Learning Portuguese with Memrise

I’ve been working towards having a basic knowledge of European Portuguese for a while now and one of the best tools I’ve found is an app called Memrise.  The app is free and there are two levels of the program, Free and Pro.  Free allows you to learn and review nearly 200 language combinations.  The Pro version includes many other features, including a difficult words mode, a listening skills mode, and a video mode.  I am currently using the free version.

Memrise is based on the science of memory and uses several tools to make language learning easier.  In addition to repetition, which is a common learning tool, Memrise uses “elaborate encoding” which is a fancy way of saying the group similar words together- for instance, colors or foods- and, in some cases use simple memes to help the user remember the word.

Memrise also uses a variety of learning methods to increase the user’s ability to remember.  The creators call this “choreographed testing.”  You’ll run into speed tests, spelling tests and listening tests while using the app.  It keeps the learning process interesting.  Finally, because memories fade over time, older words frequently pop up in your daily lessons.  The combination of learning new words while reviewing older words really seems to work for me.

The app itself is quite user friendly.  The interface is pretty self-explanatory.  There are three basic testing methods- Learn New Words, Classic Review, and Speed Test.  They occur randomly and you simply click on the button at the bottom of the screen.  In this screenshot, the next testing method is Classic Review.

Memrise 4

Within the Classic Review and Learn New Words modes, there are several different ways in which the language is presented.  One method is simply multiple choice.  A word, either in English or in Portuguese is presented to the user and they must select the corresponding translation or word.  For instance, in this screenshot the word in question is “a cell phone.”  The user selects from the 4-6 options.  Once the user selects the word the correct word is highlighted and you hear the word spoken.  The combination of translating the word, seeing it in writing and hearing it spoken is a great way to learn the language.

Memrise 2

In addition to multiple choice, you may be asked to spell the word or you may be presented with a short video clip of a person speaking the word, and you have to decide what the person has said.  This is especially nice because you’re hearing the word spoken by real people and you have to learn the word as it is spoken.

Learning vocabulary is fine, but if you’re going to speak a foreign language, you need to learn to string the words into sentences.  In other words, grammar.  European grammar can be confusing for English speakers. The words don’t quite fall in the same place.  This feature helps you learn grammar in addition to vocabulary.  Here’s a typical screenshot for learning grammar.  Again, once you have completed the sentence, you hear the sentence spoken, so you get the translation, the visual of the sentence and the audio version.

Memrise 3

Memrise is the best language app I’ve found.  So far, I’ve worked through Portuguese 1 and 2, and I’m nearing completion of Portuguese 3.  The last time I looked, the classes went up to Portuguese 7.  I’m a long way from being able to communicate well, but I’m on my way.  Lately, I’ve noticed that I’ve begun translating Portuguese language blogs with some success.  Being able to put the results of what I’ve learned to use is enough of an incentive to keep me using Memrise.




A Fun Language Learning Tool

It’s no secret that my goal is to retire to Portugal.  I’ve been working towards having a basic knowledge of the Portuguese language when we’re able to move.  One fun- and free- tool I have found is Babadum.

Babadum is a game-based learning system, with five different games to choose from.  It’s strictly a vocabulary builder.  It won’t help you learn how to communicate in complete sentences and it doesn’t teach grammar.  You’ll have to find a different tool for that.

Here’s a quick visual of how to play the game.  If you hover over the icon in the bottom right of the screen you can select from 21 different languages:

Change Language 1

Next, by hovering over the icon in the top left of the screen, you can select your game:

Change Game

The first game gives you the word, both written and audibly, and you select the picture that matches the word.

Word to Picture

O bolo de aniversário, by the way, is a birthday cake, not a make-out session that the painter had after hooking up at the roller rink.  The second game gives you a picture and the audible version of the word and you match it to the correct written word.

Picture to Word

The third game gives you the audible version of the word only, and you select the picture that matches the word. In this case, the words are “bater palmas” or, in english, “clap hands.”

Audio to Picture

The button in middle plays the word.  You  simply have to decide what the word describes.  Notice the gruesomely severed hand in the upper left.   Any time you see a picture of something happening, the picture represents a verb.  In this case, it’s “to draw.”  The fourth game is a spelling game.


When you see an image like this one, the highlighted part of the image is what they want you to identify. In this case it’s a mother.  The fifth game randomizes the first four games into one game.

First, the drawbacks.  The amount of words available to learn are limited.  That being said, there are still probably several hundred Portuguese words available, so it is a good starting point.   Also, sometimes it’s difficult to tell from the cartoon picture what they’re describing.  After you’ve played the games a few times and learned some of the words, the pictures are less confusing.  Finally, there’s nothing to tell you how to play, so you have to figure it out on your own.

What I like about Babadum is that it’s easy to learn and to use,  the games are fast paced, and it combines three aspects of language learning- the sound of the word, the spelling of the word, and an image of what the word describes.  You can create a free account so that your progress is tracked by the number of times your answer was correct.  Babadum is also free, which is no small thing.  Language learning tools can be quite expensive.

Babadum is not a tool that will give you a good working knowledge of a language, but it is a fun, entertaining way to build your vocabulary.  If you’re learning a language, give it a try.