Our Origin Story
Picture the scene… It’s the late noughties, the first iPhone has recently been released and Beyoncé’s ‘Single Ladies’ is on repeat on the radio. Meanwhile, 3 scientists - Ben, Ed and Greg - meet at Oxford University. With a shared love of language learning, a deep understanding of neuroscience and a knack for cool memory techniques, they embark on an epic journey. Following graduation, Ben moves to China to apply his theories on second language acquisition, Ed becomes US Memory Champion, and Greg begins his PhD in neuroscience at Princeton.
Keeping up with the story? Okay, now let’s fast-forward to 2010. The friends reunite in London to combine their separate research, and end up creating what is now one of the most popular language learning platforms in the world. You guessed it: we’re talking about Memrise!
So what was the secret recipe that made Memrise so popular? Well, from day one, Ben, Ed and Greg held the strong belief that studying languages from textbooks and inside classrooms wasn’t helping people use a language in real life. And if you can’t use a language in real life, you have to ask yourself ‘what’s the point?’. After all, we’d be willing to bet that every learner’s core goal is to be able to communicate effectively, while having fun along the way.
Ben, Ed and Greg also wanted to challenge the false perceptions that language learning is boring, rigid and difficult if you’re naturally “bad” at it (btw, there’s no such thing as being “bad” at languages - phew!).
What the 3 friends all agreed upon was that full immersion is how you truly acquire a new language. Why? Because immersion means getting to know the true language of native speakers, as well as the idioms, natural rhythms, emotional tones, body language, and cultural habits that come as part of the whole package. In other words, learning a language isn’t just about memorizing words. And so, the Learn, Immerse Communicate method was born.
The three legs of the Memrise stool
We’re not going to tell you that using an app at home is better than going in-country and learning a language by speaking it to people (no matter how good the app might be!). But, for many of us, packing our bags and moving to a country that speaks that language you want to learn just isn’t realistic. So our 3 founders had to figure out the next best thing: making real-life language immersion available 24/7, in the palm of your hand.
We’ve spent over a decade going deep into the study of *why* language immersion works so well, which has given us our underlying approach to teaching a language. This approach can be represented as a three-legged stool. Bear with us. The stool has a solid seat - a platform that supports you in your learning journey - and 3 legs to support it:
First, we teach you vocabulary that you’re actually going to use. It’s as simple as that. Next, we show you that language in real-life contexts, through immersive videos. Finally, you use what you’ve learned to practice conversing confidently.
Each of these legs is crucial. Without one of them the stool would topple. Language courses tend to focus on just the Learn leg, while language partners focus mainly on the Communicate leg. But your learning journey is only fully supported when using all three of these solid legs. Today, our platform, and therefore our learning journey, is laid out in 3 sections: one to represent each of these 3 legs. But that doesn’t mean that our Learn, Immerse, Communicate method is a new thing.
We've always been about immersion
Back in 2016, for example, the Memrise team set off on a across Europe. With a bright blue, double-decker ‘MemBus’ as their home, the group traveled 12,000 miles across 10 countries to create the world’s first video dictionary! They recorded thousands upon thousands of videos of locals saying phrases in their native language, with their unique pronunciation and body language. When the team returned, these videos were added to Memrise, providing learners with thousands of immersive lessons to make them feel as though they were in the country too.
Why are we telling you about the MemBus 7 years on? Because we want to highlight how important immersive learning has always been, and always will be, to the Memrise mission. Our product and our brand may have changed a lot over the years, but our belief in the effectiveness of immersion as a learning tool has stayed the same.
Of course, all of this immersive learning would be for nothing without the final step of the Memrise method: Communicate. We’ve heard ‘practice makes perfect’ a million times, but, in the case of language learning, it really is true. Without practice, it’s impossible to improve. Ever wondered why a friend came back from a short backpacking trip in Mexico speaking pretty decent Spanish? It’s because they had unlimited opportunities to practice over those few weeks. Even our co-founder Ben studied French for 8 years at school but freezes up when he has to speak it.
So, at Memrise, how could we possibly re-produce the experience of communicating ‘in the wild’? This was undoubtedly the hardest part of our 3-step pedagogy to bring to life in our product. After many iterations, and with the help of some pretty cool new tech (hi GPT-3), our team built the world’s first AI-powered Language Partner, called MemBot, which sits in the Communicate tab of our product. And we’re super proud of it.
MemBot gives our learners completely accessible language practice. They can work on their spoken language skills anytime, anywhere, on-demand through a series of exciting conversations created by our talented team. From one moment to the next, MemBot can play the role of a friendly barista, a job interview panelist, or a friend organizing a surprise party. On top of this, MemBot is actually proven to significantly lower the stress that many people experience when practicing with a human language tutor. Pretty cool, huh?
Where we are now
So that’s the story of how Memrise grew from an idea between 3 university friends, to a platform with its very own AI chatbot, enjoyed by over 65 million learners across the world (that’s like the whole population of France, by the way).
We’re in the midst of a very exciting moment at Memrise, with our Learn, Immerse, Communicate method underpinning everything. Our platform does exactly what we’ve always believed it would do, and we can’t wait for more of you to join us on the journey!