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Busuu vs Duolingo: Both Have Their Own Weaknesses

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Busuu and Duolingo are online language learning platforms that are available for a wide range of languages. Both are created with beginner and lower-intermediate level students in mind.

Both tools utilize short, quick study methods to help a student to learn a language at their own pace, but their methodology differs. The key factors that set the two resources apart are:

  • Busuu offers a social aspect that allows users to get feedback on writing and pronunciation from other users, which Duolingo doesn’t have.
  • Duolingo takes a more gamified approach to lessons and aims to help students “learn a language in just 5 minutes a day”, while Busuu’s exercises have more of a serious approach.
  • Duolingo is available for free and Busuu requires a subscription.

Duolingo is a solid option for those that are just curious about language learning, but their courses aren’t suitable for more serious students. They’re lacking in quite a few areas.

Busuu does take things a step further, with more grammar explanations, better audio, and all-around more comprehensive courses, though there are still some weaknesses.

Both platforms are well-designed and make learning a bit more fun and accessible to the masses. However, they both have a few weaknesses to be aware of as well. Neither would really be my top choice, but both are fine options.

There are plenty of other resources to consider as well and you can find our favorites for popular languages from the table below.

What I like about each program:

Busuu

  • The social feature offers a much more enjoyable alternative to speech recognition for getting feedback on language pronunciation.
  • The conversation lessons provide a level of depth that is particularly useful for learning.
  • The variety of exercises in the lessons keeps things engaging.

Duolingo

  • The app is free to use, so there’s no obligation to commit to a subscription.
  • Lessons are gamified and short, offering a less academic approach to learning.
  • Leaderboards are used to incite friendly competition and motivate users to continue practicing.
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What I don’t like about each program:

Busuu

  • Translations aren’t offered for some of the lessons.
  • The Chinese course offers little support for typing the language and is missing vital explanations for pronunciation.
  • The grammar explanations and practice in lessons is lacking.

Duolingo

  • There’s not enough depth in the content for learning past a basic level.
  • Text-to-speech audio is occasionally lacking in quality.
  • There aren’t exercises for users to practice speaking a language.

Languages Available

Busuu currently offers courses for 12 of the more commonly spoken languages: English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Polish, Turkish, Russian, and Arabic.

Duolingo offers 35 language courses with English instruction. Duolingo’s most popular language courses include Spanish, French and German. Less common language courses on Duolingo include Scottish Gaelic, Esperanto, Hawaiian and Welsh.

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Cost

Busuu offers two monthly subscription options for users: Premium and Premium Plus. Premium gives users access to one language and Premium Plus gives users access to all languages.

As a Premium user, you can choose to 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.

A Premium Plus subscription is slightly higher, at $13.99 for a single month’s subscription, $9.66 per month for three months, $6.66 per month for six months, or $5.74 monthly for a year’s subscription.

The main bulk of the content on Duolingo is free, and you won’t be missing out if you choose not to pay for the app. However, if you’re a Duolingo superfan, you might be interested in some of the paid additional features.

Duolingo Plus is subscription-based, costing $9.99 per month paid monthly, $7.99 per month for a six-month subscription, or $6.99 per month for a 12-month subscription. Some of the perks of Duolingo Plus include no ads, monthly streak repair, the ability to access courses offline, and a personal Progress Quiz.

How languages are taught with Busuu

Busuu offers new users the choice to take a language placement test, which determines the level you should start at for learning. You’re not required to stay at this level if you feel you’ve been placed incorrectly.

The lessons are categorized into different CEFR levels, and the flow from one topic to the next makes sense.

Lessons start by introducing you to new vocabulary. This is presented on-screen with translations. You’ll be asked to listen to an audio recording of this vocabulary and memorize what you hear.

This exercise works well, and the audio is generally high quality. However, there were times when we were being asked to remember too many words at once, which quickly became exhausting.

After the initial exercise, you’ll move onto simple exercises that are intended for getting you used to a language. These include fill-in-the-gap exercises, unscramble-the-word/sentence puzzles, basic listening activities, and matching exercises, like the one below.

Busuu example exercise

Busuu’s courses never become too tedious, as there’s always a nice variety of content to prevent progression from getting predictable.

One of our favorite lessons on Busuu is the simulated conversation practice. This lets you listen to a conversation between two people and fill in the gaps as required. Conversation plays the whole way through, which feels more natural, giving a better idea of how a language would be used in a real-life situation.

Aside from its standard lessons, Busuu also gives users access to a community area to receive feedback from other users on their speaking and writing skills.

There’s not much of a difference in quality between Busuu’s different language courses, aside from its course in Chinese. We found multiple issues here, including a lack of support for typing in Chinese characters or Pinyin, and no explanation of the different tones in Pinyin and how to pronounce them. So, for those looking to learn an Asian language, you’re probably better off using something besides Busuu.

Read our full review of Busuu

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How languages are taught with Duolingo

Like Busuu, Duolingo gives you the option to take a placement test once you’ve chosen a language. Alternatively, you can choose to start as a beginner.

Once you’ve taken the test, you’ll move onto the main Duolingo screen. Here you’ll see the list of levels you’ll complete. You can level-up by getting enough “skills” from completing exercises.

You’re given the chance to practice your skills through a series of short, straightforward exercises. On the whole, these exercises are fun, easy and quick to get through.

Duolingo listening exercise

One of the ways you’ll practice listening on the app is through the exercise above. You’ll hear a word or phrase spoken aloud, then you’ll be required to type or select what you hear. Duolingo uses text-to-speech technology for many of its courses, which does mean you lose the natural feel you’d get with a native speaker.

Other activities in Duolingo include “Select the Word”, where users are prompted to choose a word to fit into a sentence, and “Write This in English”, which prompts users to translate a written text.

You can access several additional Duolingo features on the main home screen. The Discuss tab links to the Duolingo forum, which lets you discuss certain elements of an exercise with other users. The Shop tab lets you spend your Lingots, Duolingo’s virtual currency, on extra timed activity and fun topic lessons.

On the More tab, you can find a dictionary and a bank of words you’ve learned so far, and the Leaderboards tab brings in a bit of friendly competition by placing you in a league with 50 other random users.

It’s worth noting that like Busuu, Duolingo also doesn’t do well with Asian languages. A good alternative for these would be Lingodeer.

Read our full review of Duolingo

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Final thoughts

Overall, we like both Busuu and Duolingo for what they offer and think they’re well designed and easy to use for the most part.

Both platforms are reasonably good options for beginner level students looking to get started learning a language (or multiple languages). That said, neither is really exceptional and there are other options that I’d personally rather use.

The table below shows some of our top picks for language learning resources based on the language you want to learn.

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