Memrise News & Events

Meet Ziggy: Memrise’s New Mascot

as_ziggy_03@3xThe Memrise ranking system will be changing in mid-July, to make room for Memrise’s new learning mascot: Ziggy. We caught up with Luke, one of Memrise’s product managers, to find out more about what the change will mean, and how the design team came up with the idea.

What is the Memrise ranking system, and why is it changing?

As older users will probably know, the Memrise ranks were introduced back in 2012, when Memrise was all about mems and gardening. Since then there have been quite a few changes, including launching two apps, loads of new learning modes, a complete redesign and a ton of tiny improvements.

as_ziggy_04@3x

We felt that the old way of doing thing didn’t really fit in with what we were doing, and needed a bit of love. Similarly, we have almost 5 years worth of data on how we could tweak it to make it slightly better.

So, after brainstorming with the team and testing with real world users, we came up with Ziggy, who you’ll level up as you progress through Memrise.

Who and what is Ziggy?

as_ziggy_133x.pngZiggy is the embodiment of all that is good in the multiverse: Hope, Joy and Knowledge. They’re your personal learning buddy, who’ll grow as your abilities grow, and change as you change.

In terms of what Ziggy is… Nobody knows where Ziggy came from. An egg just showed up one day and out popped Ziggy.

In terms of what Ziggy can be? Ziggy is both Robin and Yoda. They’re a sidekick and an all-knowing mentor. Also, Ziggy is hella cute.

Where did the idea for Ziggy come from?

Ziggy is a little bit their namesake, as they’re an androgynous alien promoting peace, hope and love, and a little bit an amalgamation of every other famous alien to ever exist. From Oh to ET to Alf.

We always knew we wanted a character that made people feel something, and knew that the voice of the character would be super important. Positive, joyful and a bit different.

as_ziggy_07@3xIn terms of visuals, our amazing Product Designer, Jessica, is responsible for how Ziggy turned out. We played around with different concepts from shields to robots to weird floating alien things. What finally became Ziggy made people smile and just looked so SQUIDGY.

When Ziggy gets to the upper levels, you can see more power and intelligence coming through, which should match your abilities. At the upper levels Ziggy becomes almost an omnipotent being, with little body left.

This visual evolution is pretty awesome and exciting, and we’re hoping no matter what level you are, you’ll want to take Ziggy home with you.

What can Ziggy see with his third eye?

The future. Or the past. Or both at the same time. Or pizza. My bet is on pizza.


3O5A9472Hellooooo. I’m Luke and I’m originally from Sydney, Australia, and moved to this sunny (*ahem*) country eight years ago. I’m a Product Manager here at Memrise, handling the more touchy-feely, game-y elements of the product, and before that I was on the design team.

In my non-Memrise time I podcast about beer and music, organise gigs and DJ, brew beer, play in a band and hang out with my wife and 4 year old son.

Feeling inspired to learn a new language with Ziggy? Check out Memrise!

memrise_logotype_purple

 

Culture around the world

What Does Music Mean To You?

To celebrate World Music Day, we asked five members of the Memrise team to share some thoughts with us about music. They told us their favourite bands, how they used music to learn, and even how music can help stroke patients regain the power of speech.

3O5A9472Discovering Australia’s undiscovered hip-hop scene

Name: Luke
Job: Product Manager
Favourite song: Dear Science
 by Seth Sentry

I chanced upon Australian hip-hop through Triple J, which is a public broadcaster in Australia, when they played some back in the late 90s.

It resonated with me straight away, as, unlike all of the American rubbish that was being played on all the commercial stations, this was in my accent, talking about things that related to me. To me, it embodied my part of Australia. Disillusioned and politically active, but still retaining a sense of fun and… laid-backness?

There’s actually a term that used to be used within the scene. Everyday styles. They were hip-hop, but they weren’t going to rap about ‘gats, hoes and 40s’. They were going to make music and rap about their lives, their struggles and what it was like growing up in the youth of Australia.

It is, I think, one of the most uniquely Australian genres of music you can find.

Reggae_vinyl_recordsWhen songs don’t mean what you thought they did

Name: Ana
Job: Localisation Manager
Favourite song: Anything by Julien Baker

Even if the last band you fell in love with sings in an ancient, endangered language, if their melodies tickle your brain, that’s all you need to love them unconditionally. But your heart knows: eventually you’ll need to understand what they are really all about and, let’s face it, you just want to sing along at the top of your lungs. At least I do.

