“How I Learned a Language in 22 Hours” — Joshua Foer describes how he used Memrise.com to learn Lingala, an African trade language, in 22 total hours of study (over a three-month period). Memrise uses visual memory techniques and modern computer gaming incentives to make such a feat possible.
If five million people can be convinced to log into Zynga’s Facebook game Farmville each day to water a virtual garden and literally watch the grass grow on their computer screens, surely, Ed believes, there must be a way to co-opt those same neural circuits that reward mindless gaming to make learning more addictive and enjoyable. That’s the great ambition of Memrise, and it points towards a future where we’re constantly learning in tiny chunks of our downtime.
Naturally, I leapt straight from that article to the Memrise website and, two days later, am happily up to my eyeballs in German vocabulary. The kids and I are working our way through a course on the trees of England. (I always wondered what yew and rowan looked like.) Highly, highly, highly recommended.