If you’ve considered learning a new language in the last ten years or so, chances are you’ve heard of Babbel. With millions of users, this is one of the most popular language apps on the market today.
We all know that popularity doesn’t necessarily mean quality, so I thought it was about time I took an in-depth look at this program.
Babbel is designed to get you speaking your target language quickly and efficiently through lessons that are based on real-life scenarios. They promise quick lessons and entertaining practice exercises that are supposed to make learning fun and addictive. Do they keep their promise? Well, we’re going to find out!
For the sake of honesty, I should say that this is not my first experience with Babbel. I did try it out once before and was somewhat impressed. I did not, however, love it enough to continue using it, which I’ll explain closer to the end of this article. This review will be a combination of my thoughts from my previous experience as well as some insights from my more recent foray into the app.
As always, let’s start with a quick overview of my likes and dislikes and then I’ll take you through a detailed tour of this famous language program.
Babbel is a subscription-based program with multiple subscription options.
$26.85 ($8.95 Per Month)
$44.70 ($7.45 Per Month)
$83.40 ($6.95 Per Month)
My Initial Thoughts Of Babbel
My initial thought about this app is that it’s very professional-looking and easy to navigate. The platform is clean and well designed with lots of open space.
Babbel is available for Android and iOS as well as online. For this review, I mostly used the Android app, but I did look around the website a bit as well. I found both platforms to be well-designed and free of any major flaws.
They offer 14 different languages with lessons ranging from beginner to advanced in most of the languages. For those who are not beginners, they offer a quick placement test so you can skip to the lessons that are most appropriate for your fluency level.
One of the things that I appreciate the most about this program is their commitment to teaching conversational language first. The lessons are all about teaching you words and phrases that you would actually use instead of just random words like some other programs.
Not that building a large vocabulary isn’t important, but learning random words can often become more frustrating than fun. This frustration can cause some language learners to give up before they’ve even gotten started.
That isn’t a problem with Babbel. From the very first lesson, you will learn words that can be used in everyday conversations, which is quite exciting, especially for beginners. Depending on the language you choose to learn, your first lesson could include listening to a short conversation in your target language, so you can hear your new words in action.
Another thing that I like about this program is the cost. Compared to many paid programs it’s quite reasonable and considering the quality of the lessons, it’s extremely reasonable. They also run sales throughout the year, making it even more affordable. They offer multiple subscription options and a 20-day money-back guarantee, you can’t beat that!
The lessons and practice exercises are pretty much what you would expect from a well put together modern language app. This method of teaching isn’t anything revolutionary, but it is a solid program offered in a format that most users will find quite convenient.
The lessons are short and can be completed fairly quickly, so you can do them anytime. Instead of scrolling through social media while you wait for the bus, you could just as easily be learning a new language. Does that sound like a good idea to you? If so, come with me while I dive in and take a closer look at the ins and outs of this language learning app.
Signing Up For Babbel Is Easy
The signup process for this program is easy, although a bit different from most of the other apps I’ve tried.
The first thing you’ll be asked is what language you would like to learn, followed by a few more questions about why you want to learn a new language and what led you to Babbel. After the quick survey, you just have to give them your name and email address.
Once you’re logged in, they will ask you to choose a subscription plan. You can look around the app and even try a lesson before signing up, but to get a real look around, you have to choose a plan. As I mentioned before, they do have a money-back guarantee, so you can always just cancel it if you find that it’s not for you.
Once you’re logged in, you will be taken straight to the main home page which shows your lesson plan. The size of the plan differs between languages, but most of the languages include lessons from absolute newbie up to upper-intermediate or advanced fluency.
Some of the languages include a few extras as well, such as their Refresher courses for those who just need to brush up on their language skills. Some plans also include Cultural lessons and “Specials” which help you to gain a better understanding of the idioms and nuances of your chosen language.
In order to figure out where to start in this wide range of courses, you’ll have to take that placement test that I mentioned earlier. The test includes a few simple questions about your fluency level so be sure that you’re completely honest. I did the placement test in a couple of languages and found the resulting placement to be fairly accurate.
