Babbel Review: Should You Get A Membership?

Recently the team at Babbel, an online language-learning system, asked me if I would be interested in reviewing their site.

I was glad to. I had tried their service out before but hadn’t really spent much time with it. I’m studying German pretty intensely, so this was a good opportunity to really see whether I liked their service and hopefully see some improvement in my Deutsch skills.


Charles Gussin, La Construction de la Tour de Babel

(Before I go on, I want to mention as I do in all my reviews that I have no affiliation with Babbel whatsoever. I did, however, receive three free months of access to their site. Despite the gift, I tried my best to remain impartial for this review.)

The Verdict

Let’s put the bottom line up front:

I wholeheartedly recommend Babbel. It is a very well put together language program that helped me see a noticeable improvement in my German. I wouldn’t rely on Babbel alone for your language studying, but instead I think it could be a valuable part of a balanced language routine.

Now let’s back up and look at the details.

What is it?

Babbel delivers language courses completely online, both on its website and as an app. From what I can tell, it has courses for thirteen languages right now.

It costs, as of this writing, about $13 (USD) a month if you go month to month, with prices almost half that if you buy a year package.

How I used it

I’ve been studying German for a couple years on and off. I’m not a beginner, but I have a long way to go.

I used it daily for a month and finished courses 3 through 5 of the German’s beginner’s courses, as well as half of course 6. This was a total of 52 lessons.

I mainly used the website, but I also tried the app on the iPad.

I also tried out a Spanish lesson to verify that the instructional delivery is the same for different languages. (It is.)

The instructional method

You progress through a series of courses, each of which contains a series of lessons.

Each lesson is made up of the following:

  • New vocabulary words
  • A dialogue
  • Grammar instruction
  • Review and drilling of what you’ve learned

The entire lesson functions well as one cohesive unit, with the new vocab and new grammar showing up repeatedly throughout.

Each lesson takes about 10 to 15 minutes to complete.

The instruction reminded me of a traditional foreign-language class, but a little faster paced and more organized. You get an explanation, you do some exercises, and you are quizzed. Then at the end of the lesson you are given a numerical grade–for example, “51 out of 58 correct.”

In addition to lessons, Babbel has a Review Manager, which I’ll discuss in the next section.

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Pros and Cons

Babbel has a ton going for it:

  • User experience – As a piece of software, it’s intuitive, its design is attractive, and I didn’t see any bugs.
  • Content – I’ve used a lot of language learning software in my life. Babbel’s actual content is far and away the best I’ve seen. What I mean is, you can tell that its development team includes experienced language teachers who know the real-world needs of language learners. Most programs wouldn’t teach you “baking powder,” for example. But I laughed when I saw that word in a Babbel lesson, because I distinctly remember being in the German supermarket two years ago and needing to know precisely that word, and not having any idea how to ask anyone for it. (An employee thankfully spoke English and I was able to bake my son’s cupcakes.)
  • Explanations – German grammar is tricky, and some books I’ve bought to help me have not really been that helpful. The grammatical explanations are as good as or better than anything I’ve come across elsewhere.
  • Review Manager – The Review Manager is a bank of the vocabulary words you learned in the lessons. It drills you on these words, over and over again, using principles of spaced repetition. It’s very effective in committing words to your long-term memory.
  • Pacing – The lessons are paced pretty well. You progress much faster than you do with some other programs, such as Rosetta Stone, but not so fast that you’re sacrificing any retention.

Babbel isn’t perfect, though. There are some cons:

  • It can get dry. The problem with traditional instruction is that it feels like instruction. At times, Babbel felt like I was sitting in a classroom, but not nearly as bad.
  • No addiction. Some language learning apps are set up like a game, while Babbel is set up more like instruction. I never felt the compulsion to “beat” anything, so I never felt any addictive drive to keep coming back. (The app version made a “ding” sound when I got an answer right, and that gave it more of a game feeling. At least I felt like I was accomplishing something as I was going through.)
  • Some words in the lessons are ridiculous. Like I said, the content is for the most part fantastic. But sometimes Babbel tried to teach me words that just cracked me up. Here’s my favorite: Aufenthaltsgenehmigung – Residence permit. 22 letters and seven syllables. I understand that it might be an important word for an ex-pat in Germany, but that’s pretty tough to remember as part of a beginner’s course.
  • Not enough volume. In my opinion, there’s just not enough volume in the Babbel lessons to drive acquisition. This isn’t a deal breaker, though, and I’ll discuss this more in the next section.

