Over the last year, the number of people learning a new language has hit the roof. It seems a bit counterproductive to learn a new language when the world is shut down, but we’ve got to kill time somehow.
As language classes are all but non-existent now, more and more people are turning to language learning apps like Duolingo and Babbel. These apps allow you to practice at home in your own time, at your own speed.
Choosing between the apps can be difficult. While Duolingo is probably the best known of these two, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s the best.
We’re going to take a look at both apps to see which is better for learning a language.
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Babbel is a German-based subscription language learning service that offers 13 different languages to its customers.
It is the top-grossing language learning app in the world and has over 10 million active users. These users are learning the following languages:
Babbel created its course in conjunction with linguistic experts, polyglots, and language speakers. However, the different language courses are not necessarily equal. Spanish, French, and German are more comprehensive and developed compared to the other languages.
This suggests that they have fewer experts in the less common languages or that they have fewer resources for them. It makes economic sense but it’s a shame for those who want to learn those languages.
Users primarily access the course through the mobile app, but you can also access the course through a laptop.
The app is free to download but you need to purchase a subscription in order to actually access the course. When you sign in on the app or through a desktop your progress is shared so you don’t need to start again.
Babbel promises to provide the ‘shortest path to real-life conversations’ by using the ‘Babbel method.’ This method is, according to their website:
It uses what it calls ‘the Babbel method’ to get you speaking and understanding your chosen language as quickly as possible. But what is ‘the Babbel method’?
The most important aspect of Babbel’s learning method is its focus on conversation and real-life language.
Instead of trawling through reams of vocab that you’re unlikely to use, Babbel adapts its course based on your interests and needs.
The course is delivered through a range of activities that include simulated conversations, matching games, audio lessons, and reviews.
Babbel uses native speakers for all its recordings and audio lessons. This helps you perfect your pronunciation far better than any automated computer voice.
Babbel also uses voice recognition to check and correct your pronunciation. This feature is unique to Babbel. This is a great way to develop your speaking skills when you can’t have a conversation with a native speaker!
In general, Babbel is seen as a more serious and professional language learning app. It certainly has the backing of the experts and professionals who have helped create it.
Duolingo is an American language learning app. It was released in 2012 and has grown exponentially. As of 2021, the app covers 38 languages and has over 300 million active users.
Users can choose from the following languages:
Interestingly, Duolingo includes 3 constructed languages: Esperanto, Klingon, and High Valyrian. The latter two are fictional languages from Star Trek and Game of Thrones, respectively.
Duolingo uses matching exercises, filling the blank, and translation tasks to help you develop vocabulary and grammar. The app is designed like a video game in a sense.
Completing tasks gives you ‘lingots’ that can be spent within the app for rewards or additional lives. You can also track your progress against public leader boards and friends. You can also collect badges from completing particular tasks.
Users are also rewarded for completing consecutive days of practice. They can build up a streak from practicing daily. If you miss a day you can purchase a streak freeze to prevent your streak from vanishing.
Duolingo courses are free to access to all users but they do offer a premium subscription. This premium subscription allows you to test out of lessons you think are too easy for you. It also gives you unlimited lives, offline access to lessons, and no ads.
The free access still gives you access to all the courses but not the functionality boosts like unlimited lives.
Unlike Babbel, Duolingo’s courses are not made or developed by experts. Instead, Duolingo’s courses are crowd-sourced. Volunteers create and oversee the courses meaning that the content can be a bit off.
Over the last few years, the quality of Duolingo’s content has gotten much better. The issue was mostly with the less common languages, but they are getting better.
|$13.95 per month with discounts for buying blocks of months.
|Free access to lessons.Premium subscription costs $6.99 a month.
|Interactive dialogue trainer, voice recognition for oral lessons, spaced review feature, 13 languages, native speakers recorded, can set reminders.
|Access to 38 free language courses, can link and rank on public scoreboards, premium subscription option, can set daily reminders and personalized targets.
|Can be accessed through the app or website, accounts are linked, uses voice recognition and touch screen input, no life limits, can skip ahead.
|Can be accessed through the app or website, accounts are linked, uses touch input, clean and clear graphics, engaging app design.
|A more professional language app that does lack some refinement.
|Probably the best free language learning app out there.
The pricing is where Duolingo really takes the lead over Babbel.
Duolingo’s 38 different language courses are completely free to all users. You get all of the content and all the options without having to pay a cent.
Duolingo does have a paid membership tier which we will discuss in a moment but it’s important to remember that the course content is free to all on Duolingo.
Babbel, on the other hand, cannot be used without a paid subscription. You can pay monthly, but that will cost you double the cost of buying a yearly subscription.
The pay monthly subscription will cost you $13.95. It works out more expensive over time, but it is a good choice for people who can’t afford one large bulk order.
The yearly subscription costs you $83.50. This works out as $6.95 a month but you must pay the full bulk amount upfront.
