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Pimsleur vs Babbel: Both Good, But Have Different Strengths

Pimsleur VS Babbel

Pimsleur and Babbel are two of the biggest names in online language learning. These language-learning platforms offer courses for learning a range of languages from scratch, although when it comes down to lesson specifics, they have different focuses.

Babbel and Pimsleur offer good courses but take different approaches to language learning. 

  • Pimsleur primarily focuses on oral language which can help learners develop their conversational skills very quickly.
  • Babbel teaches more holistically, including grammar and written exercises – two areas mostly ignored by Pimsleur. Learners using Babbel would have a more well-rounded knowledge of the language, but lower speaking and listening skills compared with students using Pimsleur.

Both programs provide a good foundation in a new language, with high-quality lessons at relatively good value for money. 

Some learners may have a strong preference for one program over the other, but that largely depends on learning preferences and goals. You should choose Babbel over Pimsleur if you’re looking to develop your all-around language skills. If you’re looking to focus specifically on your speaking skills, Pimsleur is your best bet.

Pros of Pimsleur and Babbel:

Pimsleur

  • The focus on oral language encourages you to practice your speaking skills straightaway.
  • Constant prompts encourage you to stay active and produce the language you’re learning quickly.
  • Progression from one lesson to another is smooth and previously learned material is consistently reinforced.

Babbel

  • Content covered in the lessons is practical and designed for use in real-life situations.
  • The interface is well-designed and user-friendly.
  • Lessons are fairly short, well structured, and teach the languages as a whole.

Cons of Pimsleur and Babbel:

Pimsleur

  • The lessons aren’t very exciting.
  • There’s not enough focus on the written side of the language.
  • The practice activities users have access to in the premium plan aren’t very well thought-out.

Babbel

  • There’s a lot of repetition, which can make lessons fairly boring.
  • Not enough focus is given to grammar concepts in the review exercises.
  • The speech recognition feature doesn’t offer the most effective way of learning pronunciation.

Languages Available

Pimsleur offers courses in 50 different languages, while Babbel gives access to 14 different languages.

Babbel’s courses cover the standard, popular languages: Dutch, Danish, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish and Turkish.

Some of Pimsleur’s popular courses include Spanish, French, Italian, German, and Japanese. Its more unique courses include Lithuanian, Swiss German, Tagalog, Twi, and Urdu.

Cost

Following the release of a new, better-designed app in 2018, Pimsleur added a subscription model with much more reasonable prices to its website. Old prices cost as much as $550 for five levels, and the newer model is much improved.

For a basic audio-only subscription to Pimsleur, a user can pay $14.95 per month on a monthly basis. A premium subscription will set you back a little more at $19.95 per month. There’s also a 7-day free trial.

Babbel’s subscription model charges $12.95 per month on a monthly basis, $8.95 per month for a three-month subscription, $7.95 a month for a six-monthly basis, or $6.95 per month for a year’s subscription. Babbel also offers a 20-day money-back guarantee.

Depending on the subscription level you prefer, Pimsleur does cost a bit more than Babbel.

How languages are taught with Pimsleur

Pimsleur’s courses vary in length based on the language you go for. The most popular courses have five levels, while some less popular courses have fewer.

All levels have 30 lessons, lasting 30 minutes each. They’re designed to be completed at a rate of one lesson per day. This means that you’ll be able to complete the longer courses after five months of daily practice.

Pimsleur tends to focus far more on speaking and listening, with brief grammar explanations. Lessons use a narrator to set the scene, which makes it easy to remember the content that’s covered. The Pimsleur method uses a famous concept called Spaced Repetition Theory to help you circle back to review material regularly.

The instructor will often break down words into their individual components, which sounds natural in some languages but can sound a little odd in others.

Lessons build on each other effectively, with each new lesson starting with a recap of the materials covered in the previous lesson. By the end of the course, a user will be able to use a range of spoken skills within different contexts.

Pimsleur’s app showcases a number of extra features. You can use Flashcards to help you remember certain words, Quick Match to focus on the translation of sentences from English and Speak Easy to play and repeat dialogue.

Recently, the Pimsleur app also added a “Pimsleur teaches you to read” focus as well, so you can build your literacy and prepare for tasks like reading street signs in your new language.

Read our full review of Pimsleur. 

How languages are taught with Babbel


Babbel starts by offering you a couple of short questions about your language learning motives and experience. You’ll then take a placement test to determine the level you’re at with grammar and vocabulary already.

After your placement test, Babbel will start you off at the appropriate level, although you’re free to begin wherever you want if you wish. Each level is made up of a number of courses, that are comprised of lessons, which in turn feature a range of smaller exercises. This makes for quite a bit of content to get through.

Babbel’s exercises are varied, helping to cover a broad range of different language skills. The resource offers plenty of writing access, and you’re able to get to grips with all elements of a language.

Most lessons begin with a listen-and-repeat exercise, where a user listens to an audio recording of a word or phrase and is prompted to repeat it back. The tool uses speech recognition technology for this, which doesn’t offer the best constructive feedback.

Babbel listen and repeat exercise

Babbel also uses simple translation exercises and fill-in-the-blank exercises to help you develop your vocabulary. These exercises can feel a little repetitive, although they’re good drills.  

Grammar is one of Babbel’s strongest features. 

The resource provides good grammar explanations and explains grammar concepts to enable the user to understand a language in more depth.

Aside from its lessons, Babbel also features a review section, with flashcards, listening, speaking, and writing features. These are good for self-assessing how far you’ve come since you began learning a language but aren’t the most helpful or engaging.

Read our full review of Babbel. 