Is it worth the membership?

I think if you’re a serious language learner, Babbel is great and totally worth the $13 a month. In a month, I saw a definite improvement in my German skills, particularly my understanding of grammar.

I have to bring up the elephant in the room: How does Babbel stack up to Duolingo, another language-learning website that I like and that is completely free?

Well, there’s no comparison.

I mean, there’s literally no comparison. Babbel and Duolingo are so different that there’s no reason you can’t use both. Babbel does good things that Duolingo doesn’t, and vice versa. Think of it this way. A foreign-language major at a university goes through twenty or more language textbooks and several instructors before he graduates. If you’re trying to learn a language, why would you think that you have to use only one app?

Also, even though I don’t think that Babbel exposes you to enough volume of language, this is a problem inherent in all courses, even traditional classes. It’s still a good tool, and if you’re following the Language Master Key template, Babbel would be a fantastic “learning activity” to supplement activities like watching TV and listening to the radio.

Have you used Babbel? Are you going to? Let me know what you think in the comments.

  • Julie Strock

    Would Babbel be good for a beginner who plans to take community college courses for dual credit next year. In other words, would this be good prep work for a Spanish I course at community college?

    • Ron G.

      Yeah, I think so. I think Babbel would complement a Spanish I course really well. It’s pretty similar, actually, since it has a very “academic” feel at its core. If you finish the “beginner” level of a Babbel course, I think you’d cover about all the material you’d get in a Spanish I course. Then when you start class, you’ll review what you’ve already learned, get a few new vocab words, and get more speaking practice. By the end, you’d have the Spanish-I-level basics down really well.

      • Julie Strock

        Awesome! Thanks for your prompt and friendly help!

    • Mike Griffin

      I am doing the same thing: boning up on my “Spanglish” by using Babbel (et al) for 4 months before taking a challenge test (Spanish 101) as a prerequisite for Spanish 102 at a community college. The CC course (for 101) would cost me almost $300 and require driving to the college twice a week, (and then do the hunt for parking). I plan to try to get a used copy of the Spanish 101 textbook(s?) to make sure I cover the material through Babbel. I’m actually glad I’m paying something for the Babbel course because that will (hopefully) motivate me to do the course, (i.e be disciplined to study daily). This review has helped me make the decision to sign up with Babbel.

      • Ron G.

        You nailed it–cost, driving to school, hunting for parking, only getting 2 minutes of the teacher’s time a week. Babbel (and other self-study programs) would definitely help you avoid a lot of that headache. I don’t know how your school’s challenge test works…is there a speaking portion? If so, you could get a little practice with a tutor or a (free) language exchange partner on iTalki. I’m pretty confident that you could pass a 101-level test using Babbel, the textbook, and your wits as a guide.

        Also, if you haven’t, try out Duolingo. Like I said in the review, the two are different enough that you could use both. And Pimsleur Spanish, which you can sometimes borrow from your local library, is also good…it really helps with speaking. Let me know how everything goes for you!

  • Sérgio Jardim

    Thanks for your review. I’m starting to learn German and your review just came in handy. And Babbel is offering until tomorrow a “6 more months free” promotion, after you enroll for the first 6.

    • Ron G.

      No problem. Did you decide to buy a membership? Also, the Babbel promotion explains the bump in traffic I got. Back to reality (lower traffic) tomorrow…hahaha

      • Sérgio Jardim

        I didn’t because I’ll finish my course on Duoling first. :)

      • Egie Asemota

        Hi. In your opinion will I need to be conversing with someone who speaks the language I want to learn while I am also using babbel?

    • Egie Asemota

      Hi. I am thinking of signing up for Babbel and I wanted to know if they regularly offer these 6+6 months subscription promos.

  • PhilosoBia bio

    Thanks for this review. I subscribe to babbel few days ago (I’m Italian and I try to improve my english) and I think it is worthy. I’m not a beginner, but I have difficulties in the pronunciation and to listen to a mother tongue speaking english (and try to repeat) is really useful. And I can review all the grammar and the terms. Last but not least, there are a lot of expression that I have never met in a traditional class (“sick as a parrot”, “raining cats and dogs”, “birds of a feather”).
    The best way to learn a foreign language is to live abroad for a period of time, but I hope it will help me from now on! :)

    • Ron G.

