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Hacking Languages: a review of the first iteration, and news of updates.

By Memrise Blog

Last week we sent out a survey to people who hadn’t logged in to Memrise for over 6 weeks, asking them why they had stopped. The most common reason by far was that they had been too busy. They said that the courses were good,they loved the site, but that is was their fault that they stopped because they just didn’t have the time or motivation to go on.

But they are wrong! It isn’t their fault, it is our fault! The whole aim of Memrise is to enchant the very process of learning to such an extent that it becomes something that you simply can’t get too busy to do: like chatting with your friends, or checking twitter or drinking coffee. We believe that learning can be an imaginative, relaxing and purely enjoyable process. And we are going to keep on exploring new ways to make it so.

That is why we publish the completion stats for every course: that is one of the key measures that a language course should be judged by. How compellingly addictive is it? These numbers may not always make pretty reading – learning a new language is fairly intimidating undertaking, and one which people traditionally are very likely to give up. We start, intentions good and expectations high… and then get we get distracted. The courses (and I don’t mean Memrise courses specifically, I mean all language learning courses) just don’t hold our attention enough.

It has now been three months since we launched the first iteration of the “Hacking” language courses – time for a thorough review of how they are doing, and what we are doing to improve them.

The first versions were meticulously structured around the idea of learning the phrases that were most important to learn in order to understand how the language works grammatically, and balancing that with learning the words and phrases that are most useful to you if you visit the country. Together with people in the Memrise community we are going to be iterating and improving the courses over time until they are so utterly compelling that by simply starting to learn them, your impending proficiency in the language will have been made inevitable.

The courses have been hugely popular among people setting out to learn a new language, and feedback from those who have completed the courses confirm that the contents are extremely helpful… but how many people do complete them?

Taking Hacking Spanish as an example, as of today 3,676 people had finished the first level of “Hacking Spanish” over the last couple of months, of whom 307 had completed the entire course. That is around 8%. By general standards, that is actually quite a high completion rate for an online language course… but that is a very low bar, and there is clearly a lot of room for improvement.

And improvements are on the way! The most striking thing that we learned from analysing how people were using these courses was that where there were good mems, people stuck around and learned more. The worse the mems, the worse the engagement. Honestly, this wasn’t much of a surprise – but the starkness of the finding was a spur to action. We needed to fill these introductory courses with really top quality mems.

So, for the last two weeks, and for the next two weeks, the Memrise HQ has been graced by the presence of no less than ten extravagantly talented illustrators. Together we have been exploring how to make the best possible mems and exploring and expanding the idea of what a mem really is. The results have been pretty glorious and the new courses are being brought to life.

We are going to be releasing the courses together with the new app and various other improvements early in April, but if anyone is considering starting to learn a new language, and would like to have a sneak preview, I would hugely appreciate some pre-release feedback, so please do email me (ben@memrise.com) and I can set you up to try out the courses as we develop them!