In this review of Busuu, you’ll find everything I like and dislike about using Busuu to learn Chinese. In the last section, I’ll give you recommendations for alternatives that can save you money and help you on your journey to learn Chinese. Let’s jump into it.
Busuu is an extremely popular language learning app with over 10 million downloads in the Google Play Store. While it’s definitely not a bad app, I’m not sure it’s that great either. The biggest reason I say this is simply that there are free alternatives that can do pretty much everything Busuu can and often times better. However, for now, I’m going to focus on Busuu.
Busuu has four levels – beginner, elementary, intermediate and upper intermediate, along with a travel course. The beginner level has 20 lessons, elementary has 15, intermediate has 14, upper intermediate has 12 and the travel course has four lessons.
The lessons first teach you the vocabulary by using a picture, audio, simplified characters and the option to show the pinyin. You can then show and listen to a sample sentence that uses this word. As you learn the new vocabulary, you’ll periodically be given a matching test where you are given the word and audio and have to match it with it’s translation.
After you complete the flashcards, you’ll move onto the review portion. Here. you’ll start by dragging and dropping the Chinese words to their English translations. Then, there’s a dialog that you can listen to and read. This is useful as they incorporate a lot of the words that you just studied so you can see them in a conversational context.
After that, you’ll be given a quiz about the dialog which does a good job of checking your understanding. This is followed by another quiz where you match the word or audio to the translation.
At the end of each lesson, there’s a writing component. Here, you’re given a prompt related to what you’ve been learning. For example, after learning about appearances you’re supposed to write a description of yourself in Chinese. This will then be corrected by a Busuu user who speaks the language you’re learning.
What I dislike about Busuu
First, because the lessons are organized by topic you learn certain things much sooner than you need to and other things later. For example, if you follow the lessons in order, you’ll learn to say, “unemployed” before learning to count to three. This causes the lessons to get into fairly obscure vocabulary that isn’t useful for the level of the students they’re aimed at.
For absolute beginners, they never explain pinyin or tones which are very important to learn.
There isn’t any focus on learning to read or write the characters besides as they’re given in the examples.
Most of the dialog is read at an excruciatingly slow pace even at the upper intermediate level.
Grammar is never really explained. Although there are lessons with a grammar focus, you’re basically stuck figuring it out for yourself. Read my comparison of different grammar books here.
There’s no way to look up other words when you’re given example sentences.
What I like about Busuu
The app is very well made. It works great and is very easy to use.
They incorporate writing (well, typing) very early into the lessons. This is a great way to practice what you’ve learned, improve character recognition, sentence structure and also get more comfortable expressing yourself in Mandarin.
The social part of the app is very well done. Here you can help correct others writing and also have your writing corrected. Because Busuu has such a huge number of users, you’ll likely get feedback on your writing very quickly. It only took 10 minutes for someone to correct something I wrote.
Continuing with the theme of writing, the end of the lessons isn’t the only time you can practice writing. You can do this anytime and are actually given picture and video prompts to write about. These are taken from National Geographic and BBC. It’s not a huge thing but I actually do find it to be really helpful. Having the prompts provide you with a topic to write about makes it that much easier to simply start writing. This gets rid of the awkwardness of trying to figure out what you should actually write about.
While there are some free lessons, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium account to make use of most of the lessons and quizzes. The one month plan starts at $9.99 with cheaper monthly rates the longer you sign up. For one year, the cost is $69.99.
My favorite part of the app – the language exchange writing corrections is free to use.
Final Thoughts and Busuu Alternatives
Busuu isn’t a bad product by any means. However, I prefer to not spend money when it’s not necessary. Both HelloChinese and ChineseSkill (review) provide similar style apps without the cost. I’m also not a huge fan of the topic based lessons as you’ll learn too many things you don’t need to know right away. I think using a course with a more logical structure like Yoyo Chinese (review with coupon code) or Chinese Class 101(review) would be better suited for absolute beginner level students. If your Chinese is past the elementary level than I’d suggest using resources like The Chairman’s Bao (review), Du Chinese (review), Mandarin Companion books or Chinesepod (review) instead.
I’d still suggest trying Busuu simply for the writing correction aspect. While Lang-8 or Italki (review) are both great for writing corrections and language exchange, I find the prompts given on Busuu to be enough to push me into writing something when I wouldn’t otherwise have done so.