Busuu has been downloaded over 10 million times from the Google Play store.
That’s a bafflingly high number. They must be doing something right, right?
Well, sort of. But after testing it out to study Chinese, I don’t see any reason to pay for a subscription.
In this review, I’ll share my experiences trying out Busuu as well as recommend some alternatives that are either better, could save you money, or both.
Let’s jump into it.
For the Chinese course, there are four levels – beginner, elementary, intermediate and upper intermediate, plus a travel course.
The beginner level has 20 lessons, elementary has 15, intermediate has 14, upper intermediate has 12 and the travel course has four lessons.
The lessons first teach you the vocabulary by using a picture, audio, simplified characters and the option to show the pinyin (if you’re not studying Chinese, don’t worry about what pinyin is).
You can then show and listen to a sample sentence that uses this word.
As you learn the new vocabulary, you’ll periodically be given a matching test where you are given the word and audio and have to match it with its translation.
After you complete the flashcards, you’ll move onto the review portion.
Here, you’ll start by dragging and dropping the Chinese words to their English translations.
Next, there’s a dialog that you can listen to and read. This is useful as they incorporate a lot of the words that you just studied so you can see them in a conversational context.
After that, you’ll be given a quiz about the dialog which does a pretty good job of checking your understanding. It’s followed by another quiz where you match the word or audio to the translation.
At the end of each lesson, there’s a writing component.
Here, you’re given a prompt related to what you’ve been learning.
For example, after learning about appearances you’re supposed to write a description of yourself in Chinese. This will then be corrected by a Busuu user who speaks the language you’re learning.
What I dislike about Busuu
First, because the lessons are organized by topic you learn certain things much sooner than you need to and other things later.
For example, if you follow the lessons in order, you’ll learn to say, “unemployed” before learning to count to three. This causes the lessons to get into fairly obscure vocabulary that isn’t useful for the level of the students they’re aimed at.
For absolute beginners, they never explain pinyin or tones which are very important to learn (luckily other languages don’t have to worry about this).
Most of the dialog is read at an excruciatingly slow pace even at the upper intermediate level.
Grammar is never really explained. Although there are lessons with a grammar focus, you’re basically stuck figuring it out for yourself.
There’s no way to look up the meanings of other words when you’re given example sentences.
What I like about Busuu
The app is very well made. It works great and is very easy to use.
They incorporate writing very early into the lessons. This is a great way to practice what you’ve learned and get better at expressing yourself.
The social part of the app is awesome. It’s really easy to have your writing or speech corrected by a native speaker of the language you’re learning. Similarly, the Notebooks section of italki works very well for having writing corrected.
Because Busuu has such a huge number of users, you’ll likely get feedback very quickly. It only took 10 minutes for someone to correct something I wrote.
Continuing with the social component, the end of the lessons isn’t the only time you can practice writing.
You can do this anytime and are actually given picture and video prompts to write about. These are taken from National Geographic and BBC. It’s not a huge thing but I actually do find it to be really helpful.
Having the prompts provide you with a topic to write about makes it that much easier to simply start writing. This gets rid of the awkwardness of trying to figure out what you should actually write about.
While there are some free lessons, you’ll need to upgrade to a premium account to make use of most of the lessons and quizzes.
The minimum duration for a subscription is three months and that costs $8.33/month. That price falls to $5.83/month if you subscribe for a year upfront and $5.41/month with a 24-month subscription.
My favorite part of the app, where you can have your speech or writing corrected is free to use.
Final thoughts and alternatives to Busuu
The language exchange part of Busuu is really cool and well done. This part alone could make it worth registering for a free account.
But, I wouldn’t recommend paying for their premium lessons. I just don’t think it’s necessary when other alternatives provide better-designed course content. There are so many good alternatives to Busuu that it’d be impossible to list them all here.
This is largely because my recommendations would depend on the language which you’re learning, since different languages have different resources available. To see my top recommendations for each language, click the link in the table below.