Babbel Review: Prestigious Program That Teaches the Basics But Doesn’t Grow with You
Do you dream of being able to converse naturally in your target language? Babbel believes that it can help.
Babbel is a highly-praised language learning app that’s recently gained a big spike in popularity.
I wanted to see for myself the unique workings that apparently make the program stand out from the dense crowd of language learning apps.
With thorough but easily accessible language lessons, Babbel strives to teach “language for life.”
In this review, I investigate how well Babbel lives up to its promise.
- My Personal Experience with Babbel
- A Brief Overview of Babbel
- The Pros of Babbel
- The Cons of Babbel
- Comparing Babbel to Other Language Apps
- The Final Verdict
My Personal Experience with Babbel
I used Babbel for about a week and overall found it to be quite a nifty little learning resource. At the end of my trial run, I can safely say that a beginner learner would likely learn a lot of foundational material strictly from using Babbel.
My learning was straightforward, breezy and stress-free. Babbel’s lessons were organized in a sensible way, so I never felt that I was getting hit with curveball questions or that the vocabulary was becoming level-inappropriate.
I did move about the different levels, and I’m a bit iffy about this allowance. It can be a dangerous kind of freedom for new learners who may overestimate their skills or are too impatient to learn the basics.
While Babbel does include comprehensive quizzes at the end of each level, I was able to skip them entirely, so I think a stricter barrier should be implemented to halt those who haven’t yet proved their prowess. That way, the learning experience doesn’t have to feel disorganized.
Unlike a few other popular language learning apps, Babbel isn’t very game-like in format. I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly entertaining to use, but that was fine by me. After all, I cared more about the learning aspect than the fun factor. Regardless, I did wish that the lesson exercises were a tad more engaging.
Based on my research, it seems that other users of Babbel appear to share similar appreciations and concerns. Many appreciate the lesson format and content. However, some found the learning experience a bit dry and in need of some vigor.
The reviewer in the below video gives a pretty good description of what you can expect from the basic Babbel program.
A Brief Overview of Babbel
About Babbel: What It Is and What It Offers
First launched in 2007, Babbel bears the precious title of being the world’s first language learning app. Technically being the oldest app of its kind that’s still widely active today, it’s certainly earned at least some prestige!
With lessons developed by a team of experienced linguists, Babbel focuses on practical language usage. Rather than just working to teach vocabulary, it also aims to emphasize instruction in the kind of words and phrases you’d actually use in real-life situations.
Currently, Babbel has lessons available in 14 languages: French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Dutch, Swedish and Polish.
The software has been subject to plenty of praise. It was even utilized for scientific studies related to language learning via apps.
Babbel’s Features: The Core Aspects
Babbel’s lessons are roughly 10 to 15 minutes in length. Each lesson features both text and audio of the phrases and vocabulary words you’ll learn.
Exercises are primarily of the “fill-in-the-blank” format, asking you to provide the appropriate word or translation. There are also questions that require you to listen to sound clips before arriving at your answer, and others that ask you for translations.
Babbel also has a speech recognition system that allows for verbal responses. This is optional, however, and you can opt not to have your lessons in this format.
You can easily check your progress either per lesson or weekly. A percentage will let you know how much of a given lesson you’ve completed. If you’ve set any weekly goals, Babbel gives you an overview of how you’re doing at meeting them.
There’s also a separate review section that lets you revisit what you’ve learned. Review exercises are available in a variety of formats, including writing, speaking, listening and so forth. There are even mini-games that let you practice vocabulary in a more cute, stylized manner.
Babbel’s Extras: Bonus Content
Besides its main learning program, Babbel offers a few extra resources for those who want to further their learning.
Babbel Live is a service that lets you take live classes with language instructors. After paying for a plan, you sign up for the class that suits your needs and schedule. You then join the class at the assigned time and get personalized instruction from your teacher.
Besides these classes, Babbel also offers language podcasts and a magazine website that features helpful blog posts for learners. The podcasts are available on the app, but you can also find them on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Babbel’s Cost: The Pricing System
Babbel doesn’t offer a free trial. However, registration and the first lesson of any course are free. After that, you’ll be expected to sign up for a paid plan.