      Hey, cool! I’m glad you’re getting some use out of Babbel.

      By the way, I’m a native (American) English speaker, but I had to look up “sick as a parrot.” Apparently it’s a British expression and I’d never heard it before. (I’m familiar with “Raining cats and dogs” and “birds of a feather,” though.)

      Your written English is great. Keep doing what you’re doing!

    • Hammie60

      Wow, usually the written part of language is the last part that comes together, looks like you are already at the last stage and you are only learning the language. I studied French, German, Swedish and Russian and like everybody else the last part is always the written. Makes me wonder about your comment.

  • Ron G.

    Hi Tiffany, thanks for the comment! Looking forward to your opinion. (I have no idea why, but your comment got hung up in the spam filter.)

  • Benjamin

    Thanks for your review. It’s nice to see an objective review. I will see if I can review it myself.

    • Ron G.

      Great! Looking forward to reading your review.

  • Ron A.

    Thanks so much for this review. I was really debating whether to go for it and get the 3- or 6-month membership to maintain my level of Norwegian that I used to have, and now I think I’ll actually dive into it. It’s very hard to find Norwegian-language courses, so this will serve as a good tool.

    • Ron G.

      Great! Let me know what you think after you’ve tried it for a while. I’d like to get other people’s perspective. (I’m jealous about your Norwegian, by the way. I’m half-Filipino, and the other half is American, with Norwegian heritage.)

      • Ron A.

        Hi Ron,

        Still loving it. I’m doing it for another 6 months (Babbel had a special to pay for 3 months but good for another 6 months).

        And wow, I’m full-Filipino and my parents don’t know why I’m involved with Norway because we have nothing connected with the country, history, culture, and/or language. I like using it as a learning/appreciation experience that because they’re so different, I appreciate each of them even more.

        Thanks again for your original post =)

        • Ron G.

          Awesome! Glad to hear you’re still enjoying it. 😀

    • Chris Gardener

      Hi, just wondering how you’ve got on with the Norwegian course? Am a college student applying to study a degree in Viking/Scandinavian studies at uni, and could really do with a good beginners course in Norwegian before I go. Any advice? As you said, it’s not an easy language to find an affordable course in, or to know where to get started. Thanks!

      • Ron A.

        Hi Chris,

        I’ll give you the short story (which is still relatively long), but I’m happy to give you the long story if you’re still interested too.

        Short Story: I did my undergrad at UCLA starting starting with a degree in Astrophysics and Political Science. During my second year, I needed a language and I was in the mindset of a student wanting to learn something they wouldn’t have otherwise and so Norwegian was one of very few languages that fit in with my Astrophysics courses. By the end of the second year, I became a Political Science major and Scandinavian Studies minor. I grew to love the professors, the region/culture, and the language so much that I petitioned to do the major (which is really hard to do at the start of my 3rd of 4 years).

        The only course I’ve ever seen that even has Norwegian is Babbel, and I really like it because they break it down into 1- to 2-minute mini-lessons (although I’d suggest doing an entire chapter which can be done in around 15-30 minutes). I do Babbel to keep my brain from forgetting Norwegian, but I can easily see it being done to get a jump start and/or review tougher-than-average concepts.

        What university are you going to and/or year are you? Let me know also if you want to continue this convo via email.

  • Lori Marucci Morgan

    Thanks for the son is a graduate student with Spanish as his major..he also works in Costa Rica at a language school called cpi..just as a translator taking groups around..we are going next year and i have forgotten all my high school spanish..i just want to kind of understand his Co workers in Costa rica…and maybe say a little back…is this a good program??

    • Ron G.

      Hi Lori! I don’t think this would be a bad program, but there are two things to watch out for. First, I believe that the Spanish used by Babbel is Spanish from Spain. Not a *huge* difference from Latin American Spanish, but at the beginning levels this might throw you off once you get to Costa Rica. (Might want to double-check that. I haven’t been to Babbel in a while.) Second, for your needs, I’d actually recommend Pimsleur’s Latin American Spanish course. It’s listening and speaking based and would be a really good foundation for understanding day-to-day speech and saying a little back. Can be a little pricey, but you might be able to find the audiobook at your local library.