When I was a kid, 99% of my favourite bands sang in English, and the Internet wasn’t mainstream yet, so unless the band published their album with a booklet and I had the money to buy it, I was doomed. So I’d listen to them on loop. First I’d grasp a bit of the chorus. Then, if I was lucky, I might catch the end of a verse.

With just that, I’d imagine what the song was about and it was always something deep and meaningful to me. As I grew up and started learning English like a pro, I was often so disappointed to discover how lame most of those lyrics were! The ones in my head were way better!

I still like those songs today but I’ll confess I have less respect for those bands. Now I’m older, wiser, and definitely pickier when it comes to choosing my Heart Songs.

 

5E0A1845How music helps recovering stroke patients

Name: Mario
Job: Learning Innovation Specialist
Favourite song: 
Don’t Stop Believing by Journey

I found out that language and music have this super interesting overlap when my dad had a stroke a few years ago. At the same time, I had just started my Bachelor’s Degree in Linguistics, so I approached the topic from both a personal and an academic angle.

I was astonished to discover that musical therapy is often used in patients suffering from speech impairments after a stroke.

The human brain is very innovative in reorganising tasks when a particular area becomes impaired. For example, when an individual’s primary speech production area (called Broca’s Area) which is predominantly located in the left hemisphere of the brain, is damaged following a stroke, the right hemisphere of the brain, where musical processing is mainly located, can take over some of its responsibilities. These language-capable regions can be trained to help patients speak again.

One example here is Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT), which focuses on using patient’s preserved singing capabilities to improve expressive language in these patients.

 

5E0A1425 (1)When music makes you fly

Name: Diana
Job: Cinematographer in Chief
Favourite song: Keeping Pigs Together by Red Snapper

I love live jazz. There is something about it happening at ease, just by itself. Magical vibe.

Everybody tunes in, their energy unites and you feel the whole room, with all its people and their stories all coming together in your head.

The same happens, but ten times more intensely, when I listen to electronic jazz or acid jazz. Those are two genres where jazz really progressed for me. It combines jazz and soul, and funk, and disco!

Such a great combination will not leave you standing on your feet. You will fly off into the universe of unknown little explosions. I love it so much I can’t stop dancing.

Bands like Red Snapper, Submotion Orchestra, Bonobo, Moloko, The Cinematic Orchestra and GoGo Penguin do it the best for me.

 

19369293_10213105912865841_403877331_oLearning Chinese through song

Name: Rob
Job: English Language Specialist
Favourite song: 死了都要爱 by 信乐团

Teaching yourself a language like Chinese can seem really intimidating. At the age of sixteen, when I first started learning it, I’m sure that if I’d tried to read a book in Chinese or the news, I most certainly would have given up very quickly.

But there was one resource that I managed to make the most of that, even with my very low level of Chinese, which helped me to learn and practise new words and sentence structures: music.

Listening to a song and learning the lyrics is a great way to learn a new language. As an added bonus, every time you listen to that song again, you will be revising what you learnt without even thinking about it.

The great thing about learning Asian languages through music too is that they often have music videos with subtitles, so you can follow along as you listen.

Just an extra tip for anyone thinking of learning Mandarin with music: don’t make the same mistake as me and start with Jay Chou. He might have a lot of great songs, but like a Taiwanese Shakira, he is notorious for eating his words and being pretty difficult to understand without subtitles.

memrise_logotype_purple

Culture around the world

How To Celebrate The Summer Solstice Around Europe

If you ever ask a person from Northern Europe to tell you more about Midsummer’s Eve celebrations and what crazy things happen during that night, I advise you to grab a drink and get comfy. Midsummer Eve is notorious for its magical traditions that people from Northern Europe greatly enjoy.

St. John’s day or as more of us might know, Midsummer’s Eve is widely celebrated around the world. Most of all, the traditions in Northern Europe stand out the most, as some of their ancient traditions are still practised there even today.

Although the actual day varies between 19th June and 25th June (close to the summer solstice) a lot of countries tend to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve on the 23rd of June.

Let’s see what different traditions you might find around Europe!

Bonfires

This is probably one of Midsummer Eve’s most notorious traditions..

Although not all countries have big celebrations during these holidays, bonfires are lit in many countries around Europe. People gather together in the countryside to light big bonfires and dance and sing around them. It is said that the bigger the bonfire, the surer you can be that bad spirits will stay far away.

