Rosetta Stone vs Babbel Overview
Even if you’re brand new to language learning, chances are you’ve heard of these two language programs. Rosetta Stone has been one of the leading language learning programs since before online subscriptions even existed. Babbel, though somewhat newer than Rosetta Stone, has still been around for quite a while.
Both programs are very popular, with millions of users each, and they both have some good qualities. Both have well laid out platforms, good sound quality, and solid lesson structures. Yet, despite this and their vast popularity, these programs may not be for everyone.
Personally, I don’t care for Rosetta Stone, but that may just be because full immersion is not a good learning style for me. Babbel was a bit more to my liking because I prefer to have explanations and translations, but I still found it a bit lacking for the cost.
That being said, one of these may be the perfect program for you, so let’s dive in and take a closer look. Before we get too far along, here is a quick look at some of my likes and dislikes, just to give you an idea of what we’ll be looking at.
Likes and Dislikes About Rosetta Stone and Babbel
Babbel & Rosetta Stone Languages
Spanish (Latin America)
Rosetta Stone pricing
$35.97 (Three Months)
$179 (For 12 Months)
$249 (For 24 Months)
$299 (Lifetime Subscription)
Taking A Closer Look At Rosetta Stone & Babbel
Okay, now that we’ve gone over all the basic stats, let’s take a look at the lessons and practice exercises of each to see how they compare.
Upon first looking over this program, I found it to be pretty comprehensive. They offer lessons from Newcomer to Advanced and have a wide variety of subjects.
The platform itself is pleasant. It has a lot of clean lines and open space. Some users may find this design a bit dull, but I find it relaxing. There aren't a bunch of distracting extras, just the simple necessities. This simple design makes navigation super user-friendly.
Signing up only takes a moment and you can try a few of the features for free before choosing your preferred subscription option.
When you sign up you will be asked a few simple questions about why you’re trying to learn a new language as well as how much time you would like to commit to learning every day. The only information you will have to provide initially is your name and email address.
This program is available online and on your smartphone. I decided to try the Android version and didn’t have any trouble with it. It loaded quickly and functioned smoothly. Reviews from other users indicate that the iOS version works just as well.
Once you're all signed up, it’s time to try your first lesson! If you already have a general knowledge of your chosen language, don’t worry you do not have to start with the absolute basics. You can go through a basic questionnaire about your current fluency so that you start at the appropriate level.
The lessons start out being fairly simple. You will be presented with a few sentences in your target language, usually just four short phrases. You’ll hear recordings of each sentence and be shown the phrases written out next to pictures and translations. Don’t pay too much attention to the pictures, they’re all stock photos and some of them don’t seem to be related to the lesson content at all.
The lesson will go through several other exercises including things like writing out the new words, matching the words to their translations, and also matching the phrases to corresponding sentences. For example, it will ask, “What do you say if you don’t understand?” And then you choose the sentence that best fits the situation.
This is a great format for beginners because instead of teaching you a bunch of separate words, Babbel goes straight to teaching you simple but useful phrases that you can begin using right away. As you progress you will encounter speaking, writing, reading, and listening exercises, making this a pretty well-rounded program.
The exercises will become more difficult as you progress to higher levels, but the lessons will remain short, making it easy to squeeze in a lesson here or there throughout your day.
They have recently added in a few little video lessons as well, which is nice, but you’ll find that the majority of the lessons follow the same basic pattern. This can become a bit repetitive, but it is a format that works, so if you’re committed to it, Babbel will definitely get you to a conversational level fairly quickly.
Standout Features - Both Good And Bad
One of the lesson features that I appreciated with this app is the way they present their grammar lessons. Don’t worry, these are not huge long lectures you have to memorize, they are placed throughout the lessons just like all the other exercises.
These exercises involve you having to identify word types, such as adverbs, adjectives, and nouns. I like this because it is presented as just another simple learning exercise, but it can substantially improve your understanding of your target language.
One thing that is a bit frustrating about this app is the voice recognition feature. Many language learning apps try to incorporate some form of voice recognition because speaking practice is so important. Unfortunately, the technology just isn’t advanced enough to be truly helpful.
