There's a website called memrise for memorizing English words form various English books, like 504 essential words, 3500 for GRE, etc (I don't know you're familiar with or not). I want to broaden my English words domain, however I'm in doubt whether its approach for memorizing and subsequently the ability for using them in real speaking or writing, is a good approach or not. If you're already not familiar with this website I'll shortly introduce its manner for memorizing words.

It divided a bunch of words in the form of a couple of lessons. Once a user get done with one lesson, it enforce he/she to review words in a smart manner (at least for me), in such a way that harder words appear in review session in more frequently than easier ones. Another point that should be said is it does not provide examples or phrases for new words, It only provides new words along with its meanings.

Now, my question would be whether this approach for memorizing English words is good or not? In more general view, an approach for memorizing words that only confine users to words and their meanings and in the other side doesn’t provide sample sentences which that word is used in, is good or not?

Because I've heard never memorize words without their usage in sentences, so I'm now a little unwilling to use memrise service.

Any help would be appreciated, thanks in advance

  • 3
    In general, I would think that a combination—memorizing definitions and then practicing using the words in the context of sentences—would be more effective. I followed the link to memrise; though it's free, I chose not to join, so I can't comment on their particular method. Feb 24 '15 at 8:14
  • Memorizing sets of words for written recognition (such as the GRE) will not translate into real life speaking. Even if you learn new vocabulary in sentences, this is the case - except for the exact sentence you may have memorized. In other words, you may be able to go around speaking the sentence you memorized a word in. Applying it to speaking in real world contexts takes much more than memorization.
    – user6951
    Feb 24 '15 at 19:05

According to research by Paul Nation, a renowned linguist, the best way to memorize words in any language is to learn in real context. You will soon forget what you've memorized by merely repeating their definitions. If you're not well motivated, stop using memrise or any software that are designed to "boost your memory." Instead, get some reading materials that contain the words you need to learn, and start to understand their meaning in context.

You may also want to study basic etymology. Each year, contestants of the national spelling bee will have long lists of words to remember. Most of them will take a course on etymology, because that helps them quickly figure out both the spelling and meaning of the words.

If you decide to take an online course for that, consider magoosh.com. This website provides test preparation materials for the GRE which is helpful to improve your score. The company also has mobile apps for both iPhone and Android.


Instead of memorizing words - a pupil method that actually is inefficient - I would try reading books that interest you and learning to study the vocabulary. You should document your vocabulary work so that you can repeat it if need be. Memorizing words is strenuous and the brain soon is exhausted because the words are a hodge-podge and have no connection with each other. Reading a book can be fascinating and studing the vocabulary as well if you make notes. You can do such work for long hours without tiring. And you test your mastering of the vocabulary not by reading your notes but by re-reading the passages in the book. That is by far more efficient than any memorizing method some people want to sell you.

  • I think, though, for memorizing words for a specific task, such as a text, such methods as bulk flashcards (or an electronic version such as memrise) is effective. Long term memory, though? Definitely what you suggest is better. Because one is learning in a meaningful real world context.
    – user6951
    Feb 24 '15 at 20:23
  • Flashcards are mainly a tool to help retain words you've already learned, not a tool to learn words you don't know.
    – user230
    Feb 24 '15 at 22:29
  • Uhhh, I am not sure what you mean by "mainly," @snailboat. From thirty years experience using flash cards. And from cramming for the GRE solely with flash cards and raised my verbal score 180 points.
    – user6951
    Feb 25 '15 at 20:21
  • I have over ten thousand flash cards myself, so I'm sure they're a useful tool. Cramming, however, is basically a bad idea unless your only goal is short-term retention, like if you want to pass a test without remembering what you learned in the long term. It's true that you can do that, but you're shortchanging yourself.
    – user230
    Feb 25 '15 at 20:27

Okay, I had never heard of memrise. I have used similar "flash card" or SRS software before. And you can see that memrise is only one many on the market.

I decided to give memrise a try, using especially to "memorize" or learn some Middle English vocabulary, since I am reading Chaucer these days. As in most these programs, one can create one's own "flash cards." I made certain to create some that used example sentences for each tested word. Because I am firm believer that words are best learned and retained if used in a sentence. This goes even further, when I then come across a tested word in a text that I read in my free time, so then I get the benefit of seeing the word in two meaningful sentences; and as far as I am concerned, that locks it up into my long term memory. And since I am continuing to read Chaucer and other authors who write in Middle English, then I expect to see these words repeated again (and again).

To my surprise, there are actually a handful of existing memrise "courses" designed to "teach" Middle English vocabulary (and also some in Old English). Some have sample sentences as part of their design. Most do not. You can guess which ones I appreciate and learn from the best. But even one particular course, which is "straight" learning of new words with no sample sentences: I noticed that words in memrise that I had encountered recently in my own reading were much easier to learn using memrise. And I'm sure they will stick in my memory longer, because of my encounter with them in my recent reading.

As I said, I think it can be used for learning words for a set task, like a vocabulary test or the GRE. But if one wants to use it for much more than that, one absolutely must incorporate some kind of context (example sentences, preferably **meaningful* example sentences, which would include those read from a text) into the design of one's memrise flashcards (or the flashcards of whatever SRS software one is using). I just call them flashcards, because these programs incorporate the equivalent of electronic flashcards.

An excellent article, How to Remember Words When Learning a Language, I highly recommend. It stresses the need for context, and it gives four methods of learning vocabulary, only one of which is SRS programs. Another one sounds similar to what rogermue is discussing. Also, in the comments to the article there are some insightful things, such as the experience of a young lady who memorized the 2000 most common Spanish words (without context) before she moved to Costa Rica. Did this memorization help her communication in Spanish with local Spanish speakers? Apparently not. Memorizing words is not a way to learn a language. It is way to increase one's vocabulary. Encountering words frequent times in real-world, meaningful contexts is the best way to go. Using an SRS software such as memrise can be a tool in that process. But so can regular handwritten flashcards, which also have the extreme advantage of having been written by one's own hand, thus incorporating tactile (manual) learning into the process.


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