  • Ray Vogensen

    I have been an English language teacher for many years and love romance languages. I wanted to improve my oral French so I signed up for Babbel, after having given up on the “translation” site called Duolingo. I studied intensively going through all the lessons until I finished the beginners courses and started on the so-called intermediate course. Unfortunately, the intermediate course is just a recycle of the beginners course with no increase in difficulty or new material. At the end of the beginners course you are introduced to the second conditional but in the intermediate course there is no third conditional. This is only one example but I am sure there are more. The grammar section, which is separate, is also very reduced.
    I would recommend the course for beginners who need to reach a lower intermediate level, but I would not recommend it for someone on the intermediate or upper-intermediate level.
    One section, which I would improve on, is where the students have to match a French word looking at a picture with the accompanying English translation. This is not challenging since the pictures are obvious. and often the French word is the same as the English one. If the French word is “le week-end”, why would I have to match it to a picture with the word “weekend” written there.
    I do like the extra material though, with slang words and abbreviations.
    My verdict is that for the price it is worth a try. Compared to Duolingo, which is an attempt to get people to translate sentences so that the material can be used to make money, Babbel is miles ahead. And Babbel doesn’t teach you silly sentences like “She likes drinking oil” or the “bear ate the sheep”.
    My problem now is that I paid for three months–19 euros– and I am almost finished with the course after three weeks (I am retired). Oh well, I think I will let my grand-daughters use it as it can be accessed from any point.

    • Ron G.

      Hi, Ray, thanks for your input! I remember your comment on the Duolingo article, so I’m glad you found an app that works better for you, at least initially.

      You know, it’s funny. After I wrote this article, they came out with German B1 (intermediate), and I didn’t really get into it the way I did with German A1/A2. I thought I might have simply been ready for something different. But since I had trouble sticking to it and since you weren’t crazy about French intermediate, now I’m wondering if the B1 courses need to be tweaked.

      My recommendation for getting a little more out of the subscription you paid for? Zip through a lesson until you get to the dialogue portion. Then, without looking at the transcript on screen, transcribe what you hear. Then see how well you match what’s written. I don’t know how it is for French, but the German dialogues mixed in some tricky language with the easy beginner-level stuff.

      • Ray Vogensen

        Thanks for the quick reply. Despite my misgivings I would still recommend Babbel. At least you get dialogues spoken by native speakers and there is a lot of useful vocabulary that you can learn. I have the advantage of living in Europe–in Portugal actually–so that I can practice the languages that I like in a ten minute drive–Spanish–a seven hour drive–French–and a two day drive or two hour flight –Italian. I even have Galego a few minutes away but I don’t find it very useful.
        Anyway, I have started on the Babbel listening and speaking section and I have been having some fun, although it is only on a lower intermediate level. I don’t mind paying the 19 euros I shelled out for three months because I feel that the people who put the course together really know the languages offered and have done research on how to teach them. Unlike Duolingo I must say, which after the beginning stages started to get on my nerves with so many awkward sentences. I do speak Portuguese quite well, having lived 15 years in Brazil and 20 in Portugal, and the Duolingo Brazilian Portuguese, on the advance level, had some sentences that nobody in his right mind would use in Brazil.
        I like your forum. Keep up the good work.

    • Pier-luc Thibault

      I am french from canada and i understand you as , a lot of french and english words match together. The :group: seem to :problably: build the french :lesson: from European french because “week-end” is way far to be a usable word in school.
      Has week-end is :just: a englished/ slang word use by european as well as “shopping” and “fun” for :example:. As a french i :prefer: using google :traduction: to translate from english to french.
      But this is, has my :experience: the cons to a few :language:. I’ve try the babble :demonstration: from french to german :lesson:, discover that a lot of words are :pronounce: the same way but with an :accent:. And same for spanish and french.

      P.s. : words : mean same pronouncing or close in french.

  • Pamela Sweetland

    Has anyone used Babbel for Russian with good results?

  • Jane

    Thanks for the review. I will be living in Lyon, France for 3 months and need some basics and hopefully beyond. Based on the review and the comments here, I’m going to give it a go!

    • Ron G.

      Awesome! Wow, what an adventure. I haven’t used Babbel French, but if their German is any indication, it’ll be a great start for you. Good luck!

      • Jane

        Thanks again, Ron! I like it already!

        • ginkoman

          What do you think of Babbel’s French instruction after your visit?

  • Bernardo F.

    Hello, thank you for your review.

