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.

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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!

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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

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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.

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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.

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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


The Language of the Euro Cup 2016
Culture around the world

The language of Euro 2016

   In the spirit of the Football Tournament that has taken over Europe, Richard, this month’s guest blogger, thought it relevant to take a look at the football language of each remaining team in the race, apart from one, who can guess which one?

Europe. When you think about it, it’s great isn’t it? All those languages and cultures bouncing off one another, interacting and intertwining in such a small space. What’s not to like?

So Euro 2016 is a particular treat, throwing up all kinds of interesting vocab, sayings and cultural tidbits for the discerning viewer.


The Germans treat their football a lot like their language. Both start from solid foundations, but use that as the basis for all kinds of expression and invention. And being a national obsession, there are many footballing terms that have passed beyond the pitch and into wider use:

  • The arse card (Arschkarte): “To get the arse card” is to be sent off, or more generally to have something particularly bad happen to you. It comes from the fact that the referee keeps the red card in his back pocket, next to his backside
  • Keep the ball down low” (den Ball flach halten): meaning hold your horses, don’t be hasty
  • To give a through ball” (eine Steilvorlage geben): to put something on a plate for someone

But all that structure doesn’t necessarily stem the tide of cliché that comes with the language of football. Patrick Funk is famous for his philosophical remark that “left is similar to right, just on the other side” (Links ist ähnlich wie rechts, nur auf der anderen Seite). Hard to argue with, really.


We love Italy, and the unique approach they take to the language of football. Where most languages have adopted the word panenka, Italian has the colpo a cucchiaio (spoon shot). While the rabona has caught on in the majority of footballing tongues, the Italians talk of the incrociata (‘crossed kick’). And when it comes to describing the game itself, where most nations use some variation on ‘football’, Italy has calcio.

They also have the Zona Cesarini. Named after 1930s player Renato Cesarini, this originally referred to a goal scored in the last minute. Nowadays it has many uses for something achieved or saved at the death, which is said to be have been done “in the Zona Cesarini”.


Food is a big deal in the French language of football. Quelle surprise. A café crème is any move which humiliates your opponent, while a caviaris a particularly fine pass leading to a chance.

The French also love a nickname, going back to Le Divin Chauve (“The Divine Baldie” – Barthez), Le Président (Laurent Blanc), Zizou (Zidane) and Titi (Thierry Henry). Today, Blaise Matuidi’s style of play has earned him the nickname Charo (“Scavenger”), while Paul Pogba is creating a brand around the name Pogboom.


Icelanders take pride in the heritage of their language, which has changed little in over 1,000 years. There will always be fresh ideas in need of naming, though, and Icelandic is adept at creating new vocabulary from old words.

When football was first making waves at the turn of the 20th century, it went by the word “fótbolti”, a direction translation of ‘football’. This wasn’t Icelandic enough, though, and the word knattspyrnawas created and quickly adopted. Knattspyrna literally means “ball-kick“, with both parts of the word being sophisticated terms in their own rights.

  • Iceland is also fond of its butter. To butter the ball (smyrja or smyrja boltanum) is when a shot shaves the post on the way in.
  • Continuing down the culinary path, when you show the other team what you’re really made of you “take them to the bakery” (taka þá í bakaríið).
  • A bicycle kick is known as a “bicycle horse kick” (hjólhestaspyrna), which most likely comes from the fact that bicycles were given the name hjólhestaror “horses on wheels” when they first came to Iceland.


Polish often seems as though it is governed by its whispering sz, zhand cz sounds, but it is equally big on growling, rolling R noises. The Polish love a diminutive, formed in all manner of ways, from to  –kato –czka to  –enkato –ekto a dozen or so others.

Pronunciation can be a tricky beast. Borussia Dortmund clocked this, so when they signed Jakub Błaszczykowski they decided to make life easier for the German public by just using the nickname “Kuba” on his shirt. Probably for the best, all told.

But if you can get your mouth round it, Polish is host to some very pleasing expressions. “The referee is a boot” (sędzia kalosz) dates make to a match against Czechoslovakia in 1931, when a watching dignitary was so disgusted by a refereeing decision that he lobbed his boot at the hapless man in black. A count went cold-footed, and a chant was born.