For 6 months it will cost you $50.70 which works out as $8.45 a month. Again, you need to pay the full amount upfront which isn’t ideal for everyone.
The final bulk subscription is for 3 months. This will cost you $29.85 which works out as $9.95 a month. This is a good option for people who want to try the courses before committing to longer.
Babbel is expensive compared to Duolingo. There’s no denying that fact. Even when you compare it to the paid Plus subscription for Duolingo. However, it is cheaper than other competitors like Rosetta Stone.
Duolingo Plus will cost you $6.99 a month. That’s a few cents off Babbel’s annual monthly breakdown.
The difference between the two Duolingo options is mostly just functionality. With the Plus subscription, you have unlimited lives so you can play for as long as you like. It also removes ads which can be annoying for some.
Overall, if you’re just looking at the cost, Duolingo is always going to win. You don’t lose any content with the free Duolingo account so you really can’t complain.
While the Babbel content is great and it does include some really great features, ultimately, it’s not free. People on a budget will no doubt prefer Duolingo.
If you do have some disposable income, you can check out Babbel before you sign up with a 2-week free trial.
Let’s take a look at the features of each app. This section will help you decide whether the monthly cost is worth it.
The first feature we need to compare is the language choices. Duolingo wins on this front. It’s no competition.
Duolingo lets you choose between 38 different languages. Their languages span 5 countries and cover smaller, native languages like Gaelic and Welsh as well as the more common languages like Spanish and French.
Babbel has 18 languages. All are European languages except for Indonesian and Brazilian Portuguese. As Babbel uses experts to create their courses, the lower number of languages makes sense. After all, it’s expensive to hire linguistic exports to create and oversee the course.
When you’re deciding between the apps, you may have no choice but to go with Duolingo over Babbel if your chosen language isn’t available.
The other thing to consider is that you can’t learn multiple languages at once with Babbel. Your subscription only allows you access to the single language you select.
Duolingo, on the other hand, lets you learn multiple languages at once. You can flick between them whenever you wish, and your progress saves throughout.
If we look at the ‘lessons’ themselves, Babbel does have some really awesome features. The interactive dialogue tool allows you to have a text-based conversation with the computer.
We like this feature because it mimics real-life conversations. It helps you get used to the grammar and vocabulary used in conversations.
Babbel’s exercises can feel a bit tedious at times but we’d also argue that they are more challenging than other apps including Duolingo. For new learners this might be off-putting, however, the lessons really do challenge and develop your language skills.
The other wonderful thing about Babbel is the fact that all sound bites are recorded by native speakers. This makes a huge difference to your learning, as they get the pronunciations perfect every time.
Duolingo’s computer-generated pronunciations are sometimes odd and incorrect. This mainly happens with the less common languages.
The pronunciations matter a lot especially if you’re learning alone. If you were learning with a class or a partner, you’d get the chance to hear the language a lot more and get used to the sounds. When you’re learning through an app, you have to rely on their pronunciation.
Similarly, Babbel has a voice recognition feature that tests your pronunciation. This feature is awesome because you can hone all four language skills (writing, reading, listening, and speaking.) Duolingo misses out on that last skill.
Let’s now take a closer look at Duolingo. The language content is great, though a little bit slow in the early stages. If you already have some knowledge of the language you might find the first few levels quite tedious.
A great feature of Duolingo is the ability to connect with and compare your progress to friends as well as public leaderboards. You can see your friends’ streak compared to your own as well as the amount of Lingots they’ve gained that week.
Duolingo feels more like a game than Babbel. This really works for a lot of people. The slightly competitive element is encouraging and adds a bit more fun to the learning.
As well as the leader boards, Duolingo also awards badges for different ‘achievements.’ These achievements range from logging in for a number of consecutive days to getting a streak of right answers.
Duolingo lessons do not contain the linguistic information that Babbel does, in that the exercises don’t usually explain the grammar or syntax. Instead, you pick these things up passively by observing and using them throughout the exercises.
Looking at the content of each app, it’s hard to say definitively which app is better.
Both courses are comprehensive and relevant. You don’t waste time learning words and phrases that you’re unlikely to need or learn.
Babbel probably prepares you better for real-life conversations through the course content and the interactive dialogue activity. It is also more didactic and explanatory than Duolingo.
If you like to know why or how a language works, then Babbel is going to be better for you. Duolingo’s content is learned passively through use and observation. It’s not so explicit in its teaching.
Duolingo does, however, deliver consistently good content across all languages. This can’t be said of Babbel. The Spanish, French, and German courses are wonderfully detailed and comprehensive, the other languages are less so.
As with any app, usability is key. You don’t want to fight your way through a clunky app especially when you’re trying to learn a new language. Nobody wants to waste brainpower figuring out the controls!
Duolingo is simple to navigate and easy to operate. The lesson activities either require you to type or touch the answers.