Babbel’s subscriptions are month-based. Currently, the offered plans are for one month, three months, six months of 12 months. The cheapest is the 12-month option, which asks for $6.95 per month (as of July 2022).
This price seems quite reasonable when compared to that of other language learning programs. However, it also matters whether you prefer a monthly or annual subscription. Here are a few examples of other programs and their current prices:
- Memrise: $8.49 per month or $59.99 per year
- Duolingo Plus: $6.99 per month
- Busuu Premium Plus: $6.95 per month
The Babbel Experience: How It Works
As soon as you make an account with Babbel and pick your language of choice, you get to start your lessons. For the purpose of this review, I chose German. It’s a language I’ve had school-based instruction in, and I wanted to gauge how Babbel would organize the language into level-based lessons.
Based on the Common European Framework of Reference standards, Babbel claims to offer lessons that range from A1 (beginner) to C1 (proficient) levels. In the German version, the lessons are split into newcomer, beginner and intermediate levels. There’s also an “independent” course following the intermediate one that pushes a few lessons and concepts just a bit further.
The curriculum isn’t “locked” so you can skip around different lessons and courses as you wish. This is in contrast to a few other language learning apps that won’t let you proceed until you complete your current lesson or topic.
Each lesson will focus on a certain concept or vocabulary, which you’ll learn and memorize via exercises. These exercises consist of text, audio and images and will train you in a select few words and phrases. The lessons are predominantly scenario-based and focus on different day-to-day situations such as dining, eating, describing future actions and so forth.
For extra practice, you can take advantage of the review system. Babbel has its own dedicated “Review” section that lets you work on any problem spots. The review system utilizes spaced repetition, an effective learning tool based on timed intervals, that helps you focus on the vocabulary you need to practice.
You can do so while focusing on reading, writing, speaking or listening skills. Alternatively, you can even get some vocabulary training done with some cute mini-games!
The Pros of Babbel
Teaches applicable, usable language
Babbel’s exercises let you encounter the language without overwhelming frills or quirks. In fact, the vocabulary and phrases are used in a realistic manner, so what you learn can be used pretty quickly in real-life scenarios.
This is best expressed in the conversation snippets that are included in each lesson. They present two speakers using what you’ve just learned in a normal, casual context. It was during these exercises that I was the most engaged and alert, as I was seeing the material actually being used in action.
This is a great advantage that Babbel has, as many existing language learning apps tend to focus on isolated vocabulary as opposed to usable phrases. This strength can be further amplified if a bit of cultural context was included as well.
For that reason, you can also supplement your Babbel learning with further authentic resources like movies and TV shows, as well as books and even blogs. These are made for and by native speakers, so they’re likely to contain advanced vocabulary (including slang) and rapid speech. Despite these challenges, authentic content is the best in presenting a language as it’s actually used, and fortunately, there are tools available to help you learn efficiently from such material.
One example is the language learning program FluentU. Available as both a website and app (iOS and Android), FluentU teaches languages using a variety of authentic videos, like news snippets and movie trailers. You learn vocabulary and phrases in context through the provided interactive subtitles, video dictionary and personalized quizzes that include “speaking questions” testing your pronunciation.
I also recommend finding a language exchange partner for authentic speaking practice, too. Whether it’s a fellow learner or a native speaker, having a person to bounce your knowledge off of is a great way to put whatever you learn (from Babbel or otherwise) into real action.
Lessons build upon previous knowledge
Babbel’s curriculum is designed to have a logical flow of progression.
You start with very basic phrases and words before moving on to more involved conversational and involved sentences. From learning how to introduce yourself to describing your activities, Babbel makes sure that you’re climbing a structurally sound ladder of language ability.
And you’re not going to forget the material you learn in earlier lessons, either. You’re guaranteed to encounter them again while balancing the new content of your current lesson.
This kind of format made my learning experience both comfortable and stable. Even as I progressed to the next-level courses, the lessons were still inlaid with familiar territory regardless of the new concepts or vocabulary.
