Memrise vs. Duolingo – A Head-To-Head Comparison

Memrise Score 7.4
7.4/10
Duolingo Score 4.7
4.7/10

Verdict

  • Memrise came out the clear winner in our Memrise vs. Duolingo matrix below. But really my advice is – use them both! If you want to invest in paying for pro versions, I prefer Memrise over Duolingo for sheer depth and breadth of content in the ecosystem, and for their video learn-with-locals content.

Overall Thoughts

  • Duolingo and Memrise are similar products, with some major differences. They both aim to teach you language through small chuncks of information, such as words , sentences and phrases, in a gamified environment. But Memrise is more of an “ecosystem”, that houses large amounts of user generated content. Duolingo is more of a standardised, curated course. You could say that Memrise is closer to a an android phone, or a Windows PC, that is open to various software makers, and Duolingo is closer to an iPhone or Apple computer, which is a closed software environment that aims to provide a streamlined and seamless experience. 
memorise versus Duolingo - android phone
Memrise is an open environment, like Android.
Duolingo Versus Memrise - iPhone
Duolingo is a closed environment, like iOS on Apple.
  • Another way to look at is as Memrise being a “swiss army knife” and Duolingo being a “screwdriver”. You can use Memrise to learn just about anything that requires memorising a large amount of information. You will find user generated courses on learning everything from Morse Code, to sign language, all the way through to Harry Potter Spells!
Memrise vs. Duolingo
Memrise is a multipurpose tool, like a Swiss Army Knife
Memrise vs Duolingo - screwdriver
Duolingo is a precision tool, like a screwdriver
  • To do a solid comparison of Memrise vs. Duolingo, we’ve put the features of each side-by-side in matrix below. We assigned either a check, neutral, or cross rating for each criteria. We then assigned 2 points for a check, one for neutral and 0 for a cross. 
  • In this comparison Memrise came out with 25 out of a possible 34 points (which is 73.5 out of 100).
  • Duolingo came out with 16 out of a possible 34 points (which is 47 out of 100)
  • Neither of the platforms work as an all inclusive, silver-bullet for learning language. These are best used in conjunction with some of the tools listed below:

Too really learn a language, combine with these tools:

New Pimsleur Logo 125x125button

  • Pimsleur Method – Most highly recommended for a systematic, listening and speaking focused program backed by a scientific approach

  • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course for begginner to intermediate students.

Too really learn a language, combine with these tools

Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com

  • Japanese Pod 101 – for a continually updating, dynamic podcast approach to learning with masses of content.
headphones at station
These options are better for studying on the go

Memrise Vs. Duolingo Matrix

Feature

Price

Memrise

Free or $5.83 per month

On an annual subscription

Duolingo

Free or 6.99 per month

On an annual subscription

Does paying for premium get you much?

More lessons

Access to all the Memrise native produced “learn with locals” video content, learn “difficult words” function, Grammar and Chat bots, statistics.

memrise learn with locals

No ads

Remove ads, unlimited hearts (don’t have to keep restarting lessons), do lessons offline, monthly repair streak, progress quizzes.

The main selling point ofduolingo plus is no ads

Does it teach you much?

Teaches basic vocab and phrases

Access to all the Memrise native produced “learn with locals” video content, learn “difficult words” function, Grammar and Chat bots, statistics.

Teaches you longer sentences that build on words you already know.

You can click/touch any word at anytime to find the meaning

Audio Lessons

No audio only lesson

A resources such as Pimsleur is better for learning on the go.

No audio only lesson

A resources such as Pimsleur is better for learning on the go.

Video Lessons

Yes

Body language is present, which actually makes a big difference and is a lot more realistic. Gives language in context.

Memrise video gives you body language and context

No

Native Speaker Audio

“Learn with locals” video lessons

Body language is present, which actually makes a big difference and is a lot more realistic. Gives language in context.







Computer generated sentences

Duolingo has lots of individual words that it has recorded which are then strung together by the computer to make sentences. The way real people pronounce words when they string them together is actually quite different. This means Duolingo example sentences sound mechanical and less realistic.


duolingo dialogue is chunked up and sounds less natural

Gamification

Uses Gamification including levels, points and leaderboards.