If you’re learning a language with a different alphabet, like Greek, you’ll need to download and enable that alphabet on your phone’s keyboard.
One of the frustrating things about Duolingo’s interface is that you can’t reorder words you’ve tapped. This occurs during translation tasks. You’ll be asked to create a sentence by taping the words. If you miss one word or put it in the wrong place you need to clear it all and tap them again.
It’s a minor inconvenience at worst.
The biggest gripe with Duolingo is the fact that you can’t skip ahead if you’re finding your lessons too easy. As a Plus user, you can test out of any skill and progress faster but for free users, it’s not an option.
This gets a bit frustrating, especially in the beginning if you’ve already got a bit of the language.
The other thing about Duolingo’s free service is the fact that you have a limited number of lives per day. If you lose them all by answering incorrectly you have to wait till the following day to continue.
On the one hand, we like the way this limited life system makes you really concentrate on what you’re doing. On the other hand, it’s a bit annoying when you want to keep practicing those tougher topics that are costing you your lives.
The Plus membership gives you unlimited lives so you can remove this frustrating feature.
You also get to remove the ads with the Plus subscription. The ads aren’t overwhelmingly invasive. They pop up at the end of lessons but they’re not super long and you can skip after a few seconds.
Babbel does not have a life or ad system because it’s a paid subscription service. While the lack of ads is a great thing, it doesn’t make up for the lack of inspiration or clarity in the overall layout and navigation.
Babbel’s user interface is clunky and confusing. It’s difficult to navigate to the right lesson but once there, choosing the right answers is easy enough.
Another issue with using Babbel is that it doesn’t really have much for more advanced users. Some languages like Russian, only have beginner courses while even the more developed languages lack more advanced work.
The biggest issue with Babbel is the totally uninspiring look and feel of the app. The color scheme and visuals are so dull it doesn’t make you excited to learn.
It might not seem like a big deal, but when you’re paying for an app that’s supposed to help you learn, it should be engaging and encouraging. Style over substance is no good but at times Babbel seems to lack both style and substance.
The experts over at Babbel claim that you can become fluent to a conversational level in a very short time. However, this totally depends on how often you are using the app and practicing it in your daily life.
The reason we have stressed ‘practicing’ is because, without practice, it is very difficult to become truly fluent in any language. With this in mind, it is definitely going to be difficult to become fluent when using Babbel, but it is certainly not impossible.
Babbel uses actual native speakers of certain languages to teach you how to speak, meaning your pronunciation will be far better.
Babbel also allows voice recognition, meaning you can get your speaking checked to see if you are doing it correctly. They also offer the opportunity for having simulated conversations to help you get used to real-life scenarios.
Provided you use it for learning and practicing, but also allow yourself some real-life practice, Babbel can help you to become fluent in your chosen language.
Just don’t rely on it solely, as nothing beats immersing yourself into a language by having a real-life conversation with a native speaker.
You can expect Babbel to set you back at around $13.95 per month. They also offer discounts if you buy blocks of months together, such as getting a percentage off for purchasing three or six months on Babbel.
They also offer sales throughout the year where you can get 30% off, such as their summer sale.
You may also be able to get discounts and deals if this is something you are pursuing through your job. For example, they offer Babbel for Business packages that can be tailored to the needs of your business for competitive prices (depending on your package).
The answer to this, annoyingly, is – it depends! How long it takes to learn a new language can depend on so many factors, such as your learning style, how much time you spend learning each day, how much practice you put in, and even the language itself.
As well as this, some people just take longer (or are faster) to learn than others.
Babbel professionals agree with this, but they do claim that it can take just 3 weeks to be able to have a very basic conversation in your new language.
This does not come easily though, as you will need to be putting in the work for it every day and practicing it often.
Different languages take different amounts of time to learn, so research how long you can expect your chosen language to take and aim for that.
Comparing Babbel with Duolingo is a bit unfair. Though they are both language learning apps, they are quite different from each other.
Duolingo is a more casual learning experience. For free users, it plays like many other mobile games. You need to wait for life in order to progress, you can compare progress against others, and you can make in-app purchases with the in-app currency.
This game style works for a lot of users, particularly young, millennial users who make up the majority of its user base. They’ve even copied across streaks from social media apps like Snapchat to make the app appeal to those users.
Babbel, on the other hand, is a more professional and serious language learning app. It isn’t focused on looking great or being flashy. It is all about the theory behind their language learning courses.
This approach does work for some, particularly those who like to learn the whys and hows of languages. For others, it’s a bit too dry.
For many people, the deciding factors will be the sheer amount of languages available on Duolingo and the fact that it is free. Babbel would need to put out something amazing to combat that, but unfortunately, it falls short.
So, overall, Duolingo is your best bet unless you’re particularly fond of grammatical theory and paying for your learning.
Jacob has a background in finance and engineering. Outside of his day job, he is a lifelong learner, who enjoys reading, taking online courses, and writing about what he's learned.