Includes language tips within lessons
One of Babbel’s best features is the inclusion of tips that explain specific concepts related to what you’re learning in a lesson. These notes can add a bit more context related to grammar, formality, sentence order and so on.
As simple and brief as these tips are, they’re great additions that can build your utility of a language. In fact, I’d even say they’re critical to helping build confidence in language learners as they deal with initially unfamiliar concepts, but unfortunately not so common in the curriculum of other language learning apps.
This feature is a personal big favorite of mine. It was always a nice surprise to see a note giving me just a few more nuggets of information regarding how the German language could be molded and shifted about.
The Cons of Babbel
Limited language choice
At the moment, Babbel only offers 14 languages and most of these are European. This low number may decrease the applicable user pool who can make use of the app.
While 14 is a fairly standard number of languages, I point this out specifically because of Babbel’s lifespan on the app market. After all these years, I (and probably others) would expect that Babbel would have a more varied and extensive list of offered languages.
Of course, this may be due to a number of limiting factors. A great deal of time and effort was likely spent on each of the language courses. However, I hope that Babbel is avidly working to bump up their roster so that they can reach a great deal more learners.
Doesn’t offer much for advanced learners
Currently, Babbel’s lessons end at the intermediate level. This means that more advanced (or even high-intermediate) learners who want to add to their existing knowledge will likely not see Babbel as the most viable resource.
At most, high-level learners may use Babbel for review purposes. However, this too would be limited since much of the attention is on beginner-level material.
Based on other user reviews, some of the languages may have less content overall than others. This imbalance can negatively affect not just advanced learners, but learners of other levels as well.
Speaking from my own experience with the German course, I think that even the final intermediate course was still a bit too simple. It also felt rather short in length. While the progression of material was reasonable, I didn’t feel that there was a noticeable or satisfying step-up in difficulty from the lower-level material.
Exercises can be somewhat dry
While thorough, Babbel’s lessons and exercises can become rather rote over time.
This is primarily because the overall exercise format isn’t very varied in style. Oftentimes, the answers are the same inputs. The questions also don’t change much. I personally got a bit tired of the repetitive nature of my studies, even though I can agree that they can quicken vocabulary memorization.
The issue is exacerbated by the lack of “game-y” features in Babbel, which can further de-motivate the learner who thrives on amusement and rewards. Again, I don’t mind sacrificing entertainment value when it comes to learning, but Babbel might benefit from a bit more excitement and variety in their lessons.
One way to do so is, perhaps, by incorporating more multimedia features. Videos can be a nice addition to make the lessons and exercises more interactive.
Comparing Babbel to Other Language Apps
Naturally, the biggest distinction between Babbel and Duolingo that learners would immediately notice is Duolingo’s lack of price tag. Indeed, you could download the basic version of Duolingo and start perusing multiple languages instantly. This is a huge selling point that Babbel currently can’t compete against, especially for the money-wise learner.
Duolingo also seems to possess a bigger quantity of lesson units with game-like exercises. They’re organized in a tree that becomes more accessible the more units you complete.
However, quantity doesn’t always mean quality, and Babbel’s lessons appear more topically comprehensive than Duolingo’s. Babbel makes it a point to focus on authentic context, whereas Duolingo seems more intent to make you memorize words and phrases in isolation.
Additionally, Babbel’s content is more realistic. Duolingo has a habit of using strange but amusing sentences to help you learn vocabulary, though they’re not especially helpful for real-life usage. Babbel, on the other hand, goes out of its way to provide dialogue exercises and usage tips that accentuate how to speak more naturally.
See our in-depth review of Duolingo.
FluentU is an immersive language learning program that uses native media to teach languages. That’s where it differs from Babbel: FluentU’s focus on authentic videos lets learners see their target language used naturally, allowing them to learn from context.
If you’ve ever tried to learn a language from movies or shows, you’d know how difficult it can be to do so, as the words seem to whiz by (especially if you’re a beginner or early intermediate). That’s why FluentU’s added learning features to its videos, like interactive subtitles: Hover over a word for a brief translation or click on it for an in-depth definition with example sentences, audio pronunciations and video clips with the word in use.