Many times you will find yourself hung up on an exercise because the app won’t recognize that you’re saying the words correctly, or, worse yet, it may accept your pronunciation even though it is incorrect. This could lead to you learning incorrect pronunciations, which are hard to unlearn.
To avoid this problem, I highly recommend finding a tutor for real speaking practice. I know that you may feel shy about speaking with a native speaker, but trust me it can make all the difference in your language learning process. Plus, language tutors are there to help and encourage you, they are not expecting you to speak perfectly from the start, so don’t be afraid to try.
After you complete a lesson you can go in and review all the words from that lesson by doing similar exercises. Reviews involve reading, writing, listening, and speaking practice.
You can choose between looking at flashcards, filling in the blanks, listening to sound clips and writing what you hear, or speaking practice using voice recognition. Each of these tools is straightforward and easy to use. Using the review section is a nice way to get in a little bit of practice while you’re on the bus or taking a break during your workday.
One cool thing about the review section is that it is yours forever once you’ve completed a lesson. This means that even if you finish the program and end your subscription, you can still go back through and review lessons later on.
Overall I would say that Babbel has some good features to offer. I appreciate that it is based on learning the conversational language first and that it has a lot of helpful grammar tips. I would not say that it is necessarily a stand-alone program, but very few language programs are. This app may be a good choice for beginners, but there are other less expensive options that are quite similar, so the cost may not be justifiable.
Rosetta bases their program on the idea that people should learn their second language the same way we learn our first language, through full immersion. This means that from the very first lesson, you will encounter only your target language without any translations or explanations.
This program is available online or as an iOS or Android app. Again I tried out the Android app without any difficulties. The layout is pleasant and eye-catching. Navigation is pretty straightforward, so you won’t have to spend time finding your way around.
The sign-up process is very simple, only requiring your name and email address. Once you create an account you just have to answer a few simple questions about what language you would like to learn and what your current fluency level is.
You can look through the lesson plan to see the basics of what you will be learning and try a short lesson before you choose a subscription plan. You can also access and sample a few other features before you have to pay.
This is where Rosetta Stone falls a bit short, at least for me. The lessons themselves are fairly good, they are easy to follow and seem to include appropriate material for each learning level. The trouble is the format.
Because everything is in your target language without any explanations, the whole lesson is matching words to pictures. Don’t get me wrong, this is a great way to learn vocabulary words and a few simple grammar concepts, but it can quickly become very confusing.
Imagine trying to explain the word ‘have’ using only pictures. Ideas like ‘I have an apple’ may be easy enough, but what about ‘I have a cold’ and ‘I have to go to work’? You may get the point across eventually, but a short written explanation could save you loads of time, confusion, and frustration.
They do a good job of using this method for simple concepts though. The pictures they use are of high quality and do relate to the subject matter. During each lesson, you will match written words and audio clips to their corresponding photos. As you progress you will also have some fill in the blank exercises to give you a bit of writing practice.
The lessons are about 30 minutes long, making it a little more difficult to do on the go, but if you have a long subway ride or need something to do while you’re on lunch, this might work for your schedule.
To be honest, just making it through one lesson was a bit of a challenge for me. I found myself loosing interest and thinking about other things. I think perhaps if the lessons were a bit shorter the format may not be as much of a hindrance.
Standout Features - Both Good and Bad
The most impressive thing that I noticed about this app was the sound quality. Every single audio clip is from a native speaker and they have quite a few different voices, so you get to hear a few different accents and tones.
I also liked the overall look of the app. It seems very professional and up to date. The pictures they use are varied, which is a good thing because you’ll be seeing a lot of them if you use this app on a daily basis.
The major downside for me, outside of the confusing nature of full immersion, is the monotony of the lessons. Practice makes perfect, so every language program is going to involve a lot of repetition, but somehow this format just feels even more repetitive than most.
This app also suffers from the glitchy voice recognition software, but as I said earlier, this isn’t really their fault, the technology just needs work. I did notice that with the more simplistic words and phrases, it didn’t do too bad picking up my voice and recognizing pronunciation mistakes.