    I am brazillian and I’ve been studying Italian for 6 months in a presencial course, but it was so far from my house that I cannot take the classes anymore.

    As I’ve learned english by myself, I’m gonna give a try trying to learning Italian by myself.

    I signed Babbel for Italian, but I’m kind of lost. There are many courses in addiction to the regular courses (regular: beginners, intermediate, the other ones: Words, Specials, etc.), and I can’t figure out a logic sequece that would maximaze my learning. Either during the lessons or the sequence of courses.

    Could you please help me? What strategy to use?

    I intend to use the Assimil method in the final of the year.

    If this experience goes well, I will try French and German too :)

    Thank you very much.

    • Ron G.

      Wow, first, congrats on learning English by yourself. Much respect for what you’ve accomplished!

      I suggest just going through all the beginner lessons. When you’re finished with those, go through the intermediate lessons. Every day, though, drill through your stack of words in the Review Manager. So a typical day might go like:

      – Drill some of the words in your Review Manager
      – Complete a lesson
      – Drill more words in your Review Manager

      As far as special lessons go, just do them whenever you feel like it.

      The supplemental lessons, like the grammar lessons…those are taken straight from the regular lessons you’ve already completed. You can use those for review or if you have an exam coming up. But you don’t *have* to do them.

      • Guest

        Thank very much for the answer :)

        Now, about the assimil method, have you tried it? I’ve read very good reviews and succefull cases. Do you recomend?

      • Bernardo F.

        Thank you very much for the answer :)

        Now, about the Assimil Method, have you ever tried it?
        I’ve been reading very good reviews and many success cases. Do you recomend?

        • Ron G.

          I’ve never tried it. I really want to, though. A lot of people swear by it. I don’t know personally, but so many people like it that I think it must be pretty good.

        • Ron G.

          Also, Bernardo, how did you teach yourself English? To me, that’s the real story here. You already cracked the code with language learning. :)

      • Bernardo F.

        What would be the Review Manager? I culdn’t find it D:

        • Ron G.

          My subscription has expired, so I can’t remember exactly. But if you go to this page, they describe the Review Manager:

          (Scroll down near the bottom to read about it.) If I recall correctly, it’s right there on the first page.

  • James Hall

    Hey Ron, I was going to start learning Russian and I was thinking about buying the yearly subscription since its only $66 right now. You said you shouldn’t rely on babble alone for a language learning routine. Do you mean to study along with another person and read books? If not could you suggest other tools for learning a language?

    • Ron G.

      Hi James, good to hear. As far as not relying on Babbel alone–I just meant that you should be doing lots of activities, such as watching TV, listening to podcasts, reading books or newspapers, and on and on. It’s definitely a mistake to rely on any one course alone.

      If you’re starting Russian from scratch, I’d say start out by going through the Babbel lessons and watching kids show. This YouTube channel has a lot: …reading is important (and you’ll have to learn the alphabet) but you’ll probably get more than enough of that with Babbel in the beginning.

      Within a few months, you should be able to start tackling more difficult texts. Watching Russian translations of American shows you like is a good start, because you’re able to follow along

      If your goal is speaking, you should get some speaking practice in too, maybe via a language exchange site like italki. I recommend getting at least a little past the rank-beginner stages before jumping into that, but the sooner the better.

      Good luck! I have routines and drills all over the site, so take a look. Let me know how your progress goes.

      • James Hall

        Thanks a lot for all the advice, i’ll sure give you a check in later on!

  • moonlight

    A warning. They renew the subscription automatically. Babbel team may not reply to your emails when you ask a refund.

    Recently I have a very disappointing experience with Babbel team. On 24th Jan 2015 my subscription supposed to end however it was automatically renewed without my knowledge. On 25th I received an email from bank about the payment. I immediately emailed Babbel about this and went to my account to stop my account. I have not received any reply. I emailed twice again on 26th Monday, no reply from Babbel team. My Babbel account is cancelled but they have not refund me. They stole money and ignoring the emails.

    I hope this won’t happens to you.

    • Craig Welch

      When you signed up it was made quite clear that you were commencing a subscription.

      • Steve Rapaport

        Subscriptions can normally be discontinued. And subscription departments really should respond to cancellation requests.

    • CHM

      I have same experience.
      I subscribed it on 12th jan-2015.It was supposed to end on 12th-feb-2015.
      They have deducted 2 times from my account (For FEB and MARCH-2015)
      There was no email for invoice of last two months.

