I’ve been using the Menrise site for about a week.  I started using it as part of a pragram to learn Korean in order to learn vocabulary.  Overall, I think it’s pretty good.  However, there are some drawbacks, as you can find with any system.

Since it requires typing many answers, the site is not ideal for those who don’t have mastery of the keyboard.  Of course, if you want to master the keyboard, you certainly are going to get a lot of practice.  Korean, for me, is certainly helping me familiarize myself with the Korean keyboard again.  I had somewhat learned it a few years ago.  But I definitely have gotten a better mastery of it having to type all the words with Korean script.

I will say that having to type Korean is a definite advantage over romanized methods.   Some people may not think this in the beginning, especially those who have come from Chinese study with pinyin or from romanized Japanese study or study of one of the south Asia languages with ornate scripts.  But, unlike Chinese or Japanese, Korean is alphabetical, so the writing is also the sounding.  Of course, in Korean, you’d be hard-pressed to find two people who pronounce things absolutely the same way, so it does get a little confusing if you listen to the word and then try to write it correctly.  But, romanizing doesn’t really make this any easier.  You pretty much have to learn the spellings by rote anyway.  But, then, you really have to do that with English, given so many origins with different spelling schemes.  (Why isn’t it “skeem, skeme, skeam or skime?)  Since you must learn these spellings anyway, might as well do it in Korean script.  I’m assuming you’re learning it because you want to go there some day and somewhat fit it, or at least you want to follow Kpop and have some clue as to what’s being said.  In any case, you’re going to want to be able to read it anyway, so might as well start from the beginning to make it second nature.

On the other hand, this is one drawback of Memrise for pictographic languages such as Chinese.  You can’t practice writing the characters.  This doesn’t sound like such a big deal, and it isn’t if all you ever hope to do is read a simple news article.  But writing is really the best way to know that you really know something.  Charcters are often quite similar and you can easily confuse them at quick glance if you haven’t drawn them and known them intimately.  Take, for example, 我 and 找.  The difference between them is one small stroke.  The first, “wo”, means “I’ and one of the most common words used.  The second, “zhao”, means “search”.  I have often been reading along and mistaken the second for the first.  Then I look in vain for a verb, since I’ve mistaken the verb for the subject.  I don’t know that one should have to practice writing 10,000 characters.  But it’s a good idea to practice enough to get the idea of how they are formed.

Another problem, of course, it that not all Chinese writing styles are so easy to read.  I think the fact that two different styles are used in the particular Chinese program I am working on in Memrise is a good thing, because it forces me to pay closer attention to the strokes.  Ideally, someone would come up with a way to teach recognition of freehand characters.  All of what I find in learning books amounts to the English equivalent of type-written.  Just as I can’t read some handwriting of English speakers without difficulty, so I am really lost trying to read Chinese scribble.

As I said, I originally went to Memrise to work on Korean vocabulary.  But the site offers a host of language learning programs, plus many other programs from science and mathematics to geography and history.  I haven’t tried many of them yet, but they do look intriguing.  Since one of my stated goals is to learn everything about everything and then go on Jeopardy and win $2.5 million like Ken Jennings, this may be the prefect place for me to train for my goal.

Two things that help on Memrise are the ability to chart your progress and the competitive incentives.  It takes a little getting used to, but, once you understand how a learning program is set up, it’s easy to customize your program to your tastes and track you your progress.  It’s also easy to see your development overall and to measure yourself against others, but in each specific learning program and in Memrise overall.  And, of course, if you are super-competitive like me, you KNOW you have to get up that leader board and show everyone who’s boss.  Yeah!  Take that, Gordon23!  I just owned you!  Ahem, well, I mean, you’re just coming in here for your own growth, not trying to compare yourself to others, right?

I think it’s hard for grownups to find learning fun.  Making it like a game is the way to reach children and to help them want to learn.  It can work for us old people, too.  It’s hard to let go of being an adult.  Even what I learn for pleasure I have to justify as some advancement of my professional life.  Otherwise, it’s hard start anything.   But, maybe, just maybe, I can spend some time in Memrise, learn something just for fun, and feel a little like a kid again.  And, unlike Farmville and Candyland, there is a real payoff at the end in a skill you can use outside the virtual world.  In the meantime, I’m coming for you,  Membassador Gordon23!


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