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Pimsleur vs Babbel: Both Good, But Have Different Strengths

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

Babbel and Pimsleur offer good courses but take different approaches to language learning. Some of the key differences between the two include:

  • 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.

I’d struggle to choose a firm favorite between Babbel and Pimsleur because both are well designed and provide fairly 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.

I’d recommend that you choose Babbel over Pimsleur if you’re looking to develop your all-around language skills. But, if you’re looking to focus specifically on your speaking skills, Pimsleur is your best bet.

What I like about each program:

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.
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What I don’t like about each program:

Pimsleur

  • The lessons aren’t very exciting.
  • There’s not enough focus on the written side of the language, which often appears to be an afterthought.
  • 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 for learning 50 different languages, while Babbel gives access to 14 different languages.

Babbel’s courses cover mostly 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 the likes of Lithuanian, Swiss German, Tagalog, Twi, and Urdu.

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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 from this.

For a basic 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 sees you pay $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.

How languages are taught with Pimsleur

Pimsleur lesson example

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 at 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, and almost fully ignores the grammar element of a language. Lessons use a narrator to set the scene, which makes it simpler to remember the content that’s covered.

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 up 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 translation of sentences from English, and Speak Easy to play and repeat dialogue.

Read our full review of Pimsleur. 

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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 for drilling the language in.

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. 

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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.

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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