Olympic Language Facts
Culture around the world

Olympics Language Facts

Who is excited about the Olympics this year?

We thought it would be cool to collect a few fun language facts about the Olympics for you to enjoy!

1. The official languages of the Olympic Games are English and French.

2. Rio 2016 has been critiqued to be the least Francophone Olympics thus far.

3. Michael Phelps reportedly said that learning Mandarin is harder than winning 8 Olympic Gold medals in the pool.

4. American TV broadcasters tried to urge the Rio Games to change the language for the opening ceremony to English instead of Portuguese, so that the American team would march in towards the end in the alphabetical order (‘United States’ instead of ‘Estados Unidos’) making American audiences watch the ceremony till the end.

5. The sign in American Sign Language for ‘Olympics’ is based on the sign for ‘chain’ which is based on the ‘connect’ sign. So ultimately it’s the sign of the Olympics.

Let the best ones win!


The Membus in Italy: Part II


The Membus is continuing in its mission to record videos of native Europeans. Meanwhile, the Memrise team back in HQ are working hard to incorporate all these videos into a brand new “Meet the natives” mode. You can already enjoy the videos from our French and Spanish parts of the journey on the app! For a quick recap of what the project is all about, check out our site here.

Read on to find out how we finished collecting the videos for the Italian chapter of our dictionary….

There was just time for a switch over of the Membus’s human cargo in Rome before heading to our next destinations. We welcomed two new filmmakers – Klamer, who’d joined the tour in Spain and couldn’t resist coming back for more, and Julia, a Canadian living in Bologna who makes award-winning films in her spare time. We also greeted our new assistants – Alfio, economist and pizzaiolo from Bergamo, and Yula, happy Venetian linguist.


When Matilde suggested a detour to her native Tuscan village of Cetona, we agreed it would be a great opportunity to film a different side of Italy. On arrival, we parked up in the nearest field and were welcomed to a delicious garden lunch with Matilde’s lovely parents, who seemed completely at ease playing host to a large double decker bus and its 8 inhabitants, singing Italian ballads over a glass of digestivo. 

Thanks to the people of Cetona’s enthusiasm for our project, we were really able to capture local village life in our video dictionary, from pensioners gossiping in the central square to local business owners standing proudly outside their shops.

After this ideal rural break, the team were re-charged and ready for Bologna!

Julia was the perfect Bologna hostess. Despite only having lived there for a few months, it seemed that wherever she went there were people clamouring to offer us free drinks, find us large tables in busy restaurants and, of course, be stars in our videos! We would also like to thank Hyperting, cool Italian start-up who joyfully acted for our video dictionary.


We sampled as much tagliatelle al ragu as we could during our 2 days in Italy’s gastronomic capital, and explored the medieval city’s arched colonnades and leaning towers. Our last night was spent under the stars in the huge open air cinema set up in the main square.

It was then time for our last stop – Venezia! The enchanting lagoon city didn’t disappoint, and with Yula to guide us through the labyrinthine streets, we were able to track down locals (despite being in a city where tourists can outnumber locals 2 to 1).


Venice was also where Google decided to film us for a video about cool startups. And we certainly fit the profile! It was the ideal setting for them to shoot the team at work, what with the gondolier we convinced (forced?) to participate, and the amazing backgrounds of this magic city.

IMG_2498 (1)

And so, 1600km travelled, 1200 locals met and 5000 videos of beautiful Italian language captured (as well as all the hand gestures), it was time for the team to say goodbye to amazing Italy. You will soon be able to learn directly from Italian native speakers!

Enjoy more pasta pictures on our Instagram :)

Editable map updated (1)

rome team jump

Membus Italia – Portofino, Firenze, Roma

Our new team members arrived in Portofino to a BBQ of polpo on a little hillside overlooking the Membus, the perfect start to our Italian adventure. We welcomed Davide, a Roman who designs t shirts displaying iconic Italian gestures, lovely polyglot Alessia from Milan, and Carolina, Neapolitan filmmaker, recently returned from designing puppet shows in Latvia.

portofino driving

The next day was spent filming near the sparkling waters of Portofino, and as expected, the Italian’s proved to be naturals at performing for our video dictionary, happy to be filmed regardless of being accosted by our team mid tanning session.

Diana Italy.1.

We headed back to the campsite for a relaxing evening only to return from our showers to find a very alarming fire on the lower deck of the bus, which appeared to be consuming most of our electrical items. Luckily we had damp towels aplenty and put it out before it made it to our large canister of back-up fuel. Most of the electrics were safe but Miranda looked like she might cry when she found the wires to our newly repaired wifi box had melted.

However we weren’t going to let fire stop the Membus and set off for Firenze the next day, excited to experience the narrow streets, beautiful Duomo and famous Ponte Vecchio of the iconic city. When we managed to catch a local from the crowds of tourists, the city created the perfect romantic backdrop to our videos.