These features are not bad, but not great, in Memrise. Especially in the user-generated lessons, sometimes levels and points make no sense at all. When I tired a user-generated Japanese lesson after completing one lesson it told me I had “reached level 10. 128380 / 320000 points”. 320000 points? Huh?!

memrise versus duolingo
Those points mean what?!

Uses Better Gamification including levels, points and leaderboards.

This is really well done in Duolingo and really does help keep you motivated. You can compete against friends, or against the whole world. There are series of leagues, such as gold, silver, bronze etc. It’s all well laid out, seamless, and one of the major up sides of using Duolingo.


Duolingo Japanese
Duolingo does leagues & competing with friends really well

User Generated Content

Memrise has a huge amount of user made content

This is one of the big strengths of Memrise. Users have contributed lessons on a HUGE range of topics, including frivolous things like learning Harry Potter Spells or fictious languages, but also really great niche things like learning all the jargon to do with buddhist thought and philosophy in Japanese. It also has many of the curriculums of your favourite textbooks. You could use it to learn Morse Code.


A Japanese Buddhist Jargon lesson uploaded by a user

No



















Curated Structured course

Memrise has native courses made in-house.

Unfortunately, these aren’t as rigourously put together as Duolingo. Memrise content often leaves you feeling like you are learning things “out of order” or a little haphazardly.

Memrise has a large ecosystem of user content

Duonlingo has highly streamlined content.

Duolingo does a great job of introducting new words and sentence structures in a logical, systematic way where each new step builds on the last.


duolingo_20200403-162724
Duolingo content is well structured

Spaced repetition

Yes

Platform dynamically repeats content for optimal recall.


Yes

Platform dynamically repeats content for optimal recall.


Speaking Practice

Includes pronunciation recording lessons.

Does not prompt you to actively create sentences in a quasi-conversational way, as Pimsleur does.

Includes pronunciation recording lessons.

Does not prompt you to actively create sentences in a quasi-conversational way, as Pimsleur does.

Amount of content

The amount of user content makes the Memrise a clear winner over Duolingo

But be aware that because of the user-generated nature of the platform, the content is sprawling and not easy to navigate.


Duolingo has enough content to get you to a basic conversational level of knowledge

Duolingo doesn’t really give you the tools to actually use it conversationally. For that you would need a tool such as iTalki.) It doesn’t have the sheer volume that a talk such as the Innovative Language 101 programs do.

Grammer

Memrise native content does include some limited grammer notes.

This is certainly not a strong point of the Memrise platform.


Memrise has some limited grammer and usage notes

Duolingo does include grammer notes with many lessons, and comes out slightly on top of Memrise.

It’s still not a big strong point of Duolingo.

Duolingo has break-out grammer notes

Mnemonics

Customizable mnemonics on content

Memrise lets you add a memnonic to help you make things stick. So you could add a note to the Japanese word for “one, two, three”, which is “ichi, ni, san” saying “I sure do have and itchy knee son”. Much of the user generated content includes 4 or 5 different mnemonics that people have already put in for you, often with pictures.

A user generated mnemonic note

No















Quizes and Review

Gives you regular reviews and quizes

but doesn’t do a great job of quizes of material across everything you’ve learnt



Tests current material as you go

But only lets you quiz yourself across everything you’ve learnt in the paid version. This becomes an issue as you progress and you want to see how far you have actually come.

Lesson Length

Memrise lessons are shorter than Duolingo

Memrise lets you add a memnonic to help you make things stick. So you could add a note to the Japanese word for “one, two, three”, which is “ichi, ni, san” saying “I sure do have and itchy knee son”. Much of the user generated content includes 4 or 5 different mnemonics that people have already put in for you, often with pictures.

Duolingo lessons are longer than Memrise

meaning you may not always have time to finish them in one sitting. This can be annoying because, in Duolingo's gamified environment, you can lose your progress when you try to come back to completing a lesson you had to pause half way through.

Summary Duolingo Versus Memrise

Even though Memrise came out as a clear winner in our head to head Memrise vs. Duolingo matrix, we think they are both useful tools that should be in your language arsenal. Neither of these tools is really enough to take you all the way with your language study though, so you will need to combine them with some of the programs below.

 

Japanoscope is a member of affiliate programs for some of the products it recommends. Japanoscope receives a commission when these products are purchased from a referral from this site.

