Babbel is an online language-learning platform with over 1 million active users. It’s available on the web, for iOS, and for Android. The app aims to get learners to a conversational level as quickly as possible through the use of a variety of exercises and spaced repetition for review. The courses are well put together and relatively inexpensive; there are 14 different languages available.
It’s well-designed and the content is immediately useful.
The material provided is effective and covers a lot, but isn’t ideal for advanced levels.
The price is relatively low for what’s offered, but you’ll have to purchase each language separately.
The content is practical for real-life use
It’s easy to use
The lessons are fairly short
I DON’T LIKE…
The exercises can get repetitive
The review exercises don’t include grammar concepts
Speech recognition isn’t the best way to learn pronunciation
Babbel offers courses for 14 different languages: Dutch, Danish, English, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Brazilian Portuguese, Russian, Swedish, Spanish and Turkish.
Babbel uses a recurring subscription model and offers a 20-day money-back guarantee. Price per month depends on the length of the subscription and only includes access to one language.
Monthly – $12.95/mo
Every 3 Months – $8.95/mo
Every 6 Months – $7.45/mo
Every year – $6.95/mo
With over 1 million active users, Babbel is one of the more popular language-learning platforms out there. Since it became available in 2007 it’s been expanded to offer curriculum-based instruction for 14 different languages on the web, iOS, and Android.
The approach Babbel uses is aimed at creating “The shortest path to real-life conversation.” It does this through short 10-15 minute lessons that are focused on material that will get you conversational.
Babbel also offers grammar instruction through concept explanations and grammar practice activities.
To make sure this review is extra comprehensive, I teamed up once again with polyglot videographer Mateo.
“I learned Italian primarily using Babbel. I don’t have many negative things to say about the app because it did its job well. I used other apps like Duolingo and did some reading exercises by myself, but 90% of the language learning came from Babbel.
I even got to go to Italy a couple of months after finishing all of the lessons (I really did do every single one of them) and I managed to speak and understand the language fluently. For this review, I used the French version and so far so good. French grammar is tricky but the app does a good job explaining it.”
“I’ve previously studied Spanish, basic Italian and basic Vietnamese, but have always found French especially daunting for its silent letters and myriad pronunciation rules. For this review, I tried out Babbel to improve my Spanish and to confront my fear of French phonemes.”
We tested Babbel independently and then met up to compare our findings. This formed the basis for this written review and the video review that Mateo created.
Mateo and I have similar feelings about Babbel, but they aren’t identical.
Mateo has actually previously done an entire course with Babbel — as in, every single lesson. This was for Italian and it took him about three months. He also tried it out for French for this review.
My experience is limited to testing it out for this review, but I still got a good feel for the resource. I used it as a beginner of French and for continued Spanish practice.
I personally found it less engaging than other apps like Duolingo, whereas Mateo actually finds it more engaging because it’s less repetitive than Duolingo. I see where he’s coming from, Duolingo can get repetitive, but the Babbel aesthetic just didn’t really do it for me.
Level of engagement aside, we both agree that Babbel is intelligently designed and feels pretty effective at teaching a language (up to an intermediate/upper-intermediate level).
Here are our individual overall ratings of the app:
Brian: 4/5 Stars
Mateo: 4.5/5 Stars
Our combined final rating: 4.25/5 Stars
If Babbel was a person you met at a party, they might be wearing a tie or a nice sweater. The kind of person whose posture you admire and who enjoys intelligent conversation — but they won’t be dancing on any tables.
Right from the beginning, the interface is clearly polished and professional. Everything is laid out in a logical manner and it’s easy to navigate. It’s really nice when the learning curve you have to deal with is related to the language and not the interface.
On the other hand, the simplicity of the layout also lends itself to a sense of dryness. There are no videos or attractive visuals to draw your eye. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing, though, and for some it might be just right.
After a couple of brief questions about your motivation and experience learning the language, you’ll take a placement test.
The placement test consists of a series of fill in the blank exercises that test your knowledge of vocabulary and grammar.
Once you’ve taken a placement test for a language, you’ll be placed in the appropriate level. You can actually start wherever you want (and jump around freely) regardless of the placement test results. Other resources like Duolingo are much stricter about this and won’t let you move around so freely.
There are seven levels for both Spanish and French, ranging from Newcomer to Advanced. Each level is made up of several courses. These courses are comprised of a series of lessons which are in turn made up of a variety of different exercises. This makes for quite a bit of content, and it’s unique to each language.
Babbel uses a variety of exercises in its lessons to cover different language skills. You get to interact with the language in several different ways, and both Mateo and I liked the fact that you get plenty of writing practice while using the app.
Lessons typically begin with a Listen and Repeat exercise. This is where you’ll first encounter the app’s speech-recognition technology, something I had a problem with when studying French.
Apart from having a real human listen to you speak (as you can with Speechling), this is probably the only way to get pronunciation feedback. It does an alright job, but there are some clear hang-ups.