Jumping over bonfires is also a huge tradition in several countries, which is said to purify the soul and guarantee you good luck! (Don’t try this at home)

Food and Booze

Midsummer_pickled_herring

Swedish midsummer herring

Food has an important place in people’s Midsummer’s celebrations.

In Sweden, people commonly eat fish – herring to be exact – along with delicious potatoes and freshly ripened strawberries to complement their meal.

In Estonia, any kind of meat is good. Hundreds of tonnes of meat plus many tonnes of sausages are believed to be purchased during these festivities.

Ask anyone who celebrates what the biggest part of Midsummer’s Eve is and you will 100% get an answer that involves a tipple or three.

For hundreds of years, people have been getting crazy on the shortest night of the year. It is believed that being loud and rowdy actually keeps the evil spirits away. The louder the crowd, the more crop you’ll have at the end of the summer!

Fairy Tales and Mystical Beliefs

In Estonia, there is a well-known fairytale about Koit (Dawn) and Hämarik (Dusk) where those two get to see each other only once a year – Midsummers. On the shortest night of the year, Koit and Hämarik share the briefest kisses and say goodbye until the next year.

Laanemaa_järv_Orkjärve_looduskaitsealal

Sunrise at Lake Laanemaa, Estonia

Lovers in Estonia also go for adventurous wanders on that night in hope of finding the mystical flower of the fern blooming, which is believed to only bloom on Midsummer’s night. That is believed to bring eternal love.

Beliefs surrounding magical events are also to be found in Finland, where people leave birch branches by their doorsteps to welcome their visitors. Finns also collect seven different types of flowers during the day and put them under their pillows, so their future spouses visit them in their dreams.

In Romania, at the crack of dawn people go out and make flower crowns and throw them onto their roofs. If the flower crown stays on the roof, a long and beautiful life awaits you. If not then.. Well.. wishful thinking often takes you far as well…

In Denmark, things get a bit darker. Puppet witches are put on big bonfires and burnt. Apparently, the story goes that the witches fly off together while the people are singing songs.

Singing and Dancing

Midsummer_IMG_4598_(5869232293)

A Midsummer dance in Sweden

Singing and dancing have always been a very important part of the Midsummer celebrations.
In Sweden people start their day by picking flowers and making wreaths to put on the maypole. The maypole usually goes somewhere with lots of room for people to sing and dance around and have a good time.

Different festivals are also common. In some places, there are annual Midsummer’s parties where the nation’s favourite artists perform and an extra big bonfire is lit so that those without a country house to go to but still simply want a big party can join in with the fun.

United Kingdom

Although people from the UK don’t tend to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve as much as people elsewhere, there are still some people who like to celebrate the summer solstice and Midsummer’s Eve itself.

For example on the 21st of June many people travel to Stonehenge to observe the sunset and also witness the sun rising over the famous stones of the site on the shortest night of the year.

If you are in the UK and still want to celebrate Midsummer’s Eve, then there are many different events either organised by the Swedish or other communities where everyone is welcome.

Or.. ring your friends and invite them over for a BBQ.

And have fun!

That is what Midsummer’s Eve is all about.


17554213_10211789404108118_932462994165138518_nHi! I am Terje and I am Memrise’s new Marketing intern from Estonia! I always wanted to move to London, and 4 years ago I did. So far it has been the craziest experience of my life!

In my free time you might find me at home drawing and painting, or out and about, trying to stroke dogs that pass me on the street, or popping into a new park or a pub that I’ve found!

I also tweet @vaherterje

Feeling inspired to learn a new language? Check out Memrise!

Inside Memrise

Meet the Specialist Behind Memrise’s New Arabic Courses

Memrise now has brand new language courses in Spanish, Swedish, French, Turkish and Korean available for Arabic speakers! We caught up for our first ever bilingual interview with Ayat, Memrise’s in-house Arabic language specialist, to find out about some of the challenges she faced when putting these together.

الآن Memrise عندها دروس اللغات جديدة للإسبانية، السويدية، الفرنسية، التركية، والكورية، لمتحدثي اللغة العربية ! تحدثنا مع آية، ممخصصة اللغة العربية هنا في Memrise، لكي نتعلم المزيد عن التحديات التي واجهتها عند انشاء هذه الدروس.

Which of the new languages courses was the most fun to translate?