Firenze wine

The first evening we headed to the Piazza Santo Spirito for a traditional Campari spritz, and to welcome Matilde from Tuscany, a linguist we’ve kidnapped from the Memrise office and who’s working on creating the perfect Italian phrases for you to learn. The non Italian members of the team were amazed by the concept of an aperitivo and managed to get a remarkable amount of food piled onto their tiny plates.

Florence also brought us two sweltering (ie exceedingly hot and sweaty) trips to the mechanics with most of the team covered in oil after trying to investigate the problem themselves. Despite the heat, and the unusual vehicle we’d presented them with, the mechanics were immediately caught up in the joy of the Membus and appeared to have a lot of fun fixing our broken gear box.


So after a few mechanical hiccups, lots of beautiful videos, copious gelato and walks along the Arno river, the team were ready for Rome, which happens to mark the half way point of our journey through Europe.

In the capital we found many expressive Italians ready to be filmed in front of the impressive Colosseum, epic Pantheon and newly cleaned Trevi fountain.

Rome was also where the big highlight of our Italian tour was due to take place – our driver’s dream of rollerskating up the iconic Aracoeli steps. Renato jumped up all 124 marble steps and, to our alarm, also decided to come back down again. He made it to the bottom effortlessly and was presented with a glass of coca-cola, which he insisted on drinking while standing on his head. The crowd whooped and cheered and we all felt very proud of this extraordinary Italian man, who has become our prized Membus captain, chef and stunt man.

Renato vid dic

This is where we also decided to spice up the content of our video dictionary, by asking Italians to make up phrases with words we are giving them. This way, we want to provide you different ways of using these words in context, so you can learn even more natural phrases used by true locals. Soon available on your favourite app!

Editable map updated (1)


Polpo – Octopus

Ponte Vecchio – Famous Florence landmark which is an old bridge with many jewellery boutiques

Piazza Santo Spirito – a lovely square in Florence the Membus team recommend to anyone visiting!

Aperitivo – a pre-dinner drink, often served with a free buffet included in the price of the drink

Screenshot 2016-07-12 18.53.21
Memory Science & Magic

Take part in our global scientific learning experiment!

We’re seeking volunteers to help with an online scientific experiment to test the effectiveness of some completely new ways of learning.

The experiment is the final part of the “Memrise Prize”, an applied science competition in which we invited some of the world’s top memory and learning scientists to design their ultimate learning methodology. You can read more about the prize here.

In earlier rounds of this competition, scientists developed original learning methods and empirically tested them with learners in the laboratory against a control condition provided by scientists at UCL. From the data from those dozen or so experiments, five methods emerged as particularly effective for learning. We’ve now built those experiments online so we can test on thousands of Memrise users and discover which is the most powerful.

How to volunteer?

Participating in the experiment involves spending an hour online learning words in an obscure language (which we’re keeping secret for now), with a test one week later. Both the original learning experience and the final test happen online in the browser.

As a volunteer, you’ll be randomly assigned to one of the five methods we’ve been developing.

You can volunteer (and learn more about the Memrise Prize) by signing up here. We’re looking for volunteers with excellent English for the clearest results. The more volunteers we have, the more we’ll discover about the best ways to learn, so please consider donating an hour of your precious time to this fascinating challenge.

Having volunteered, we’ll send you a unique link to your personal experiment, which you can take online in your own good time. So please click through and sign up !

Why volunteer?

Taking part is fun, and it will challenge you to learn using a new method. By taking part in this experiment, you’ll also be advancing the cause of science: we hope to drive dramatic progress on the fundamental question of what method(s) produce the best results in learning.

And for those of you who like gadgets, everyone who completes the test will be put into a prize draw for a shiny new iPad and 100 Memrise Pro annual subscriptions.


The Membus in France: Part 2

And then the Membus was back in La France! This time in the South, starting off at a quaint romantic town named Pezenas, the birthplace of the comic playwright Molière. There were certainly a lot of funny characters about, starting with the husband and wife team running our campsite. The Maître D, who wore a chef’s hat all day long (yet was never once seen in the kitchen), and the Maîtresse D, who wore nothing but a cigarette and a frown, argued so theatrically that the whole town could hear. But they made us feel right at home.


Our French team was complete with the arrival of our two new assistants: we had Jeanne, linguistics expert and devilish dancer, and Damia, polyglot extraordinaire and possibly the happiest person ever. Together we explored all the labyrinthine passageways of the town’s historic quarter; catching townspeople having coffee on their terraces, shop vendors offering us samples of their local produce, and accordion players serenading the squares.


From a small town to a big city, our next stop was Marseille, where we had the privilege of participating in Le Festival de Marseille, a contemporary dance festival. We met and recorded lots of the performers in residence at the Théâtre Joliette-Minoterie, and were lucky enough to go and watch a spectacular performance by the Badke dance troupe at Le Silo theatre. Some of us even managed to steal a few signature moves from them at the after party.


