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Babbel: The Practical Language Learning App

Babbel: The Practical Language Learning App

One of Duolingo’s top competitors Babbel is a language learning app that aims to get users speaking in the language of their choice as soon as possible. Unlike Duolingo, Babbel is a premium, subscription-based service, with multiple pricing tiers for flexibility and a reasonable trial period that introduces users to program basics. Babbel has received awards from multiple outlets, including TechCruch and Fast Company, which recognized it as the most innovation education company in 2016. Founded in 2007, the app has grown to over 1 million active subscribers and ranks as the #1 selling language learning app in the world.

What makes Babbel stand out among Duolingo and other popular language learning apps?

  • Babbel is a practical language learning app. First and foremost, Babbel wants users to gain proficiency in everyday language and therefore prioritizes practical conversation skills. This makes Babbel especially useful if you’re traveling to a foreign country, if you need a refresher course in a foreign language, or if you need to learn conversational skills and common words and phrases for a job.
  • Offers the shortest path to real-life conversation. Not only does Babbel hone your language skills, its evidence-based teaching method claims to set users on an accelerated learning curve. Over 70% of Babbel users say they would be able to have a short and simple conversation in their new language within five hours.
  • Babbel is highly customizable. While Duolingo offers a set curriculum with the ability to test out of units, Babbel gives online learners complete control over lesson plans. For instance, if you to want to focus on Spanish business language, you can take courses that exclusively cover that specialization, saving you time and money.
  • Babbel is affordable. The app isn’t free, but it’s a solid deal and in many respects offers better courses, services, and resources than popular language learning apps like Rosetta Stone.

Nevertheless, every language learner is different, and online courses aren’t one-size-fits-all. Below, we review Babbel basics as well as the program’s pros and cons to help you determine if it’s the right language learning app for you!

What Languages Can You Learn on Babbel?

Babbel offers online lessons in a variety of languages:

  • Spanish
  • French
  • German
  • Italian
  • Brazilian Portuguese
  • Russian

Turkish, Polish, Indonesian, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian courses are available, as well.

How Much Does Babbel Cost?

Babbel offers language learners four payment plans:

  • Monthly: $12.95
  • 3 Months: $26.85
  • 6 Months: $44.70
  • 12 Months: $83.40

Once you’ve maxed out your free trial period, select the plan that suits your needs, and take advantage of the app’s 20-day money-back guarantee. Babbel also offers great promotional deals, and every plan offers full access to all online courses in your chosen language, vocabulary exercises, and other resources.

How Does Babbel Work?

Babbel combines cutting-edge learning practices — communicative didactics, cognitivism, behaviorism, and constructivism — to create one of the most advanced, adaptive, and powerful online language learning programs.

Once you register for a new language, a short placement quiz will determine your skill level, or simply start from scratch. From your home page, either follow Babbel’s consecutive course curriculum in which each lesson builds to the next, or click on the left-hand tab to choose specific courses. For the purposes of our review, let’s go with the latter.

Every course features tailored content with a specific aim. For instance, beginner and intermediate are courses are straightforward lessons designed to develop general conversation skills, build vocabulary, and practice grammar. Other modules are more specific.

Questions deliver in several formats:

  • Multiple choice
  • Fill in the blank
  • Write what you hear
  • Complete the dialogue
  • Word bank scramble

… And more. Similar to Duolingo, Babbel is an immersive, learn-as-you-go language app. Users match words with images to build vocab, and built-in tools like word banks, pop-up grammar tips, and explanations serve as in-course resources.

The biggest difference between Babbel and Duolingo-type apps is the former’s emphasis on listening and speaking. Babbel is one of the few online language courses that exclusively uses real human voices, and throughout the coursework, learners practice pronunciation and even simulate real-world conversations using Babbel’s microphone integration/speech recognition. (In one French lesson, for instance, the user carries on an extended business conversation over the phone.) Reading and writing lessons are available, but Babbel is clearly designed to emphasize practical communication skills in real-life dialogues.

What Are the Drawbacks to Babbel?

Online learning, especially online language learning, comes with a unique set of challenges. And Babbel is no exception. While the platform excels in certain areas, it’s far from perfect.

  1. Lack of curricular direction: On the one hand, the extensive library of online courses is an obvious strength, and the ability to pick and choose according to individual needs and goals offers maximum flexibility. But the layout isn’t intuitive, and things can get tricky if you want to follow a structured, linear curriculum. The fact that Babbel is a hit-the-ground-running learning program only exacerbates the potential for confusion and/or disorganization. Our personal preference is Duolingo’s design, which presents a clear curriculum, or “skill tree,” while still allowing users to test out of courses and choose which skills to study.
  2. Limited explanations and grammar help: Effective online courses demand hard work and dedication on the student’s behalf, but feedback is crucial. One of the biggest issues with Babbel is the app’s poor explanations. Granted, they exist, but not for every question. In most instances, if the user gets an incorrect answer, they simply keep trying until they get the question right. Word banks, letter scrambles, and other tools help, but it’s occasionally unclear whether a student is truly learning or merely playing whackamole. Same goes goes for grammar: pop-up tips provide some assistance, but don’t appear regularly. Without a knowledge base or community forum, Babbel users have to trust its machine learning technology to be sure they’re picking up feedback and retaining information.
  3. Speech recognition is inconsistent: Babbel’s speech recognition is a major feature, but it’s not always effective or consistent. Correctly pronounced words are marked wrong, while incorrectly pronounced words can slip through the cracks. Sometimes the function simply doesn’t work. When it performs properly, speech recognition and its accompanying content make Babbel one of the best language apps online. But considering that developing rapid conversation skills is the app’s central pitch, it needs to improve the technology.

What’s the Best Way to Use Babbel?

The reality is that no online courses will take you to fluency in a language. If you’re serious about learning a new language, you need a multi-pronged approach: read newspapers and blogs in your target language, watch foreign TV series and YouTube videos, listen to podcasts and popular music, and use other online courses and language learning apps.

Still, Babbel is an excellent learning tool if learners understand the best way to use it.

  1. Know what you want to study: Have a clear language goal and study plan in place. Traveling abroad? Focus on the tailored traveling courses to pick up common phrases, colloquial language, essential vocabulary, and even culture tips. Babbel’s specialized coursework is great for online learners that want to develop conversational skills rapidly for specific, practical use.
  2. Come back as an intermediate speaker: Personal preference will dictate if Babbel is right for beginning language learners. It’s certainly worth trying out, and most research suggests that immersive speech practice is the best way to learn language from scratch. Still, the interface, content library, and limited feedback tools might frustrate beginners looking for a comprehensive curriculum. Either use Babbel to pursue a specific language goal, or come back as an intermediate speaker to develop advanced conversational skills.
  3. Take advantage of the practice resources:

    Coursework is only part of learning a new language. Repeat practice sessions are key, and Babbel offers several helpful tools. The Review Manager is one.

  4. As you complete courses, Babbel compiles a vocabulary list in the Review Manager, which allows users to choose a practice format: flash card, written, or oral. The manager also includes data such as the last time you reviewed a word, how many times you’ve reviewed a word, and your knowledge level of a word (scaled 1-5). Finally, the Daily Challenge is another practice tool. Complete a series of lessons, and Babbel will create a customized quiz to test your skills in a particular area.