Good question! um… I’d have to say Turkish because even though I don’t speak any Turkish at all it was so interesting to see the similarities between it an Arabic! It explained a lot of non-Arabic words in the Egyptian dialect that have Turkish influence and a lot of Turkish words that have Arabic influence, all a result of Ottoman and trade history!

من اللغات التي قمت بترجمتها، أيهما أعطاك أحسن خبرة؟

سؤال رائع! آهأظن أنها كانت اللغة التركية. أنا لا أتكلم اللغة التركية إطلاقا، ولكن رغم ذلك لاحظت الكثير من التشابه بين اللغتين مما أثار فضولي وجعلني أبحث عن أسباب هذا التشابه. تعلمت عن التاريخ العثماني الذي كان سبب التبادلات اللغوية. مثلا، في اللهجة المصرية، أحيانا، نسمي الطرحة،إشرب، وهذه الكلمة مأخوذة من اللغة التركية. وتوجد أمثلة معاكسة، مثلا, في اللغة التركية، يسمى الفستان،إلبيس، وهي مأخوذة من الكلمة العربيةلباس“.

How much Spanish, Swedish, French, Turkish or Korean do you remember now?

Well Spanish and French I’ve known from before 🙈 but preparing the courses refreshed my memory a lot! From Swedish, for some reason I cannot forget the words “tack” (meaning ‘thank you’) because it’s really cute and simple haha and “socker” (‘sugar’) because I imagined a sock in a sugar jar… stop judging me.

لقد ترجمت اللغة الإسبانية، السويدية، الفرنسية، التركية، والكورية. أتذكرين بعض الكلمات منها؟

تعلمت الإسبانية والفرنسية منذ ثلاث سنوات 🙈 ولكن الترجمة أنعشت معلوماتي. من اللغة السويدية، لا أستطيع أن أنسى كلمة “tack” (تاك) التي تعنيشكراولا أعرف لماذا ههههه. وكلمة “socker” (سكر) كذلك لأنها تشابه إلى اللغة العربية تماما.

What was the hardest thing about these courses to translate for Arabic speakers?

Ooo I’d say the hardest thing would have to have been idiomatic phrases or sayings. You’re always torn between translating them literally or providing the Arabic equivalent… literally translating it conveys the awesomeness of the phrase but sometimes loses the meaning, other times it just made no sense, but sometimes there was no Arabic equivalent that would be understood amongst all Arabic speakers, that was challenging 😭

ما هو أصعب شيء قمت بترجمته؟

آهأصعب شيء يجب أن يكون الأمثال الشعبية الخاصة بالبلدان أو اللهجات. الصعوبة التي واجهتها كانت الإختيار بين الترجمة الحرفية التي تعطينا كلمات عجيبة ومعنى غريب، أو البحث عن كلمة أخرى تعطينا معنى أقرب يترجم المثل بشكل جيد وأصيل. ولكن أحيانا، لا أجد مرادفات عربية مستخدمة في جميع الدول العربية أو لا أجد مرادفات إطلاقاهذا صعب ولكن فيه تحدي رائعة 😂

How do you say “gangnam style” in Arabic?

Please don’t remind me of that song. Gangnam is an area in Seoul, South Korea, a lot of small cities or areas are generally transliterated into Arabic, another thing to note is that in Arabic we don’t have a hard G sound, so it tends to be replaced with a soft G/J sound… so Gangnam would be جانجنام . For the ‘Style’ part we have to ask Psy whether he meant style from a fashion perspective, or lifestyle perspective, or whatever… because unfortunately he isn’t with us right now, we’ll take a more general form of style which is أناقة (pronounced ‘anaaqa’). In Arabic you would swap the word order so it would literally read “the Style of Gangnam”: أناقة جانجنام . You had to think of such a complicated question.