Language Learning Program Reviews

About the reviewer

I’m Peter Head. I have succesfully completed the  highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I lived in Japan for four years as a student and on working holiday.  I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.

Pimsleur Japanese Review and Real World Experience

Average Score 3.75
3.75/5

Learning Efficiency

4.5/5

Price

2.5/5

Ease of Use

3.5/5

Amount of content

4.5/5

New Pimsleur Logo 125x125button

How to Get Pimsleur Cheap

We get to the nitty gritty below, but if you just want to know how to shave off a few dollars from Pimsleur there are a few “hacks” you can do:

  1. Sign up for an Amazon Audible free month – which also gets you access to Pimsleur courses free for a month. This could potentially save hundreds of dollars.

3. Use a special offer. Pimsleur is pretty aggresive at offering special offers to partners and with special sale periods. Shop around and/or wait for specials before any bulk purchases.

Verdict

  • The Pimsleur Japanese is probably the best Japanese language learning method I have come across, but it’s not cheap. You’ll need to weigh up how serious you are about your language learning.

Overall Thoughts

  • I’ve always learnt more, and more quickly, from listening and speaking than any other language learning method. Pimsleur Japanese is based almost exclusively around listening and speaking. It is the first, and in many ways best, Japanese language learning approach to fully comprehend that this is the quickest way to learn a language and to fully systematise the approach in a rigorous and evidence-based way. Paul Pimsleur, who made the course, was a serious academic with real credentials to back up his approach.

Who was Paul Pimsleur?

Dr. Paul Pimsleur (b. 1926, d. 1976) devoted his life to language teaching and testing and was one of the world’s leading experts in applied linguistics. He was fluent in French, good in German, and had a working knowledge of Italian, Russian, Modern Greek, and Mandarin Chinese. After obtaining his Ph.D. in French and a Masters in Psychology from Columbia University, he taught French Phonetics and Linguistics at UCLA. He later became Professor of Romance Languages and Language Education, and Director of The Listening Center (a state-wide language lab) at Ohio State University; Professor of Education and Romance Languages at the State University of New York at Albany; and a Fulbright lecturer at the University of Heidelberg. He did research on the psychology of language learning and in 1969 was Section Head of Psychology of Second Language Learning at the International Congress of Applied Linguistics.

 
  • One of the things I really like about the Pimsleur Japanese is that, because it is an audio based approach, you can do it while doing other things. This is a major plus for adult learners with busy lives. You can learn while walking, riding, driving, riding public transport, washing dishes, doing monotonous tasks. The Pimsleur instructions do discourage this though and suggest you practice without interruption and with full concentration. Well, in an ideal world, that is a no-brainer. In reality though, it is really easy to give up on a language method, and indeed on learning a language altogether, if you’ve always got to do it through 100% concentration. The Pimsleur Japanese really is great for fitting in learning around the cracks of a busy lifestyle.

headphones at station
Pimsleur Japanese is great for learning while do other things
  • One of the reasons you learn more from listening and speaking is that this is an active process. When you hear a word you don’t know, your brain naturally tries to attach some kind of meaning to it. This means you are trying to make connections to the new information. This makes learning “stick”. Pimsleur Japanese is aware of this and proactively incorporates “Anticipation” as one of its key principles of learning.

  • Anticipation in Pimsleur Japanese, means that you are constantly being prompted for information in a conversational style. From time to time, Pimsleur Japanese will call on you to attach new meaning to words and phrases that you may only know from a different context. It makes you work a little, guess a little, associate a little. Just as you did when you learnt your first language.

Pimsleur Japanese conversation
Pimsleur Japanese uses principles of "anticipation" and uses active learning to make things stick
  • The other key principle it incorporates is “Graduated Interval Recall”. This is just a fancy way of saying, “we make you review new material at logical intervals”. This principle, if anything, seems fairly obvious. But it’s amazing how many language learning approaches don’t actually make use of this fact. Perhaps because not all courses are put together with the rigour that you may hope for. This is a major strong point for Pimsleur. 