The entire start-up process only took about five minutes from downloading the app to starting my first lesson. There was a bit of extra time in there for loading. This seems to be a bit of an issue with the Android version of this app, which I will discuss in more detail toward the end of the article.
Exploring The Babbel App
The app is split into five sections: Home, Courses, Review, Podcasts, and Profile.
Home is the main screen where you will spend the majority of your time. This is where you’ll find your lesson plan and be able to review your progress and future lessons.
Courses also shows the lesson plan, but instead of being divided by individual lessons, it is divided by courses. This section shows all the courses that are available in your chosen language. The courses are split up by level and subject, such as Beginner Course 1 + 2, Listening and Speaking, and Specials. The Courses tab allows you to quickly access all the courses that you’ve started and also review which ones you've completed.
The Review tab allows you to access all the review exercises that you’ll need to reinforce everything that you’ve been learning. I’ll go over this section in more detail in the next section of this article.
Podcasts is exactly what it sounds like. This tab will give you quick access to podcasts in your target language. Unfortunately, only the most popular languages have podcasts right now. Listening practice can greatly improve your ability to communicate in your target language, so hopefully, they will be adding podcasts for every language soon.
The Profile tab is also what you would expect. This is where you can review your activity levels, achievements, and personal information. The app gives you the option to set up a daily reminder for when it’s time to practice. If that sounds like something you would appreciate, you can find that option in your Profile. You can also adjust the app settings from this tab.
Time To Learn
For this review, I wanted to see how the lesson format would work for someone with little to no knowledge of their target language, so I chose to try their Turkish course this time around. I didn’t know a single word of Turkish before I started and now I know a handful of useful words, so I would say that it worked quite well.
Before the lesson begins, you’ll be asked if you want to use the voice recognition option or not. Although I’m not a big fan of voice recognition software, it is important to practice your target language out loud so I chose to include the voice activities.
Like all voice recognition software, I would not rely on it to accurately judge my pronunciation. I did test it by purposefully saying things incorrectly and it caught my mispronunciations almost every time, but there were also times when my pronunciation was right and it did not register it as correct.
Basically, don’t rely on it, but don’t skip all the speaking practice either. If nothing else, it reminds you to actually say the words instead of just listening to them. When you are ready to work on your pronunciation, you’ll need to practice with real people. Check the Alternatives section toward the end of this article for some suggestions on how you can connect with native speakers for real speaking practice.
Your First Lesson With Babbel
The lessons start by displaying words and phrases along with coordinating pictures. You’ll hear a sound clip of each word and be shown how the word would be used in a sentence. As you get into the more advanced lessons, you’ll be given more complex sentences, but in the early lessons, you’ll only see short simple phrases.
The pictures and the recordings are both high quality, although the pictures were a bit unusual in that they don’t always match the corresponding word or phrase. There will always be words and phrases that are hard to convey in a single picture, but some of these pictures didn’t seem to match at all. Thankfully, they give you the translations along with each word so you won’t have to rely on the stock photos for explanations.
The lessons are fairly short, but they include all the elements you need to make the information stick. Even trying out a language that I knew absolutely nothing about, I felt completely confident that I was understanding and absorbing everything in the lesson. This is not something I can say for some of the other more popular language apps that I’ve tried, so I was fairly impressed.
Each lesson will include a range of practice exercises to ensure that you both understand and retain the information. These exercises will include activities like matching words to their translations and multiple types of fill in the blank activities. There are also lots of “Listen and Repeat” exercises if you choose to use the voice recognition feature.
In the beginner lessons, most of the fill in the blank exercises will just be multiple-choice questions. They will present a question in English and then provide a list of words in your target language for you to choose from.
As you progress, the exercises will increase in difficulty which is a nice feature. Some of the later lessons will include listening activities where you will listen to a conversation and then fill in the missing words. This provides quality listening and writing practice all rolled into one, which is always a bonus.