كيف نترجم “Gangnam Style” إلى اللغة العربية؟

لا تذكرني بهذه الأغنية. “Gangnamمكان في سول، عاصمة كوريا الجنوبية. الكثير من المدن والأماكن تترجم صوتيا؛ بالإضافة إلى ذلك، يجب أن نلاحظ أن في اللغة العربية لا يوجد حرف الـ“G” الصلب، فيجب أن نستخدم حرف الج، ولذلك، كلمة “Gangnam” تترجم إلىجانجنام“. لـ”style” يلزمنا أن نسأل المغني Psy هل يعني موضة، أو أسلوب، أو أناقة. ولكن الآن سنستخدمأناقةلأنها عمومية. في اللغة العربية، نحتاج إلى “تركيب الإضافة” ولذلك سيتغير ترتيب الكلمات،أناقة جانجنام“. هل ندمت على سؤالك؟


3O5A9477.jpgHey I’m Ayat, and I’m the new Arabic Language Specialist at Memrise! I’ve lived in London all my life, but I’m originally from Morocco, I can speak the Moroccan and Egyptian dialects of Arabic and Modern Standard Arabic too! I learnt French and Spanish a few years ago, they need a bit of brushing up but Memrise is helping me with that 😉 I joined quite recently but I now do all the translations and Arabic editing 😎 we’re also working on some super cool new projects for Arabic that’ll be coming out soon, so keep your eyes peeled 👀 in my spare time I enjoy powerlifting, reading, sketching, and… shopping.

أهلا! أنا آية وأنا متخصصة اللغة العربية هنا في Memrise. عشت حياتي كلها في لندن ولكن أنا أصلا من المغرب. أتكلم اللهجة المغربية، واللهجة المصرية، وطبعا أتكلم الفصحى أيضا. تعلمت الفرنسية والإسبانية منذ ثلاث سنوات، ولكن أحتاج إلى التدريب بسبب الوقت الطويل الذي مرّ منذ آخر استخدام لهذه اللغات. Memrise يساعدني على هذا التدريب 😉 أحب الشغل هنا كثيراانضممت مؤخرا والآن أنا مسؤولة عن كل الترجمات والتحريرات العربية 😎 حاليا، نجهز بعض المشاريع الرائعة في القسم العربي، فراقبوا صفحاتنا 👀 في وقت فراغي أحب رفع الأثقال، القراءة، الرسم، والتسوق.

Feeling inspired to learn a new language? Check out Memrise!

هل أنت متحمس لتعلم لغة جديدة؟ جرب Memrise!

Inside Memrise

What’s it like to do an internship at Memrise?

Memrise has been delighted to have Irina Usenko interning with the Language Learning Research Team over the past six weeks. We caught up with her to find out about her experiences, and whether she’d recommend doing an internship with us!

What was going through your head as you were on your way to your first day at Memrise?

It was on the night before I started that Memrise had scooped the Best App trophy at this year’s Google Play Awards, so I was thrilled to begin my internship amid an especially festive atmosphere at the office. I’d never been an intern before. Needless to say I was nervous, so I got jacked up on unholy amounts of coffee and arrived long before the working day began. Not yet familiar with the idea of ‘start-up casual’, I came hilariously over-dressed. I also called up my old Classics teacher that morning, as she was the one to first introduce me to Memrise as a revision tool for Latin A-Level. She was supportive and thrilled to hear about it.

What has surprised you most about working at Memrise?

I joined the Language Research team – a division of incredibly intelligent young people – and I guess what surprised me most was how willing they were to put their own (very demanding) tasks aside to answer my questions and introduce me to the ways of the company. As an intern, I didn’t expect to be taken so seriously, nor did I think that my contributions and ideas would be so appreciated. My supervisor Anne was especially lovely and attentive, as she would always patiently offer her time and ensure that I had the relevant resources for any given task.

5E0A2319

Mario, Matilde, Xia and Anne, from Memrise’s top-secret Language Learning Research Team

Even those who weren’t immediately associated to the team would approach me in the kitchen to introduce themselves and welcome me to the office. As cliché as this may sound, Memrise really is like a family.

Last but not least, the fridge and the snacks department. I find the ‘healthy’ snack selection very interesting. Since starting, I’ve consumed more complex carbohydrates, nutrients and fibre than I have throughout my entire university career. Hats off to Lien.

How many cups of coffee have you been asked to make since you started your internship?

Zero. Not a single photocopy either 🙂

What has your internship taught you about life at the world’s most joyful language learning startup?

Having sat through numerous meetings and ‘dive’ sessions, the most prominent element of Memrise’s progress is the importance of setting, communicating and monitoring goals, for both teams and individuals. The framework of OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) holds a bit of a cult status around here when it comes to engaging and aligning everyone’s perspective and creativity. Having seen OKRs discussed and devised, I witnessed just how much collaborative effort and inter-team communication is behind what may seem like a tiny feature of the app. I found this kind of team spirit very inspiring.