  • Pimsleur Japanese is based on solid foundations and principles, but one criticism is that Pimsleur probably hasn’t moved with the times as much as they should have. Given their firm base, they seem to have rested on their laurels a bit. Where other platforms, notably Duolingo and Memrise, use adaptive learning principles based on algorithms to tailor content to each learner, Pimsleur is basically the same old Pimsleur it was 50 years ago. True, they have done quite a lot to repackage content for the digital age, there is not a lot of true innovation. They have the Pimsleur app, which gives you the audio lessons, and they have added in some review functionality and the ability to give yourself some basic quizzes, but really it all feels like a bit of an arbitrary add on. For that reason, Pimsleur is best done in conjunction with other tools – even their documentation actively discourages you from doing this.

Pimsleur Japanese Quiz
Pimsleur Japanese content outside of the core audio lessons sometimes feels a little "tacked on"

How Does Pimsleur Japanese Work?

      • Pimsleur Japanese is almost wholly audio based. It gives you 30 minute lessons where it gradually introduces words and phrases for you to listen to and repeat back using its “graduated interval recall” and “anticipation” principles. It sells these lessons either as a price for a pack of lessons, or as a subscription model. There are literally hundreds of lessons to work through, so there is plenty of material to take you to a fairly good level of skill. It’s not cheap though.
        •  

Things we like about Pimsleur for Japanese

    • Speaking and listening focus is fastest way to learn.
    • It’s an audio based approach, you can do it while doing other things, especially while in transit.
    • Based on a scientific approach and developed by a genuinely qualified academic
    • Encourages active learning – which makes things stick more.
    • Uses principle of “Anticipation”
    • Uses “Graduated Interval Recall” which interviews materials at exact intervals when memory fades.
    • Strong for teaching pronunciation in minute detail – it is not uncommon for people to speak a language quite proficiently and still have bad pronunciation
    • Good amount of content. Across the five levels they have 80 hours worth of lessons. That being said, if you did one lesson per day as they recommend, you would get through everything in about half a year (and would have spent more than half a grand doing so).
  • ” data-wplink-url-error=”true”>Pimsleur Japanese lesson 30
    • Uses backchaining method of learning pronunciation – teaches you words from the last syllable to the first. This works well for Japanese, which tends to have fairly long words with a lot of syllables.

Things we don’t like about Pimsleur for Japanese

    • Price, relatively expensive compared to other platforms such as Japanese Pod 101 or Rocket Languages
    • Because it is based on active learning, it demands that you speak out loud “at a normal conversational volume”. This can be hard to do if you are, say, on a crowded train.
    • Barely teaches reading & writing at all
      App is pretty basic, quizzes and exercises feel like something tacked on to the audio-lessons
    • Hasn’t really moved with the times in terms of incorporating technology and AI to adapt to individual learners
    • Sometimes the Japanese translations can be a bit unnatural. You can tell that they have transported their learning materials across from one central source with not that much localisation for each language for example they teach the phrase “Can you buy beer” as ビールは買えますか which is very much a literal translation of the English which isn’t particularly useful for any real context in Japanese. The Japanese version translated back to English is more like “Is beer something you are able to buy”, which may be something you may need to ask in a context that comes up every 10 years or so…

Summary

Pimsleur Japanese is probably my top recommended tool for getting going with the language quickly and methodically. You can use it anywhere, because its audio based. The main draw back is that isn’t cheap. I would also suggest combining with some other more “high tech” drilling tools, such as Memrise and Duolingo.

Pimsleur is included in the Japanoscope Japanese Language Learning Resource List here.

  • Japanese Pod 101 – for greater amount of content, listening and speaking practice
  • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course
  • Pimsleur – for a focus on listening and speaking backed by a scientific approach
  • Memrise – for a duolingo style app built around videos of real native speakers

Japanoscope uses affiliate links. Which means we may receive commisions when you click on some product links. We only link to products we believe in, use ourselves or think are genuinely good. This helps us keep all of the content on the site free of charge. As Monty Python once said, “We’re selling records in the foyer. Some of us have gotta eat too you know”.

Other platforms you should consider:



  • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course for begginner to intermediate students.

Other platforms you should consider:

Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com

  • Japanese Pod 101 – for a continually updating, dynamic podcast approach to learning with masses of content.

  • Memrise – for a duolingo style app built around videos of real native speakers

 

Any of the above can work well either instead of used together with Pimsleur Japanese.

