Learning 5000 German words on Memrise

Posted on April 5, 2018

I’ve recently gotten through learning the 5000 most popular German words (roughly; the list’s not perfect) on memrise, and it’s been pretty good.

Memrise is a spaced-repetition program wrapped in a website, and it so happened that someone had added exactly why I was after - a list of the most common words, sorted by frequency.

I skipped roughly the first 750 words from prior experience, and slogged my way through the remainder over about 8 months. My eventual steady-state pace was to review about 200 words per day and then do 15 new words. I didn’t count, but it probably took 40 minutes a day, broken up into any convenient configuration.

There’s a lot of sub-skills of language learning, and this only helps with vocabulary. I’m quite ok with this though - learning vocab is a big pile of work that has to be done eventually, and doing it like this comes with basically zero overhead from organization and planning, which I find to be pretty important to working on a skill in the background. I’m a little behind now with grammar and speaking and all that, but it should come much faster when I already know all the words.

A couple concrete things could have been better about the tooling. I would have liked for word stems to be prioritized above the derived words - for example putting “Hof” before “Bahnhof”, even though the latter is much more common in practice. And also the treatment of synonyms and near-synonyms could probably be better, though I’m not sure how. As it is I’m left with some weird quirks, like knowing that “pleasant” means whichever of “angenehm” and “sympathisch” I didn’t just encounter five minutes ago.

Next time, I’ll probably use some local program instead of a website. I’m not interested in the all the add-on features, and in the meantime needing internet access and having limited control of the word scheduling and so on are all little hassles that I don’t want to deal with.