In terms of creating a product, I found it endlessly fascinating to see just how many factors and forces are considered when creating new and better courses, or even just enriching the existing content. The most crucial elements of these discussions concern the learner, be it user-testing feedback or the psychology of language acquisition. The guys at Memrise are really groundbreaking in establishing what it takes to learn a language as efficiently as possible, whilst making use of all the technological resources at their disposal. It’s been an honour to be part of it, even for a brief while.

Would you recommend doing an internship at Memrise?

Absolutely. The variety of tasks I was given was immense, the regular meetings offered very practical insights into the day-to-day of the team and other professional fields. People here are hard-working, motivated and genuinely love what they do. Ed is fantastic – friendly, hands-on and very inspiring in his passion for languages and Memrise itself. I’ve enjoyed every single day of my time here and am endlessly grateful for this opportunity!


3O5A9465_1Irina grew up in Dnepropetrovsk – a proud industrial city on the banks of the Dniepr river in Eastern Ukraine. She was sent to boarding school in rural Suffolk, not long after her 9th birthday. She arrived speaking minimal English and struggled to cope with living abroad on her own, while trying to understand and keep up with schoolwork. She picked up the language quickly and thoroughly, and then was introduced to Latin and Ancient Greek, which made her realise she wanted to pursue languages on an academic level.

Currently she is at UCL, reading Classics as an undergraduate, along with Farsi at SOAS and studying translation as an affiliate at the Chartered Institute of Linguists. She is fluent in French and Bulgarian, with conversational Mandarin. In her degree she has focused on Homeric texts and ancient philosophy. Besides university stuff, she’s been trying her hand at Russian – English translation on a freelance basis. In her spare time, she enjoys playing the piano and exploring London.

Interested in interning at Memrise? Drop us an email here!

The joy of languages

19 Reasons Why You Should Be Learning Russian Right Now

 1. You sound awesome when you speak it

Take a listen with our Memrise Pro native speaker videos:

Russian is one of the coolest sounding languages in the world, and your ability to speak it fluently will be sure to impress. Especially if someone calls you up randomly and you have to start speaking it on the phone!

2. A LOT of people speak it

Screen Shot 2017-06-05 at 17.21.08

Russian is one of the world’s most commonly spoken languages, and is the lingua franca for nearly all of the former Soviet Union. Between 150-180 million people speak Russian.

3. Read some of the most beautiful poetry and literature ever written – in the original

Макулатурные_книги,_СССР,_1980-е_годы.jpg

Some of the greatest writers who’ve ever lived wrote only in Russian. If you learn Russian, you’ll be able to read the likes of Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Bulgakov, Chekhov, Gogol, Pushkin, and many more, all in the original.

4. Find out the difference between t.A.T.u lyrics in English and in Russian

t.A.T.u is probably the only Russian band anyone outside of Russia has ever heard of (apart from maybe Pussy Riot). One fun game to play is to compare the lyrics of their songs in English to in Russian. Did you know that in the Russian version of “All The Things She Said”, the song is actually called “I went insane”?

5. Gain an insight into another world

trolleybus_ziu-682g_in_yaroslavl_01

© Alex Florstein Fedorov, Wikimedia Commons

Russia and the Russian speaking world are places that never cease to fascinate. Due to the history of Communism, and their relative remoteness, life in places like Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan is quite different to in the rest of the world. Learning the language is the very first step to understanding this enigmatic place. As the writer Fyodor Tyutchev wrote: “Умом Россию не понять“, which means “Russia cannot be understood with the mind.”

6. Learn a whole new alphabet

And do so by decoding top secret enemy plans with Memrise’s Cyrillic chatbots!

Russian uses the Cyrillic alphabet, which was adapted from the Greek alphabet. It uses many letters that look like Latin letters, but actually are pronounced differently, like ‘Н’, which is actually an ‘N’. That makes learning to read and write Russian feel like learning a secret code!

7. Feel like a pro when saying English words like “chizkeyk” and “long ayylend” in Russian

5517333714_d87dcef004_z

Photo (C) Sandra Cohen-Rose and Colin Rose

Russian takes many words from English and other languages, like brand names, and it can be really fun to pronounce these in your best Russian voice. Can you guess these words from Memrise Cyrillic Decoder Chatbot 101?

