Babbel and Busuu are two of the most popular online language learning tools with millions of users between them. They are both available on the web, on iOS, and for Android, and are designed to teach courses in a variety of languages to a basic and intermediate level.
Both courses offer grammar and vocabulary practice through a number of short, self-paced activities. The key differences between the two resources are:
- Babbel’s lessons have a stronger focus on grammar, while Busuu doesn’t cover the area in as much depth.
- Busuu offers more varied exercise types. Babbel features many different exercises, but it favors repetition, and structure doesn’t change much.
- Busuu’s unique community feature offers a social aspect to language learning that Babbel doesn’t have.
As Babbel and Busuu are fairly similar in their offerings, it’s not possible to recommend one over the other as a universal preference. It’s worth looking at your own learning style and requirements for an online language course when deciding which of the two is most suited to you.
Another point worth mentioning is that Busuu’s Chinese course was of much lower quality than their courses for other languages. As such, this led to them receiving a lower overall rating when we reviewed their courses. So, if you’re considering studying a language that doesn’t use the Latin alphabet, we’d be very hesitant to recommend them.
Babbel doesn’t offer courses for Asain languages which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We appreciate their humility in not attempting to make a course for a language if they can’t do it well. Many language learning resources pump out courses for every language they can while following the exact same template. Babbel seems to focus on ensuring their courses are well-designed.
The table below highlights some of our favorite resources based on the language you want to learn.
What I like about each program:
- The lessons cover content that’s relevant for practical use in real-life situations.
- It’s easy to navigate the website, and the interface is well-designed.
- Lessons are fairly short and engaging.
- The social feature offers a much more enjoyable way to get feedback for language pronunciation.
- The lessons focusing on conversation are particularly useful.
- The layout of the website and app is clean, simple to navigate and user-friendly.
What I don’t like about each program:
- The lessons are quite repetitive, and at times make learning feel quite boring.
- Speech recognition doesn’t always work effectively in the pronunciation exercises.
- There’s a lack of focus on grammar concepts in the review exercises.
- Some of the exercises don’t offer translations.
- The Chinese course is much lower in quality than the other languages.
- There could be more grammar and explanations and practice in lessons.
Babbel currently offers online courses in 14 languages: Dutch, Danish, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish and Turkish.
Busuu’s courses cover 12 of the more commonly spoken languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, Russian, and Arabic.
Babbel offers a subscription model that starts at $12.95 per month on a monthly basis. A three-month subscription costs $8.95 per month, a six-month subscription costs $7.95 a month, and a year’s subscription costs $6.95 per month.
Price per month for a Babbel subscription gives access to only one language course. Babbel also offers a 20-day money-back guarantee.
Busuu offers a similar monthly subscription fee that is split into two separate payments: one for Premium and one for Premium Plus. Premium offers access to a number of courses and extras like a downloadable PDF of your vocabulary, while Premium Plus gives access to all courses and offers you a study plan, which lets you know how long it will take to reach your language goals based on your rate of study.
Premium users can pay $9.99 for a one-month subscription to Busuu, or $8.33 per month for a three-month subscription, $5.82 monthly for a six-month subscription, or $5.41 per month for a yearly subscription.
Premium Plus is charged at $13.99 for a single month’s subscription, $19.66 per month for three months, $6.66 per month for six months, or $5.74 monthly for a year’s subscription.
How languages are taught with Babbel
Babbel begins with a placement test that determines your current knowledge of a language, including your grammar and vocabulary. You’ll then be placed at the appropriate level in that language, although you’re free to start wherever you want if you’d prefer.
Each language is made up of a number of levels (Spanish and French, which we tested, have seven), and these levels consist of several courses. These courses are broken down into smaller lessons that offer a variety of different exercises.
Babbel’s exercises cover the different skills required for learning a language. Lessons normally begin with a Listen and Repeat exercise, which offers feedback on your pronunciation. The app uses speech-recognition technology to do this, which doesn’t always offer the most constructive feedback.
Most exercises on Babbel are typical to the example above. They’re fairly basic, but they do get slightly more advanced as you progress through lessons. One of Babbel’s best exercises allows you to listen to a conversation between two people and fill in the gaps as required. This gives you an idea of how the language would be used in a real-life scenario.
Grammar on Babbel is generally covered quite well. The app provides good explanations, and while the grammar sections aren’t the most interesting, they definitely provide value.
In addition to lessons, Babbel also has a Review feature, which is split into four different activities: Flashcards, Listening, Speaking and Writing.
Flashcards prompt you to come up with words you’ve learned already, then self-assess. In the Listening and Writing exercises, you’ll hear a word in your target language and then be asked to select the right answer or type it out. Speaking doesn’t offer much more than what’s covered in the Listen and Repeat section of the lessons.
How languages are taught with Busuu
When you get started on Busuu, you can opt to take a language placement test, which puts you at the appropriate level for a language. Like Babbel, Busuu lets you move around levels as you please, so there’s no requirement to stay where you’ve been placed.
Lessons on Busuu follow a logical progression. They’re grouped into different CEFR levels and generally flow well from one topical to another.
You’ll begin a lesson by being introduced to new vocabulary with a translation, audio recording, and a picture. You’re then asked to simply “memorize the word(s)”.
The audio is good quality in these exercises, and the example sentence and combined image work well together. However, we did find that Busuu sometimes expects you to remember too many words, which is fairly exhausting.
Another popular exercise on Busuu involves matching pairs and words/phrases. This helps you to get more familiar with new material before moving onto slightly more advanced fill-in-the-gap exercises, unscramble-the-word/sentence puzzles, and listening activities.
There is a good variety of lessons to go through, with one of the better exercises being the simulated conversation practice. This is similar to Babbel’s conversation exercise, but Busuu’s option feels more complex and realistic. Unlike Babbel, this conversation simulation plays the whole way through without stopping after every sentence.
A standout of Busuu’s offerings is its social aspect. It allows users to get feedback on their pronunciation from other users, in a means that is a lot more effective than speech recognition technology. You can’t send direct or private messages as you can on the likes of HelloTalk and Tandem, though – the only way to communicate is by offering or receiving feedback.
It’s worth noting that although the majority of Busuu’s courses are all at a similar standard, the Chinese course is significantly lower in quality. There’s no support within the app for typing in Chinese characters or Pinyin, and the app never offers any explanation of the different tones in Pinyin and how to pronounce them.
Overall, while Busuu and Babbel initially make good first impressions with their impressive layouts and easy navigation, both are lacking in depth in certain areas. While they make good enough resources for beginners, if you’re more serious about learning a language, you might be better off looking elsewhere.
Babbel has its shortcomings, and it won’t blow you away, but it works. The practice is efficient and makes for time well-spent. Providing you aren’t looking to learn an Asian language, you’ll get something out of a Babbel course.
Busuu’s lessons are generally good quality, but the app needs more grammar explanation and practice. You should avoid Busuu at all costs if you’re looking to learn Chinese (and likely Japanese or Arabic) – there are far better alternatives available.
Our top recommendations for other language learning resources vary based on the language you want to learn. If you want to check out our favourites for specific languages, take a look at the table below.
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