How to Use Pimsleur as Part of a Language Learning Program

One of the best ways to learn a new language using Pimsleur is to start with the app as the core of your learning program and build extra activities and learning tools around that as you go.

  1. As with any language learning program, you will get out of Pimsleur what you put in. Make sure you commit to daily study time so you can regularly learn new material and circle back to refresh your memory on what you already learned. You may find it helpful to sit down before you start your first Pimsleur course and study your work or school calendar. Look for regular openings and block out a time for language study. If you use a calendar on your phone, set a recurring event at this time. That way, you won’t accidentally commit yourself to something else that day, and lose out on your study time!
  2. Likewise, Pimsleur will not do you much good if you don’t actively participate along with the prompts. When the narrator encourages you to repeat a phrase out loud, you need to actually say the words aloud! You may feel self-conscious at first, but hearing your voice say the new words will build your confidence over time.
  3. Pimsleur emphasizes listening comprehension and conversation skills. You may want to pad out its grammar lessons by finding a college coursebook in your new language, which will give you a deeper understanding of the grammar concept. If you do not like learning from black-and-white text, you can also try hiring a tutor who offers a focus on grammar. Apps like Italki help you connect with virtual tutors specializing in your new language.
  4. Because Pimsleur focuses on getting you conversational, it hones in on a set of core vocabulary words rather than flooding you with thousands of new words at once. This does help you learn more quickly, but you will also want to build up your vocabulary over time. Tools like Memrise offer free virtual flashcards you can use to learn new words easily. If you plan to travel to a part of the world that speaks your target language, you may find a travel phrasebook helpful, too. 
  5. Finally, it is important to note that because Pimsleur has been around for over 50 years, a lot of older versions of the courses still exist. Do not buy a CD model or even one of the older online course programs. Stick to the app-based courses to get the newest, most streamlined, and most cost-effective Pimsleur course.

How to Use Babbel as Part of a Language Learning Program

Babbel offers a good comprehensive introduction to new languages, but you will still enrich your learning experience by pairing the program with other tools and resources.

  1. Just like with Pimsleur, you will do best with Babbel if you can set aside even half an hour a day to consistently study. In fact, Babbel has a cool feature that will set a timer to remind you! Take advantage of the timer to make sure you don’t skip your study time.
  2. Don’t skip the lesson reviews. You may feel tempted to bypass these activities after completing all the lessons and drills in each section, but the review is necessary to help you store the new language concepts in your permanent memory. In fact, consistent review is one of the best ways to truly learn new words and phrases.
  3. Because Babbel does not emphasize conversational skills as heavily as Pimsleur, you should look for other resources to help you develop your speaking ability. Apps like HelloTalk help you easily pair with conversation partners around the world for free. You could also check out Babbel’s student forum to see if you can find a fellow Babbel user who would like to set up a virtual conversation with you.
  4. If you want to learn more about the culture in parts of the world that speak your new language, take a deep dive and check out the Babbel Magazine. This resource publishes interesting articles about culture or other aspects of language on a regular basis. You may also want to research the culture of parts of the world that speak your target language before traveling there. Some cultures use specific phrases to show respect during a conversation or have rules about whether it is rude to wear footwear into someone’s home.
  5. If you want to get fluent quickly, you will also want to immerse yourself in your new language for as many hours as possible during the day. You can do this by listening to songs in the new language downloading podcasts or radio shows, or watching movies and TV shows in your new language in your downtime.

Alternatives to Pimsleur and Babbel

Storylearning

Do you often find traditional language programs kind of boring? If you struggle to pay attention during a Pimsleur or Babbel-style lesson, you may enjoy Storylearning’s narrative-based lessons more. 

This online course model uses the lure of an ongoing story to keep you going. You even use the text of the story to learn about vocabulary, grammar, and other key language concepts.

Storylearning courses offer lessons on all key linguistic components and even include a lesson on culture as well. The downside to Sotrylearning is that, unlike Pimsleur, it does not have direct speaking software to help you with pronunciation and speaking practice. The course also has a high one-time signup fee.

OuiNo

OuiNo takes a slightly different approach from Pimsleur or Babbel, offering itself as a core program to cover the basics of the language but admitting that it works best when paired with immersive activities that keep you thinking and hearing the language all day.

This honest approach helps you tailor a learning program around Ouino effectively. 

The main problem with OuiNo is that currently, it offers courses in just five European languages.

Pod101

Innovativelanguage.com offers a wide range of podcast-style courses covering many languages. You can listen to many of the podcasts for free, or apply for varying subscription rates to gain access to transcripts of the podcasts and additional study materials.

A total beginner can learn a lot about a language from entry-level podcasts covering things like travel basics in a new country and simple grammar. But language learners at any level may find the deep library of podcasts and videos a useful resource to reference for particular subjects.

The Pod101 libraries of podcasts may not make a comprehensive learning program to take the place of a course like Pimsleur–they do not feature speaking practice, for example. But they make a great resource to add to your core learning program.

Final Thoughts

Babbel isn’t a groundbreaking resource, but it offers good, trusted lessons on a nicely designed, user-friendly interface. Courses are well put together, with a strong focus on grammar, and subscription is fair value for money.

Pimsleur’s focus on oral language makes it a less appealing option for someone looking to learn a full range of language skills. It’s great at what it does – but for some users, it might not offer enough.

If you want conversation skills to communicate during a trip to a new country in a few months, Pimsleur will probably work best for you. If you plan to study abroad and want to more slowly gain a deeper fluency, Babbel may provide a stronger foundation in your new language.

It’s a good idea to consider a number of the most popular language learning resources beyond Babbel and Pimsleur if you’re looking for a course to suit you. Take a look at our top recommendations based on the language you want to learn in the table below.

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