БОСТОН, ЛОНДОН, КОСМОС, ТРАМ, МЕТРО, БАР, БАНК, ДЖЕЙМС БОНД

8. Master the art of doing an impression of a Russian accent

No-one can do a better Borat voice than someone who speaks fluent Russian. Trust me! Not even Pierce Brosnan

9. Actually understand what people are saying in James Bond

Sometimes there are whole scenes in James Bond movies in Russian with no subtitles, such as in From Russia With Love. If you can speak Russian, you’ll get the satisfaction of being able to understand these and explain them to anybody watching with you. Also, in video games like Call of Duty, sometimes the Russian soldiers give you hints in Russian with no subtitles, so only Russian speakers can understand.

And have I already mentioned that we have a super-secret spy theme in Memrise’s Russian course where you learn to decode enemy secret plans? James Bond stuff 😎

10. Go to Russia, survive the winter, spend the rest of your life knowing you’ve won

p32304201.jpg

There’s nothing quite like leaving the house one morning and it being -40C and everything is under two metres of snow. And there’s no experience like living through that and surviving to tell the tale. If you love snow, Russian is the language for you.

11. Master Russian grammar and know what it’s like to finish a marathon

Sometimes studying Russian grammar can feel exactly like the cyclist in that video. Just when you think you’ve done it, you discover there’s a whole lot more to go. Russian grammar is a real test of logic and stamina, but is extremely rewarding once you get there. Don’t give up!

12. Learn some mind-boggling idioms

Moscow Russia Babuschka Doll Matruschka Matroschka

If idioms are like colour in a language, then Russian is one of the most colourful languages imaginable. They involve all sorts of farm animals, foods, and political officials. For an impressively exhaustive list, see here.

13. Start understanding loads of other awesome Slavic languages

Slavic languages all seem equally baffling and impossible at first, but once you’ve learned one it’s amazingly easy to start picking the others up. They all have plenty of words in common, and much of the grammar is very similar too, although with some differences. Learning Russian could be your foot in the door to understanding what other people in Eastern Europe are saying too!

14. Open up new career prospects

secret_intelligence_service_building_-_vauxhall_cross_-_vauxhall_-_london_-_24042004

It sounds cliché, but the Intelligence Services are always complaining that they are woefully understaffed when it comes to Russian speakers. That means learning Russian could be your gateway to a brand new exciting career in the building in the picture above (or was that just a decoy?). But as the Russian speaking world is so big and represents such a big market, there are also many other jobs in finance, law and international business where knowing Russian is a real asset.

15. Cheburashka

If you’ve never heard of Cheburashka before, this is the adorable Soviet-era toy that is the centre piece of every Russian speaker’s childhood memories. Welcome to hours of procrastinating watching all of his videos on YouTube and trying to learn the lyrics.

16. Discover dill and other Russian delicacies

5033415296_42afb36608_z

Photo (C) Liz West

There is one green herb which is unavoidable in Russian cuisine: dill. You will find it on literally every type of food you can imagine – soups, chips, fish, meat, vegetables, mayonnaise, salads, more dill… Love it or hate it, one thing’s for certain, and that’s if you go to Russia you will find yourself having to eat it!

17. All other languages will feel easy in comparison

language-2345801_640

When faced with the task of learning a mammoth language like Russian, all those days of worrying about ‘ser’ and ‘estar’ in Spanish or different genders in French will shrink out of your memory. Did you know Russian has six cases? And at least two aspectual pairs for every verb? And a seemingly infinite number of combinations required just to express the word ‘to go’? And a totally different alphabet and a vocabulary that looks nothing like any language you’ve ever seen before? Welcome to the real challenge!

18. Understand the secret language from “A Clockwork Orange”

Anthony Burgess deliberately used Russian to create Nadsat, the secret, menacing slang of his classic novel A Clockwork Orange, and the film that followed. If you speak Russian, you’ll know what ‘droogies’ and ‘devotchkas’ are, or what he means when he keeps ‘viditing’ things.

19. Get your own Russian name

In Russian, everybody has a first name (имя) and surname (фамилия), but also a patronymic (отечество), which is always based on their father’s name. To address someone formally, you would have to call them by their first name and patronymic. So if your name is Joe Bloggs, and your father’s called Steve, your Russian name would be Joe Steveovych Bloggs. And if your name is Mary Bloggs, and your father’s called Steve, you’d be Mary Steveovna Bloggs. Get it?

Learn Russian with the Memrise Official Course, including native speaker videos for Memrise Pro Users!


bVdID8LUAlex is Memrise’s Language Learner in Residence. He spends his time working with the Language Research Team, making fun videos about languages, and contributing to the Memrise blog. He tweets @rawlangs_alex.