We’d like to thank the whole team, including Benjamin chéri, the theatre’s chief barman and resident sweetheart, and Julie, logistics superwoman who helped us with the difficult task of manoeuvring the bus around the city, and avoiding those ruthless French road officials. Sacré bleu!


We loved exploring Marseille, from le marché aux puces by day, to funky folk music by night. However, our favourite place by far was the Mucem. We spent the afternoon visiting their fantastic exhibitions on Picasso and ancient civilizations, before the rooftop of the museum turned into a disco, with a barbecue, DJ set and enough space and breeze to keep us dancing all night long.

FullSizeRender (6)

The culture only continued at our next destination, Arles. The Membus team had press passes to Les Rencontres de la Photographie, an annual photography festival attracting a very international crowd. We got stuck in straight away, meeting (and shooting!) all the film crews and photography enthusiasts that were out and about in full force.


We spent the days making the most of our free entry to the wide variety of exhibitions all over town. And so it was by night that we went collecting our videos. Our favourite of the evening festivities was an African pop concert at the town’s disused rail station, where we caught some great footage in a converted old carriage (at the same time picking up some useful interior design inspiration for our bus) before boogying away on the dusty train tracks.


And so, after 2 weeks, 2000km, 600 locals, 3000 phrases, and an awful lot of culture, our French dictionary is now complete! Very soon you’ll be able to enjoy this brand new video immersion mode on your favourite app, learning French directly from the French themselves. Which, as we all know, is the best way to learn any language…next chapter, Italian!

Editable map updated

Vocab / Glossary:

Maître D – Manager

Maîtresse D – Manageress

chéri – beloved / darling

Sacré bleu! – Dammit!

le marché aux puces – The Flea Market

Mucem – The Museum of European and Mediterranean Civilisations





The Membus in Spain: Campo de Criptana to Barcelona

After hours upon the long and dusty road to La Mancha, the windmills of Campo de Criptana finally emerged ahead of us, as if they were lighthouses guiding the Membus. The story goes that fictional hero Don Quijote launched an attack upon the mills, in fear that they were ferocious giants. Who knows what he would have made of our big blue bus.


We stayed in a beautiful house with whitewashed walls and a blue ceramic interior. It was perched upon the highest point of the plateau, and its wooden front door, which creaked wildly in the winds of the sierra, seemed to be an ancient gateway to the town below.

The magic of the Membus had clearly spread back home, for that evening a trio of Memrise girls turned up on our doorstep. We had Olivia, Mexican marketing maestra, Kristina, Estonian tech-goddess, and Ana, Spanish señorita who translates the app for all of you to enjoy. We realized the bus had suddenly become very girly. What a paradise for Ruben and Renato.

image1 (5)

That evening was the solstice, and our rooftop terrace was the perfect place to be. Renato was at the helm of the barbecue, dipping rabbit meat in rosemary infused sauces, the girls were drinking vino blanco seco and learning the town’s history from local expert José, and we watched the bulging evening sun slowly giving way to the rising red moon. Glorious sights.

The next morning, we travelled to Valencia, arriving just in time for La Fiesta de San Juan, yet another celebration of summer. Classic Spaniards. The beaches were ablaze with bonfires, the smell of gunpowder hung thickly in the air, and our filmmaker Diana joined those daring enough for a refreshing dip in the ocean.


By the time we arrived in Barcelona, we had fully adjusted to the Spanish way of life, dining at midnight, dancing until midday, and changing our filming routine to avoid the six-hour siesta period which empties the streets of Spanish cities. Obviously we still had to visit the famous sites, to get those all important landmarks in the backdrops of our videos. But who’s complaining about having to visit Park Güell and La Sagrada Familia, two showstoppers of the famed architect Gaudi.


And so, after 2 weeks, 2000km, 600 locals, 3000 phrases, and far too many montaditos in chiringuitos, the Membusito’s adventures in Spain have finally come to an end, and our Spanish video dictionary is now complete! Very soon you’ll be able to enjoy this brand new video immersion mode on your favourite app, learning Spanish directly from the Spaniards themselves. Which, as we all know, is the best way to learn any language…next chapter, French!

Editable map updated


sierra – mountain

vino blanco seco – dry white wine

La noche de San Juan – St. John’s Eve

montaditos – small sandwich snack

chiringuitos – beach bar


Be Part of the Membus Adventure!

Have you been avidly following the adventures of the Membus  team and wishing you could be part of the epic road trip?

Well now’s your chance! Apply to join the team in Sweden, Norway or Denmark and you too could be using your language skills to help us create the world’s first video dictionary. Perks of the job include Renato’s excellent cooking,  living and working with a fun international team, and the chance to explore an amazing country from the top deck of the Membus!

Apply here to be part of the Membus story:


top deck