Language Learning Program Reviews

About the reviewer

I’m Peter Head. I have succesfully completed the  highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I lived in Japan for four years as a student and on working holiday.  I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.

Japanese Pod 101 Review – Hands on and In Depth

Average Score 3.75
3.75/5

Japanese Pod 101 35% off sale Aug 8-21 2020 via this link

Use link above and codes SUMMER2020B, SUMMER2020P, SUMMER2020PLUS

Verdict

  • Japanese Pod 101 is a solid platform, with lots of content and good value for money, especially with the lower end tiers – which give you the meat of the content without fluff.

Overall Thoughts

  • Japanese Pod 101 has been going since 2005 as a Podcast, and this history can be seen in the product as it exists today. There is a bunch of content, 2950 audio and video lessons according to their website, that have been wrangled into some kind of order after the fact. To navigate, they have learning paths, subject areas and difficulty levels. These do an adequate, but not outstanding, job of guiding you through your learning journey. The content tends to read more like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure than a sequential novel in chapters.

  • This weakness is also a strength. Japanese Pod 101 is a living, evolving organism, where new lessons are being added on an ongoing basis. The podcast is still the platform’s beating heart.

  • For beginner to somewhat advanced students, Japanese Pod 101 is a really solid option for learning the language using an audio-focused approach.

  • Japanese Pod 101 is inlcuded in our list of Japanese Language Resources here.

Learning Efficiency

4/5

Price

3.5/5

Ease of Use

3/5

Amount of content

4.5/5

Other platforms you should consider:

New Pimsleur Logo 125x125button

  • Pimsleur Method – Most highly recommended for a systematic, listening and speaking focused program backed by a scientific approach

  • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course for begginner to intermediate students.
 

Other platforms you should consider:

  • Memrise – for a duolingo style app built around videos of real native speakers

 

 

 

How Does Japanese Pod 101 Japanese Work?

      • Japanese Pod 101 takes you through a series of Podcast-style audio and video lessons that usually run for around 20 minutes.
      • Content is arranged by level and by topic.
      • Extra features to go with this content includes flashcard modules, a word bank for saving vocabulary and chunked up lesson notes
Japanese Pod 101 on mobile

Listen to an interview with the founder Peter Galante

 

Things we like about Japanese Pod 101 for Japanese

Lots of Content

2950 Audio and Video Lessons.

Some lessons from Japanese Pod 101

Genuinely Likeable Presenters

Who tend to be bubbly, humorous and personable characters who also have advanced bilingual skills

Friendly teachers

Learning Topics Are Interesting

I find that I'm much more likely to actually learn if I'm interested in what is being talked about. Topics range from politics to music, from comedy to fashion and everywhere in between

Allows you to gain a deep understanding of culture

While you learn the language.

Up-to-the-minute content

The fact that the platform exists as a podcast means that there are always up-to-date topics being discussed

In-Built Flashcards

And wordbank features, means that your learning can be integrated and you don't have to switch back and forth between platforms as much. This being said, these features are not as robust as using a resource like Anki or Memrise.

Flashcards with audio

Reasonably Priced

The basic level pricing tier is very reasonable at around $5 a month.

Flexible Pricing

4 pricing tiers lets you flexibly choose your level of commitment

Advanced Content

Some genuinely challenging content for advanced learners, means that you can go a long way with the one platform. Japanese Pod 101 grows with you.

Advanced lesson contet

Content in a variety of formats, including a large selection of video and audio content. Video is king when you want to be fully engaged with conversational learning, but audio remains more convenient for learning on the go

A page from a PDF Book
 

Things we don’t like about Japanese Pod 101 for Japanese

Sprawling Content Structure

Due to the nature of the product having evolved over a long period of time without a "masterplan".

Too Many PDFs!

Much of the accompanying materials for the audio is only in PDF format when viewed on mobile. This makes it hard to select any of the words listed in the documents to , say, look them up in a dictionary for extra information, or look up a kanji, or add them to a word list for review. It all feels a little "this would have been very new and innovative in 2009".

