After spending some time here on memrise, and before that, with ANKI and smart.fm back in the day, I thought I'd share my thoughts on SRS flashcard systems.
The reason people love memrise is the game-like feel to it. However, if it walks like a game and talks like a game, it might still bite you in the ass and show you its grey, ugly "loads of work" face at some point. Suddenly all the fun is gone. How could that happen?
Depends on your level when you start. By definition, a flashcard system introduces vocab in isolated fashion, probably even in single sentences. While the latter is definitely better than the former for getting where and how to use those words, both ways to present vocab sucks in that it won't tell you how the language works, which nuance a word may have and when to prefer it over another word that's seemingly the same. There's a clear line between "shit" and "feces", between "make love" and "fuck", right? So, in order to really learn everything there is to words, you have to encounter them outside the system.
As an intermediate learner, you will at least have a basic understanding on the mechanisms of the language. A newbie has no chance to use memrise and actually benefit from it, as the words they'll learn will float about in their brain, kept alive only by the SRS nature of memrise. If you still have trouble to string a sentence together, delay memrise and go back to the introduction lessons of your textbook / podcast /whatever method you follow, because memrise will, at this point, only be a giant waste of time for you. Even worse, you will feel like all your work is for nothing, because even after learning 1000 words, you still won't recognize them when spoken by a native on your favorite talk show or soap opera, and you sure as hell won't be able to use them at all (well you could spout them out the way you learn them here, point at the cute girl in front of you and say "make love!" - or, worse, "fuck!")
Even as an intermediate learner, you will pile up vocab without being able to actually make it live, unless you actually produce a lot of output. To receive feedback on it, you correctly used all the stuff you learned, go check out lang-8.com ... that's a place where learners hang around and correct each other's entries in their native tongue. Wanna learn Chinese? Chang from Taiwan will be happy to help out. Bob from Boston will correct your crappy English, if he can trade it for your French. And so on. Also, chatting helps a ton. You wouldn't receive corrections that way, but you'll have "interactive blueprints" you can immerse in to advance, and you'll somehow figure out you just dumbfounded your chat partner because you uttered something stupid they can't comprehend (which, by the way, is perfectly normal and happens to me all the time, still).
Well, that's that, now on to what I actually do when I'm here.
When I first started out, I was basically able to hold a conversation in my target language, as long as it wasn't about something funky, like the state of the Islam in Marocco in 1920 or the view of the Republicans on gay marriage. For some reason, I knew very early what "vocabulary", "vocab word", "grammar point" or "pronunciation" meant in my TL, so I already had one specialized area to talk about in a somewhat educated manner. This means, I started on memrise with a decent vocab pool of probably 5000 words I already knew.
When I started the lists here, I rushed through them, 100-200 words a day. Among those, maybe 10 were new, probably 20, but I only learned new stuff and rushed through old, known content, so my focus was on progress.
After some time, reviews kicked in. I spent time and energy doing them, to properly ingrain what I learned. I soon found out that mass vocab acquisition with an SRS is a bad thing if you're unprepared. Words are zombies. You kill them and next night they knock on your door again. At my pace, those reviews really got me after some time. 400 repetitions a day were pretty much the norm, and if you sit down, doing 8 sessions (no, failed cards will show up before your daily reps are done, so better calculate with 10 rounds of 50 words each), no matter how easy stuff is, you'll be exhausted to some degree. New words will come slower, you'll notice your fail rate is gonna rise and if that wasn't already bad enough, memrise shows no mercy when you produce a typo even when you mess up something trivial like "Hello", which you use 1000 times a day, because you're a concierge in your TL's country.
This basically means, memrise will punish you for learning a lot fast - even though this is the exact goal of the page. True, the words will space out after a while, and after you got them right so and so many times, but you'll mess up due to stupid stuff like 5 words with the same definition, 3 words with the same pronunciation, 4 typos in a row because your wife asks you when the hell you planned to take the trash out, or you fell asleep while memrise started your course ... or attempted to, for several minutes. You wake up suddenly and realize you right now failed "Hello" AGAIN - because it timed out after the damn site was done loading, because the programmers didn't think of a case like this despite 72 threads about it on the forums.
Yeah, I'm exaggerating here. Relax ;) If I'd think this site was crap, would I spend my time typing all this drivel on the forum? Yeah, thought so.
What I do to decrease the work load is, I ignore stuff. I think some 25 years ago, Ben announced that Soon(TM) you can switch words "inactive", which would basically be a reversible ignore option, accessible right from the word list. We know that the team is small and the To Do list long, so prepare for another 25 years until we get it. Until then, good old "ignore" will do.
I ignore stuff I know 100%. It won't matter that at some point, a perfectly known word (assuming I don't mistype it, no one wants me to take the trash out and I always have enough coffee to combat the loading times on start) will only show up every 3 months. You will have learned thousands of words and that means you'll always have stuff to review and it'll only get worse. So.. you think you know "Hello" by now? Good. Ignore it. That's what I do, and it helps.
I'm currently learning some lists, one of them is pretty huge (6000 words). My goal is to reduce my "Long term garden" to zero.
That's the exact place where all the reviews come from. If I really have a word at my disposal 100% of the time, 100% correct (except for the aforementioned reasons), I just kill it. I don't just kill it, I burn it, so it won't return and bother me tomorrow (or in 3 months).
I also find out which of the 10 words my TL has for "production" is the most widely used and applicable in most cases and focus on that. I may keep 2 or 3 of the others if I'm a "production, manufacturing, creating, etc" geek whose life depends on this kind of vocab, but I can tell you that I only use 3 or 4 words with the same basic meaning in my mother tongue, German - you know, the land of guys like Goethe, infamous for its long words and thousand ways to express the same thing, just with a different flavor. So this works with German - it also works for my TL, and probably yours. Go check and find out. If you can afford to ignore 50% of the synonyms, you're already less busy and can learn more new stuff, because you won't burn out on old stuff as easily anymore.
At some point (maybe in 3 months, when the Wiki and stuff are implemented), the "inactive" feature may come to life and you can unignore stuff you feel you should better re-train, or if you really need to have more ways to express the same idea. But to keep your sanity, drastic measures are to be taken.
Following this method, after the initial cleaning stage is finished, all you have in your "long term garden" is the actual stuff you're learning. You're still shaky with "Goodbye", so you didn't ignore it, even tho you know how to say "Bye", but want to sound more educated. That's cool, because with 200 words out of your 10000 learned, still in your "Long term garden", you can actually focus on that instead on developing an aneurysm due to your constant fuckups when you have to type in "Hello".
If you read this far, you were really, really bored and need to get a life. Summer's coming!
Wish you luck.