Here are information: and

Comment by Brandon on March 17, 2012 at 9:47am

Hey Marcus - Tom over on the Facebook page is wondering what your opinion is of Memrise, 2 months later?  Still using it?  Still liking it?

Comment by Dennis Meade on January 12, 2012 at 2:04am

I'm sorry. I misread: "Also, Heisig made the mistake of largely copying his Japanese Kanji book for this". I didn't imply that you said Heisig was the only author of the book. It was in support of the fact that it wasn't just a rewrite.

Apparently I read a different introduction to the book which explains the ordering. The ordering is in support of speed of memorization. How the book works and how it is to be used is explained up front so if one doesn't like the approach use another.

Comment by Judith Meyer on January 11, 2012 at 10:18pm

I should add I'm in no way affiliated with Matthews or any other author of a book on Chinese.

Comment by Judith Meyer on January 11, 2012 at 10:15pm

Dennis, please don't put words into my mouth. I never said that Heisig wrote the Chinese book alone, nor that it's a copy of the Kanji book, he did modify it a bit, just not enough. My criticism is that his book does not consider character frequency to determine the order of introduction, so that beginners have to study the entire first book before finally knowing all the characters they need for lesson 1 of their textbook.

For example, the character for "I" is the 588th character you learn with Heisig. The character for "you" is #799. "to be" is #394. And the question particle ma is #1455. Show me a single textbook that doesn't use "ma" in the very first lessons. Instead, Heisig chooses to teach characters like "convex" (#32), "soap" (#36) and "dynasty" (#49) early on, and these are not recurring basic elements either.

Matthews' "Learning Chinese Characters" uses a similar approach as Heisig, also teaching students to recognize the basic elements within the characters and to combine them into ever more complex characters. Here's how he does on the same characters: "I" is #32, "you" #51, "to be" #30, question particle "ma" #45. By contrast, "convex" is missing entirely (not part of the HSK A) and "dynasty" is #723, where it actually makes sense.

Comment by Shu on January 11, 2012 at 9:48am

If you have troubles recognizing and remembering Chinese characters, you are welcome to check out

memory aid and mnemonics to learn Chinese characters.

Comment by Shu on January 9, 2012 at 10:29am

The discussion is very interesting today:)  I told my students the key to remember the characters is to paint an image in their minds. For example, the character 秋 qiu1 (autumn) is made of two radicals 禾he2(crops)  and火 huo3 (fire). Think of the flaming autumn leave changing and the harvesting of the crops. Beautiful images right? All of those images point to the season of autumn.

In short, find a way to learn Chinese character creatively and meaningfully. The approach might vary, but as long as you can remember them well, it would be the best way for you.

Have fun writing Chinese characters.....

Comment by Dennis Meade on January 9, 2012 at 9:48am

A lot of people do not like the book and unfortunately their criticism is usually uninformed.  Judith makes a number of criticisms that are inaccurate.  Heisig did not write the book alone and it is NOT a copy of the Kanji book. Timothy  A. Richardson became interested in the methods used in the Kanji book and based his doctoral dissertation on a Chinese version of the book that he wrote based on the 1,000  most frequently used Chinese characters..

Richardson was so happy with the result that he wrote to Heisig suggesting a collaboration on a complete set of books which Heisig accepted. The next stage was to select the characters to be included. The large majority of the 3,000 characters in the two books are among the 3,000 most frequently used Chinese characters.

The fact that in using the book you will encounter less frequently used characters among the 3,000 chosen is because the method for memorizing the characters is based on primitives ( not radicals although some correspond to radicals).  Characters are built up out of these primitives as they appear and characters themselves become primitives. So the ordering of the characters is determined by the primitives and  not frequency. The primitives are ordered this way to ease memorization.

The primitives in each character are used to create stories that relate to a keyword or the meaning of the character.  The stories are to be visualized which accounts for the speed of memorization. I'm sure many people have had the experience of looking at a character, thinking that they remember it, and finding they've forgotten it a minute later.  The visualized stories seem to stick once they are memorized.

Another reason why the book is not just a copy of the Kanji book is that these stories had to be edited in terms of the Chinese characters.

Opinion follows:

 So ideally you should  go through much of the first book before you really get into learning words and pronunciations. Learning words and pronunciations will go much faster afterword. If you you put your mind to it,  you can memorize the 1,500 characters in the first book in about a month and a half.

At any rate an excerpt from the Book which explains the method  and touches on Judith's other criticisms such as why no pinyin can be obtained here:

Remembering Hanzi web site

Or the excerpt for Traditional Hanzi is here

Finally the book will work for some and not for others, but at least it should be judged based on its own terms. Then again I'm using the book and think it works very well. We''l see in a month or two.

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