One set of exercises that sets Babbel apart is their grammar exercises. Many of the programs that are heavily focused on conversation practice lack grammar explanations. The decision to avoid grammar is based on the idea that grammar is boring and that we can just learn grammar naturally as we learn to speak.
We can certainly learn grammar rules this way, but it takes a lot longer and can sometimes lead us to develop bad speaking habits that we have to work hard to correct later on. With the addition of just a few grammar tips and lessons, we can avoid a lot of common mistakes and use our target language properly from the very beginning.
The grammar exercises on this program are simple enough that learning proper grammar doesn’t even feel like a chore. Most of these exercises include matching words to their proper word group and lots of fill in the blank activities.
Depending on the language you choose, you’ll also run into some verb conjugation exercises. Conjugation can be a really difficult thing to pick up on organically, so I appreciate the program designers at Babbel trying to make one of the most challenging elements of language learning a little less intimidating.
You’ll also see a few grammar tips popping up throughout the lessons, which is nice. By integrating small bits of grammar into all the lessons, they’ve found a way to convey all the important details you need to know in a way that isn’t too exhausting or off-putting.
Reviewing What You Know
After you complete each lesson, you can go over to the Review section to reinforce what you’ve just learned. The review exercises include Flashcards, Listening, Speaking, and Writing.
The flashcards are pretty much what you would expect from any electronic flashcards. You’ll be shown words from the vocabulary that you’ve learned and you can report whether you know the word or not. Your answer will determine how often you see each card, so make sure you’re completely honest about whether you remembered the word correctly.
In these exercises, you’ll listen to recordings of native speakers saying different things in your target language. You’ll then be given a list of possible translations and you simply pick the one that matches what you just heard.
The speaking exercises are just like the listen and repeat exercises from the main lessons. You’ll just listen to sound clips and try to match your pronunciation to that of the recording. Again, this is not the best way to perfect your pronunciation, but some speaking practice is better than none at all, so it’s worth using now and then when you don’t have access to anything better.
The writing exercises are simply fill in the blank activities where you have to write the answer instead of choosing from a generated list. Knowing how to read your target language is just as important as being able to speak it, so I was happy to see a review section dedicated to writing.
Babbel uses a popular algorithm called spaced repetition in all their review exercises. If you’ve been a language learner for any amount of time, you’ve probably heard about spaced repetition, but just in case you haven’t, here is a synopsis.
Spaced repetition is a way of presenting information repeatedly at spaced intervals until the information is fully retained. This process reinforces learning in a way that binge studying never could.
In essence, you’ll be presented with the same information over and over at steadily increasing intervals until you know it extremely well and then that information is replaced with something new and you begin the same process with the new information.
All of the review exercises on this app are designed to work this way. You’ll be presented with a large variety of questions or flashcards and as you go through them and give the correct answers, the ones you answer correctly every time will slowly be phased out.
This also means that the review exercises will increase in difficulty as you continue to answer questions correctly. This is a great process that has been scientifically proven to increase learning.
Almost all modern language programs use some form of spaced repetition in their review exercises, but this program takes it a step further. Once you have completed a few lessons, you can go in and look at your ‘Knowledge Level’ for each word that you’ve learned so far.
The more often you correctly identify each word, the higher your knowledge level will be. Incorrect answers can also lower your knowledge level, meaning that the word will start coming up more often until you no longer struggle with it.
You can also manually adjust your knowledge levels, which is a handy feature. If you have some prior knowledge of your target language and don’t want to waste time practicing things you already know, you can set the knowledge level to 6 on those words and you won’t be quizzed on them anymore.
Drawbacks To Babbel
Every language learner is different which means no single program could possibly be right for everyone. This also means that some of the things that I see as drawbacks may not bother other users.
That being said, I always like to be honest and share my dislikes along with all my likes so that you can get a clear picture of what to expect when you try any of the programs that I’ve reviewed. When it comes to Babbel, there are only a few small things to mention in the ‘Dislike’ category.