PDFs on mobile feel out-of-date

Doesn't always give best meanings

Doesn't always give you meanings and explanations for the most needed words in a lesson. For example, I did one of their most challenging lessons that discussed the imperial abdication and contains a lot of rarely used and jargon words. When I went to the lesson notes, many of the words, including these ones: 世襲 heriditary 皇室 Royal Family, 典範 emperial law, 子孫 descendants, 王朝 dynasty, 統治権 soveirenty, were not listed. To add insult to injury, because the lesson transcripts and notes are all in PDF format when viewed on mobile, I was unable to copy and paste the words I didn't know into a dictionary. Its frustrating when the digital world, which should offer so many more possibilities than the physical world, functions with the same old limitations.

PDF text can't be selected on mobile

Some features are just "fillers"

Some of the extra features are a little bit "feature filler", which is to say, not that useful. The PDF materials are a case in point where the same content has cut up and repacked every which way, without providing any real extra value. The "record your voice to compare it to a sound wave image of a native speaker" feature is also pretty underwhelming.

Quizes demand only one translation

Teacher access a little underwhelming

The Premium Plus tier has as it's main drawcard access to native speaking language teachers who you can send questions to at anytime. This doesn't really seem that helpful. When I first read about the feature, I had thought that it would be access to real-time language lessons with native speakers via video chat. Which I thought would be a really great inclusion that would be worth the cash. Real time talking with native speakers is THE number one way that you improve your language, and really, the point of the whole exercise of learning a language. Unfortunately, the Premium Plus tier stops short of offering this service, and opts instead for the ability to send audio snippets to language teachers who send you back notes on how you could improve what you have said.

Interaction, but no conversation lessons with teachers

Sometimes Content is too quick for beginners

Sometimes there are not enough opportunities to repeat back words and phrases. At times, it feels like the presenters are more focused on coming across as fun, witty hosts at the expense of really giving the student the opportunity to learn.

Japanese Pod 101 has a range of pricing plans - click the image to see plans on Japanese Pod 101 site

Summary

Overall, Japanese Pod 101 is a great, deeply content rich platform that will take you a long way at a reasonable price.

Combine with these other platforms to create your own learning suite:

Japanoscope is a member of affiliate programs for some of the products it recommends. Japanoscope receives a commission when these products are purchased from a referral from this site.

Language Learning Program Reviews

About the reviewer

I’m Peter Head. I have succesfully completed the  highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I lived in Japan for four years as a student and on working holiday.  I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.

Duolingo Japanese – Personal Review

Average Score 3.6
3.62/5

Verdict

  • Duolingo Japanese is good as a fun, and motivating, toy for giving you the basics. But its not the most efficient way to learn a Japanese. And it’s not an all-in-one solution. You will also need other tools to get proficient at Japanese.

Overall Thoughts

  • Language learning takes a long time. The quickest way to learn Japanese is by listening and speaking. You can listen and speak while doing other things, eg. while walking, driving or taking transport. Duolingo can only be done when you are concentrating on it alone, meaning the time you can devote to it is instantly limited. For this reason, using duolingo as your main way of learning a language is not the most efficient way to do it.
  • On the positive side, Duolingo still provides a lot of learning value at the unbeatable price of zero dollars. That’s a big plus. And unlike most platforms, the entire core feature set is free. The paid version just gives you a couple of time saving features by removing ads and allowing you to take tests to jump ahead in the content. Paid also let’s you download lessons, but that doesn’t seem like such an issue considering the availability of mobile networks and data these days.

Learning Efficiency

2.5/5

Price

4.5/5

Ease of Use

4.5/5

Amount of content

3/5

Other platforms you should consider:

New Pimsleur Logo 125x125button

  • Pimsleur Method – Most highly recommended for a systematic, listening and speaking focused program backed by a scientific approach

  • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course for begginner to intermediate students.

Other platforms you should consider:

Learn Japanese with JapanesePod101.com

  • Memrise – for a duolingo style app built around videos of real native speakers

 

Any of the above can work well either instead of used together with Duolingo for Japanese.

Other platforms we think you should consider:

    • Japanese Pod 101 – for greater amount of content, listening and speaking practice
    • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course
    • Pimsleur – for a focus on listening and speaking backed by a scientific approach
    • Memrise – for a duolingo style app built around videos of real native speakers

Any of the above can work well either instead of used together with Duolingo for Japanese.

How Does Duolingo Japanese Work? 