In Portuguese there is a single word for the language of football. This shows the esteem in which the country holds both things, and we heartily approve. The word in question is futebolês. Portuguese uses the suffix -êsto denote languages – português, francês, inglês – and here it neatly describes the country’s lyrical obsession with the game, which produces some outstanding turns of phrase, and the occasional verbal mishap.

Ex-international player João Pinto produced our favourite,stating that “my club was at the edge of a precipice, but they made the right decision and took a step forward.”
O meu clube estava a’ beira do precipício, mas tomou a decisão correcta: Deu um passo em frente.


While Gareth Bale is having plenty of success with his straight-ahead thunderbolts, if he were to give his free kicks a more sensual curl, it would be known in Welsh as a crymanu. This comes from the noun cryman, meaning “scythe”, and gives a nice visual idea of the arc a well-struck dead ball should take.

Despite centuries of cultural oppression, the Welsh language continues to be used in the country, with Joe Allen, Aaron Ramsey, Ben Davies and Owain Fôn Williams all fluent. It can look impenetrable to outsiders, though, which may be why some of Aaron Ramsey’s followers confused his tweets in Welsh for him being drunk.

Best of luck to the remaining teams! Let the best one win!


Richard Furlong is interested in three things: football, language and writing. He has combined those things into a blog – the Language of Football – which is slowly becoming his obsession.

He loves the excitement of learning, and speaks English, French and Spanish to varying degrees of hilarity. His next big challenge is to find a way to turn those obsessions of his into some kind of career.

#nerdy #linguist #writer

Read more from Richard here and follow him on Twitter!


The Return of the Membusito: our adventures in Andalucía


And so we crossed the Spanish border once again – ¡Viva el Membusito! – this time entering into the Southern lands of Andalucía, with all the blue skies, bougainvillea, and Enrique Iglesias you could ever hope for. There were also a few more Brits abroad than you could ever hope for, but that sure didn’t stop us in our mission to seek out as much local Andalucian life as possible.


And where better to start than in sunny Seville, toasting the new team over a bowl of caracoles (snails), and some tantalizing tapas at a back alley bodega. We met Rubén, our young half Spanish, half Irish filmmaker, who soon became the resident expert in finding us the best sports bars to watch those crucial (and cultural) Euro football matches. He’s chosen to support Spain over Ireland this time. Wise choice.


We also had the pleasure of welcoming on board the lovely Jon and Erich, two of our Kickstarter backers, who’d travelled from Switzerland to join us for the week! They mucked in straight away with the welfare of the bus, buying razor blades to scrape the paint stains off the windows, and casually mixing mojitos for some light refreshment afterwards. Jon and Erich, you can come again any time you like.

In Seville, we soaked up a variety of the local cultural scene, starting highbrow with the Alcázar. We explored the palace’s maze of chambers, resplendent with ceramic mosaics and illuminated baths, and chilled out with the parading peacocks in the garden. We spent our final evening dancing the night away at Seville’s top alfresco discoteca.


During the taxi ride home, we got a true lesson in the local accent. Or rather, a totally unintelligible tirade from the taxi driver, who appeared to be lost and telephoning a friend for help, but could have been wishing his grandmother goodnight for all we knew.

We then made our way to Marbella where Michaela, head of product at Memrise, came to join the party, quite literally. She arrived Friday night to find us dancing upon a cushion we’d transformed into our very own makeshift flamenco square. She was on an important research mission into the making of the new video immersion mode, amidst the odd beachside cocktail and foot massage, that is.


After several very happy days upon Marbella’s extensive coast, filming, doing admin, and rocking up a grand total of 7 in beach bat and ball, we ended our Andalucian adventures with a day trip to the exquisitely beautiful town of Ronda. Along the way, we captured our favourite moments of the trip with our brand-spanking new Lomo Instant Wide camera – thanks Lomography for gifting it to us!


Renato, as ever, kept the team in the best shape possible over the week. If he wasn’t out decimating Marbella’s wild aloe vera plants to provide us with shampoo, he’d be charming us out of police fines, helping us with our abs exercises, and whisking up gazpacho, home-made pesto and blueberry smoothies for dinner (we bought a blender and it’s now his new favourite toy).

With Campo de Criptana, Valencia and Barcelona as the next stops in the Membusito’s third and final stage, the Spanish chapter of our video dictionary is very soon to be complete!

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If you want to see more pictures, check out our Instagram page! @membustour