Repetitive Lessons and Exercises
I know I just talked about the importance of repetition in language learning, but these lessons seem to go a bit beyond the required amount of repetition. Because the practice exercises are not particularly varied, they can become very repetitive quite quickly and I found myself answering the questions more out of muscle memory than from actual knowledge of the language.
Instead of using the same questions over and over, I think it would be more beneficial for them to include a variety of questions. Even if all the questions are about the same subject, having a wider variety of questions would increase comprehension and decrease boredom.
I’ve already talked about this at length so I’ll just say: the software is glitchy. This can make some of the exercises very frustrating. They do give you the option to skip the speaking exercises though, so this drawback is negligible.
Babbel’s subscriptions are only good for one language course. This was probably the biggest drawback for me.
The majority of the subscription-based programs that I have tried offer access to their entire catalog of courses with a single subscription. This meant that I could practice all of my languages in one place for a single monthly fee. The fact that Babbel is one of the biggest names in language learning and they still only offer a single language per subscription is a little disappointing.
Of course, there are lots of language learners out there who only want access to one language, so in most cases, this probably isn’t a big deal.
Lagging Load Times
Last, and probably least, the app lags. I tried it both on a network connection and Wifi and it simply does not like to load quickly. I found that even if I had the program on and loaded, I couldn’t set it down or allow my screen to lock or I would have to wait for it to load again.
This was quite unexpected considering that it is a very simplistic app with little to no extra media to load. I have tried many language apps that were full of extra graphics and pictures that would pop right up. Not sure what it is about this program that slows down loading so much, but it is frustrating. This, combined with the single language limit, are the reasons that I chose not to continue using Babbel the first time I tried it.
All that aside, don’t let my opinion stop you from giving it a try. As you can see from the rest of this article, there are a lot more good features than bad and considering how inexpensive it is, it’s at least worth a try, especially if you’re new to language learning.
Alternatives To Babbel
If this program doesn’t sound quite right for your learning style, here are a few alternatives that you may like a bit more.
Busuu is quite similar to Babbel in that it offers quick lessons and fun practice exercises. The main difference between the two programs is that Busuu offers access to a large community of language learners with whom you can interact. You can give and receive constructive feedback, making this a good choice for social language learners.
Duolingo is a good option for beginners on a budget. Although they do offer an ad-free premium version, the majority of Duolingo’s learning materials are free. The lessons are short and fun and the practice exercises are varied enough to keep you entertained. Plus, the layout is fun and eye-catching, making this a good choice for kids and those of us who are young at heart.
italki is the best choice for language learners who are serious about perfecting their conversational skills. italki offers inexpensive tutoring sessions with native speakers, both professional teachers and community tutors who just want to help others learn a new language.
Lingodeer is a good choice for anyone who is interested in learning one of the Asian languages. This program offers quality lessons in Korean, Japanese, Chinese, and Vietnamese. They offer courses in a few other languages as well and you have access to all of their language courses for a reasonable monthly subscription.
Babbel Review: Final Thoughts
Overall I would say that Babbel is a good program that just needs a little work.
The lessons are solid and they build on each other in a logical way that makes it easy to learn, they just become a bit repetitive after a while. The practice and review exercises are exactly what you would expect, they are simple and effective, though slightly dull.
The main body of the app is well put together. The design is clean and professional which makes it super user-friendly. The design is so clean that some users may find the layout to be a bit boring. The only media included in the app are the stock photos that seem to be only slightly related to the learning material.
All that being said, the main benefit of this program for many of its users is its simplicity. Many people find the repetitive lesson structure to be very effective in reinforcing all of the materials. They also find the simple layout relaxing and less distracting than other programs with busier platforms.
If you’re seeking a no-nonsense program that you can use on the go, then you should give this one a try. Just don’t expect anything flashy or revolutionary.
The main point that I’m trying to convey is that you have to find what works best for you. This may not have been the app for me, but I hope this in-depth review has given you some idea of whether or not Babbel is the program for you. No matter which program you choose, never stop pursuing your dream of becoming multilingual. Happy learning!