In his free time he enjoys cooking, watching films, and walking his dog. He also writes books, like this one.

Interested in writing for us? Contact us here!

Feeling inspired to learn a new language? Check out Memrise!

Guest Post

What is it like to be an interpreter?

Learning a language is tough, right? Even with a great app like Memrise! It takes months and years of study, and for what?

What are the amazing things you would do when you finally become fluent? Do you daydream of living in a foreign country, impressing others with your ability to have intellectual conversations in a second language?

Or have you got a dream job in linguistics in mind?

A career in interpreting never occurred to me during those long evenings I spent whetting my English. I came to be a social service interpreter purely by chance, but I loved the experience. While doing the job, I realised the importance of being able to communicate with other human beings regarding vital matters, such as freedom or health. If we could all speak each other’s language, we would remove barriers and probably resolve a lot of conflicts. That’s the daydream I often had.

However, it seems as though very little is known and told about the interpreting profession, so I thought I would share what I know:

The difference between an interpreter and a translator

Most people assumed I was a translator when I told them I did interpreting work. If everyone watched The Interpreter, my job of explaining would be a lot easier, though not all of life as an interpreter involves as much glamour, excitement and danger as the one Nicole Kidman portrayed in that movie.

Provided that you don’t know the difference and don’t have time to watch the movie: an interpreter works with speech while a translator works with written words. On the job, the latter has dictionaries while the former can only depend on his or her memory. That, my friends, is Challenge Number 1.  

The challenges of the interpreting profession

Memory

As an interpreter, you have to remember a huge amount of words and, more importantly, be able to recall them quickly. You don’t have a reference book to fall back on or the luxury of going for a walk and waiting until the perfect equivalent word comes to mind. You have to know it there and then, sometimes, as quickly as in an instant.

Brain splits in two

There are two types of interpreting: simultaneous vs. consecutive.

During consecutive interpreting, a speaker stops every few minutes, and an interpreter takes her turn to render what was said into the target language. It means that you, as an interpreter, can listen, then speak. Your brain has to work in two languages, but it can take little breaks in between.

With simultaneous interpreting, the speaker doesn’t stop, so you have to listen to the first piece of information, and repeat it in another language while simultaneously listening out for the next piece of information. This type of work often happens in international conferences or court cases.

It’s extremely hard to listen and speak at the same time and in two languages. Try it, and you will see how exhausting it is. In UN conferences, for example, interpreters have to switch off every twenty minutes. If not, your brain would probably fry.  

Emotion

An interpreter is asked to keep emotion out of it, so it doesn’t affect her objectivity, which is especially important if she’s working in a court case with a jury.

It’s easier said than done, though. I’ve worked in cases of human trafficking, rape, and organised crime. I saw outrage, desperation, and despair. A lot of it all. And I was supposed to be stone cold and just work with the words as though they were only phonetic symbols with no consequences? It comes with the job description, but it’s far from easy.

The merits of an interpreting profession

High pay

The work is hard, but it pays well. Interpreters often work as a freelancer, and you don’t need to work every day of the month to pay the bills. If you work for the UN, 10 days per month is probably enough.

Free travel

You get paid by the hour, and chauffeured around too. Well, not exactly in a limousine, but most organisations will pay for your transportation because they need you to be in a particular place at a given time.

I travelled a lot in the UK because of my work as an interpreter. I was paid to go to different cities, and I always stayed on after a job to do some sightseeing.

Social interaction

You get to meet people, hear their voices and their stories. The life of an interpreter is much more sociable than that of a translator. A translator can work in his dressing gown from a home office, which is great but can run the risk of feeling rather alone.

An interpreter, on the other hand, always works with others. They have colleagues working alongside them on big, important cases. They have people who need their help to understand what is going on, individuals who depend on them and often show them their gratitude.

It’s very satisfying seeing the impact of your work straight away on the people around you.

Maybe an interpreting profession is not for every bilingual, but it’s an exciting path. It challenges your language skills to the max, and is rewarding in many ways.


public profile

 

An interpreter turned content writer, Quynh Nguyen writes about productivity, learning and development. She loves languages, cultures and many nice cups of tea. Connect with her @QuynhThuNguyen or visit her at www.quynh.nl

Feeling inspired to learn a new language? Check out Memrise!