The program has a vast collection of videos in 10 languages, like movie trailers, music videos, TV show clips, interviews, inspirational talks, news segments, commercials and many other clips that native speakers actually watch. The large media library makes FluentU more engaging than Babbel, since you’ll be learning through entertaining videos instead of answering the same types of questions over and over.
The program also uses personalized quizzes, accurate transcripts, key word lists and the ability to add any word as a flashcard for later review. Unlike Babbel, FluentU’s exercises are adaptive, changing to target your weaknesses, making every learning experience unique.
FluentU, like Babbel, lets you decide on your own learning path. You can organize videos by topic, format and difficulty level. There are six levels, two each for beginner, intermediate and advanced, and there are plenty of options for more advanced learners.
There are a few other similarities as well: Videos are very short, making it possible to watch a video, complete a quiz and do a flashcard review in one 15-minute session. FluentU’s app also lets you speak some answers into your phone when completing exercises, allowing for speaking and pronunciation practice.
Rosetta Stone is another major player in the language learning program playing field. With its decades of prestige, it may already be perceived to be better than Babbel in all aspects. But that’s not truly the case.
Rosetta Stone uses a more “hands-off” teaching approach, letting you learn your target language without much instruction. You primarily learn with picture-based exercises, unlike Babbel’s mostly text-based ones. This can make Rosetta Stone palatable for learners who prefer a more “intuitive” study method.
In terms of the subscription price, Babbel is slightly cheaper than Rosetta Stone, though not by a large margin. The prices can vary by language, but expect Rosetta Stone’s monthly price to equal a few dollars more than Babbel’s.
Unlike Babbel, Rosetta Stone barely discusses grammar or context. This might be nice for learners who don’t enjoy studying such technical aspects, but it’s frankly a downside that can work against true language prowess.
Let’s now compare Babbel with a more recent (yet quite popular) newcomer to the language learning scene: Drops.
Offered in over 45 languages, Drops is a free minimalist-style app that provides daily five-minute language lessons split into categories. So while Babbel’s lessons aren’t exactly lengthy, they can feel quite long compared to Drops’.
Babbel’s exercises are quite text-heavy, while Drops’ exercises appeal more to visual learners since they involve associating pictures with vocabulary. Drops’ lessons also run by much quicker than Babbel’s, reinforced with the five-minute time limit.
Drops focuses on isolated words and vocabulary (plus their pronunciations), but doesn’t discuss grammar at all. In fact, it doesn’t really provide instruction on anything besides words and letters, to the point that the app feels bare-bones at times. Again, Babbel wins by providing more technical details about the language being taught.
See our review of Drops to understand more about what the app offers.
Babbel is often confused with Busuu since both apps have relatively similar priorities. They both aim to teach you applicable sentences, phrases and grammar in your target language, their lessons supplemented with helpful tips and dialogue-based exercises.
The free version of Busuu gives you access to some of the starter lessons in one language. Its most popular paid plan runs you $6.45 a month, which is ever so slightly less than Babbel’s cheapest. With the paid plan, you get access to community-based features, grammar lessons and review functions.
Busuu’s exercises aren’t too different from Babbel’s, though they’re organized in a set linear fashion. This means, unlike in Babbel, you can’t skip around Busuu’s lessons.
Busuu also places a stronger emphasis on its community-based features, in which you can interact with other learners or native speakers. Babbel doesn’t seem to have much of its own community, besides its Babbel Live feature that lets you learn from native speakers, but this seems more like a “bonus” feature and comes at its own costs.
See our review of Busuu, as well as our in-depth comparison between Babbel and Busuu.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, Babbel is a great app for those who are just starting a new language. Its content can very likely provide a stable foundation of basic vocabulary and phrases for beginner learners, who can then seek more advanced and comprehensive language instruction.
Unfortunately, Babbel does seem limited in its scope of content and its lesson plans. I find this to be its biggest weak point that can make users vulnerable to a less fulfilling learning experience than expected.
With more content and depth, Babbel can greatly enhance its already strong educational potential. Due to its popularity, I’m certain that more revamps and updates are coming for Babbel, and I’m eager to see how it evolves to live up to its hype.