I find French pronunciation very difficult — it’s a mystery to me and my confidence level is low. There are some words, “l’habit” specifically, that I just couldn’t get right in this exercise. I mimicked the audio as best I could, tried over and over, but never got it right. Without any constructive feedback, I was left wondering if I was actually that deaf to the correct pronunciation or if the problem was with Babbel.
This is the only major grievance I have with the program, and I’m not alone. Both Mateo and Nick (the All Language Resources founder) have had similar experiences.
This is a typical Babbel exercise. It’s pretty basic, as are all the exercises, but that means there’s no learning curve for getting used to them. These stock photos are about the most engaging media you get with Babbel, and their relevance is sometimes questionable.
Once you’ve had sufficient exposure to specific language points, you’ll get to do slightly more advanced fill in the blank exercises like the one above.
The above is one of my favorite exercises that Babbel offers. You get to take part in a conversation, listening to the two speakers and filling in the gaps as required. I found it helpful to see how the language is used in real scenarios. It’s also helpful to hear native speakers having a conversation.
The amount of grammar instruction and practice provided by Babbel is something that both Mateo and I were happy about. Mateo mentioned that French grammar is tricky, but he thought the app provided good explanations.
This is one way the app goes about explaining grammar concepts; it’s a participatory explanation where you’re responsible for filling in the gaps.
Some people might find this a bit uninteresting, but these sections don’t take a terribly long time and I found them quite valuable. This is something that similar apps like Duolingo and Memrise are missing.
This is an example of how you’ll practice grammar — Babbel gets you to practice identifying word types. It feels like a classroom environment, and it’s something I like. It makes the instruction feel more thorough.
After you’ve spent time interacting with the grammar explanation and identifying the word types, you get to practice manipulating the language using what you’ve learned. In this case, forming adverbs.
Another way Babbel’s grammar practice feels like a classroom is its verb conjugation exercises. Instead of trying to have you come across different conjugations more organically, you’re required to do some straight-up verb conjugation. This is a small portion of the material; you won’t spend forever completing these conjugation trees.
The above is a surprisingly helpful feature of Babbel. These small grammar tips appear periodically during the lessons and do a great job of integrating grammar instruction in a way that is subtle and efficient.
In addition to the lessons, Babbel’s other main function is its Review sessions. These consist of four different activities: Flashcards, Listening, Speaking and Writing.
There’s nothing high-tech about the flashcard feature. You’re asked to come up with the words you’ve come across in the lessons so far, and then you self-assess.
Again, the stock photos they use are only mildly helpful.
In the listening review exercise, you select the matching English translation after hearing a recording in the target language.
This review activity is largely the same as the Listen and Repeat portion of the lessons. It’s nice that they try to provide some speaking practice, but the value it provides ends up being minimal.
This section of the review is just like the first, except you’ve got to produce the written translation and you’re assessed on accuracy.
Babbel uses a spaced repetition algorithm to make review sessions more efficient. Babbel actually lays out exactly how they use spaced repetition in the program on their website. You can see the spaced repetition working through the use of knowledge levels.
There are six knowledge levels in total, and they each correspond to how familiar you are with a piece of vocabulary. Level 1 reflects the initial introduction to a word, and higher levels are associated with words you’re more familiar with.
Each time you review a word correctly, it moves up a knowledge level. If you make more than one mistake with a word, it moves down a knowledge level and becomes due for review immediately. You can also change the knowledge levels manually.
It’s cool that you can see how Babbel uses spaced repetition and that you can make adjustments if you really feel it’s necessary.
Babbel charges a recurring subscription for use of its product, and plans are available from $12.95/month down to $6.95/month for a year-long commitment. These are the prices for access to one language.
There are a few alternatives to Babbel that are worth mentioning. Duolingo is an alternative that’s worth considering because it’s free, but it doesn’t cover grammar as well and has lower-quality audio recordings.
Memrise is another possible alternative, but it’s probably most useful for learning vocabulary. Its approach isn’t quite as thorough as Babbel’s.
For Asian languages, Babbel isn’t much help. It doesn’t offer material for Chinese, Japanese, Korean or Vietnamese. Lingodeer, on the other hand, works really well for these languages. A subscription with Lingodeer also grants access to multiple languages.
As with just about any learning method, supplementing Babbel with other complementary resources is a good idea. For better pronunciation practice, Speechling connects you with real teachers that can correct your pronunciation. For one-on-one tutor practice, italki connects learners with teachers for a ton of different languages.
Our favorite resources vary by language. If you’d like to see our top picks for the language you’re interested in, choose a language from the table below.
Like all resources, Babbel has its shortcomings. Its speech-recognition technology is sometimes troublesome, it doesn’t have any cutting-edge features that’ll blow you away, and if you want to learn an Asian language, you’re out of luck.
All that said, it works. The entire time I used it I had the feeling that my practice time was well-spent and efficient. Mateo’s experience backs this up — after three months and completing every Italian Babbel lesson, he was able to communicate effectively in Italy.
If you’re after a no-nonsense resource to get your skills to the upper-intermediate level for a fair price, Babbel’s worth looking at.
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