Outside of the basic lessons, Rosetta Stone also offers a few extra features that are kind of nice. One is the Extended Learning section. This section includes a Phrasebook, Stories, and Audio Companion.
The Phrasebook contains recordings of a bunch of different helpful phrases that you can use in everyday situations such as greetings, how to ask for directions, and how to talk about health. Although this is interesting, there aren’t any translations, so this is probably only helpful for those who already have a basic knowledge of the language.
The Stories section includes a variety of short stories in your target language that go along with the lesson units. This is great for listening practice.
The Audio Companion is where you can download lessons for even more listening practice throughout the day. This is a helpful option for those who are always on the go.
You will also find a section called On-Demand that includes a variety of videos about your chosen language. Some of these videos just follow native conversations and others include conversations and explanations, which is always helpful.
Overall I would say that Rosetta Stone is a good choice for those who love flashcards and are willing to try out full immersion learning. The quality of the app is undeniable. It is well put together and designed to be user-friendly. That being said, I do think it is overpriced for what it provides, especially when there are so many more useful options on the market.
So Which Is Better Babbel Or Rosetta Stone?
Well, as you’ve probably guessed by now, I prefer Babbel. Not only is it significantly less expensive, but it's also much more comprehensive. Not that they don’t both have pros and cons, the pros are just a bit more prominent in Babbel.
The full immersion method found in Rosetta Stone does have its benefits, specifically that it helps to decrease your tendency to mentally translate everything before speaking. The idea is that by only seeing and hearing your target language and associating it with pictures, you’ll be less likely to associate it with your native language, thus helping you to skip translation and go straight to speaking.
Some people love full immersion, finding it very effective. Rosetta Stone uses this method because it’s supposed to simulate the way we learn as children, so there is some science behind it, it just doesn’t work for everyone. Most adults know enough about the structure of language that they learn faster when presented with grammar and vocabulary rules.
Babbel also wins out in terms of entertainment. Quality learning is more important than entertainment, but learning a language is a long process for most people so you have to choose a program that you enjoy. Although Babbel does get a bit repetitive, it’s not as monotonous as Rosetta Stone. The lessons are shorter and the exercises are more varied.
One area where Rosetta Stone wins out is in listening practice. Not only are all the audio clips high-quality, but the listening practice is unending. Every lesson is full of listening and speaking practice, which is a very important part of language learning. Babbel’s audio quality is good as well, just not quite as good.
With all that being said, here are a few alternatives that you may like a bit more than either Babbel or Rosetta Stone.
If you like the concept of Babbel but would like to try language learning through an app before paying for a subscription, then you should check out Duolingo. Duolingo offers quick simple lessons with a good variety of practice exercises. Although it offers less grammar-specific details, the majority of the content is free, making it a great place to start.
For those interested in learning any of the Asian languages, Lingodeer is the app for you. This program offers a similar lesson style with a variety of practice exercises. It is a subscription-based program, but it is much less expensive than Rosetta Stone.
For pronunciation and speaking practice, your best choice is to find a tutor. There are many online tutoring programs, but one of the least expensive and most convenient is italki. italki has tutors for just about any language you could possibly want to learn and their scheduling options are very flexible.
Rosetta Stone vs Babbel: Final Thoughts
Babbel and Rosetta Stone both offer learning opportunities, the real question is whether those opportunities are worth what they charge for them.
Rosetta Stone offers a full immersion experience that could benefit some, but could just as easily confuse and frustrate others. Babbel is more interesting and less confusing, but it doesn’t really offer anything unique when compared with other similar language programs.
In the end, the only person who can tell which program would be better for you is you. It all depends on your learning style and preferences. Thankfully, both programs allow you to try a lesson for free before you buy, so you can always try both to see if they work for you.
You may also want to try some of the less expensive options before committing to an expensive subscription. There are many great language learning programs out there so there is no reason for you to get stuck paying for something that isn’t working for you. Try a few until you find the one that best encourages you to continue your language learning journey. Happy learning!