      • Duolingo works by getting you translate to short fragments of language, mostly by arraning tiles on screen. It is designed as a tactile, mobile app experience. Even if you use it on a PC, it looks and feels like a big mobile screen.
      • The app gives you lesson based around different themes such as “Hobbies” or “Food” or “Restaurant”.
      • For Japanese it starts you about with learning the two basic non-Chinese Character scripts – Katakana and Hiragana
      • Duolingo works by getting you to translate short fragments of language, mostly by arraning tiles on a screen. It is designed as a tactile, mobile app experience. Even if you use it on a PC, it looks and feels like a big mobile screen.
          • The app gives you lesson based around different themes such as “Hobbies” or “Food” or “Restaurant”.
          •  For Japanese it starts you about with learning the two basic non-Chinese Character scripts – Katakana and Hiragana

Things we like about Duolingo for Japanese

    • Gamification. Duolingo does a great job of rewarding you with badges, putting you into leaderboards and rewarding you with cute little animations along the way. I found connecting up with friends and family through the app was great for motivation – everyone can see how many experience points everyone else has gotten up to. 
    • Huge community of users, means that you can easily benchmark yourself against other people on leaderboards, read other people’s comments and get help.
    • Lots of content with sound recordings. Mostly these sound pretty good, but sometimes they can sound a bit “computer-generated”, like the words have been cut up and put back together artificially.
    • Introduces Katakana and Hiragana early, so you are learning in Japanese script from the start
    • Helpful for practicing Japanese particles.
    • Slick design. Duolingo is clean and cute. It’s a fun “space” to learn in.
    • Offers plenty of repition, which adepts itself to how you are going with your learning.
    • We found Duolingo helpful for working on particles such as は and をbecause it gives you instant feedback.

Things we don’t like about Duolingo for Japanese

    • Duolingo tends to be fairly “passive” in that you are usually choosing words from a predetermined list, rearranging existing tiles. You tend to learn in a fairly superficial way. This means words you think you “know” tend not to come to you in real life situations when you actually need them.
    • Not much focus on speaking or getting you to repeat back what you have learned. Language tends to stick a lot more when you actually produce it yourself. Your brain is forced to create language. This is what happens in real life. Duolingo doesn’t really help much with this.
    • You can’t use Duolingo while you are doing other things, which limits the time you can devote to using it.
    • Duolingo doesn’t give you much in the way of Mnemonics to help you remember anything. When I learnt Hiragana and Katakana back in the day, my teacher created pictures out of the letters to help us remember them easily. Duolingo just throws the letters at you over and over to get you to learn by rote repetition.
    • Doesn’t give you a structured review of everything you have learned. Everything is structured around themes, which is fine, but there is no easy way to do just general revision of everything across themes. There are no quizes in the free version to test yourself either.

    • Recordings don’t always sound natural, and can sound “cut up”. Often, it’s as if the words and phrases have been put together, surprise surpirse, by a computer. Vocabulary in spoken speech in any language changes slightly in relation to other words around it, so duolingo doesn’t always sound like a real person.
    • Doesn’t do a great job of placing you according to your current language level – I found the content it Duolingo tried to feed me was far below where I was at, and the app didn’t offer me a way to jump ahead, even in the paid version.
    • Lessons are slightly too long. I often use duolingo on the train. I often find that I reach the end of a lesson with, say, a couple of stops to until my destination. I start a new lesson and get about half way through before having to put my phone away. Invariably, when I come back to the app, it has forgotten my progress and I need to start again. I find I have less problems with similar apps, such as Memrise, which have shorter lessons that you can complete in very bite-sized chunks.

Summary

Duolingo is a great tool to have in your suite of language learning kit. But it can really only get you so far.

If you really want to get serious about your Japanese learning you will want to take a look at some of these options:

  • Japanese Pod 101 – for greater amount of content, listening and speaking practice
  • Rocketlanguages – For a systematic, wholistic course
  • Pimsleur – for a focus on listening and speaking backed by a scientific approach
  • Memrise – for a duolingo style app built around videos of real native speakers
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Language Learning Program Reviews

About the reviewer

I’m Peter Head. I have succesfully completed the  highest level of the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (N1). I lived in Japan for four years as a student and on working holiday.  I have toured the country six times playing music and singing songs in Japanese and English.

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