      At time of subscription They haven’t written “Automatic Renewal” Process.

      This is like online Fraud.

      Be aware guys…

      • steve I

        Hi, Did you see/ do this? The contract for using the basic functions (basic contract) of Babbel is concluded for an unlimited period and may be terminated without notice by either party to it at any time. To terminate the contract, the User has to remove registration data at the “Profile/settings” menu item by clicking on the “Delete User account” button. After that, the User is sent an email with a link which it must click on to effect cancellation of its registration.

    • steve I

      Hi, Did you see/ do this? The contract for using the basic functions (basic contract) of Babbel is concluded for an unlimited period and may be terminated without notice by either party to it at any time. To terminate the contract, the User has to remove registration data at the “Profile/settings” menu item by clicking on the “Delete User account” button. After that, the User is sent an email with a link which it must click on to effect cancellation of its registration.

      • Isabela Nastasa

        It might be legal but it is still a dark pattern!!! They do use my e-mail to send me offers but they can’t use it to send me a reminder for the subscription renewal?!

    • Yevhen Horbachov

      Just happened with me. They took money without any warning or notification and do not respond on any emails. I will try to cancel payment through bank account management system and see what happens.

      • Veni Vidi Vici

        Been burned with recurring billing myself. Now I use a prepaid card for online purchases…

  • moonlight

    It is a very useful website for languages. I recommend to people.
    I had problem with the auto renewal of subscription, and lack of communication. However they refund me.
    Try it for month and see how good is the website.

    • Hammie60

      Another person with an auto renewal problem, seems like these guys at Babbel like money.

  • Darnell Jofam Ransom

    I tried the free Spanish lesson and since I haven’t been in school in years, I didn’t mind it. However maybe after a few weeks….I might feel like I’m back in that classroom. They did offer me the lessons for $5/month, so I think I’m going to continue.

  • jose

    Hi. I was looking for German language learning options online and I clicked on Babbel. Babbel mentioned that its service is free. I realised that it was a lie since I registered and started exploring activities. It is very limited as “free” service and then you may pay if you want to access more choices. Babbel has to be honest and explain at the beginning that its service is payable, however is very affordable but it has to be clear at the start of registration.

  • swedishfan

    Have used Babbel on and off for a year to progress my Swedish and I am really enjoying it. I’ve not had the payment problem issues that others have mentioned – I am currently subscribed until next year and will definitely renew on an annual basis. I have studied Swedish in all sorts of ways in the past including night school so have a good understanding of the grammar. I wanted a way to build vocabulary, in a fun and easy way. I have started Babbel from the beginners level and its great to see how it gradually adds in all of the grammatical knowledge with clear and simple explanations. This is something that Rosetta Stone just never does. For instance, in Swedish, pronouns change to match the gender of the noun whether the noun is singular or plural. Rosetta Stone just assumes you can spot the difference eg one old woman, two old women translates to ‘en gammal kvinna, två gamla kvinnor’. Note the change of the noun from single kvinna to plural kvinnor as well as the change in pronoun. Anyway, you can see my point. If you are using Rosetta Stone as a vocabulary builder then that may work for you. But Babbel actually explains these to you so is much more useful. I also like the fact that Babbel is based in Europe, which is close enough for me to give them a call without worrying about phone bills too much, and that the courses are structured are recognised European Language structures.

  • Phil Duncan

    I am about halfway through the duolingo tree for spanish and am starting to find it really tricky due to the lack of explanation around the grammar rules that I think would just make it ‘click’ a bit better with me. I’m going to give Babbel a go based on this article, many thanks!

    • Ron G.

      Good luck! Let me know how you like it.

  • Tina Mason

    Haha, had to laugh on reading this. I’m just using Babbel to renew my acquaintance with German, after over 30 years. I’ve already tried and completed the Dutch and Russian courses (which are much less developed). Couldn’t agree more about “Aufenthaltsgenehmigung”. It’s been the bane of my life these past few days, as I get it wrong every single time. And it’s of questionable use to me, as I’m unlikely to be emigrating to Germany at this stage of my life. I suppose for foreigners making a new life in Germany, or those who hope to do so, it’s valuable if not essential vocabulary. But for the armchair linguist, who perhaps might take a short break in Germany, or have a German penpal, but nothing more, it’s complete overkill. That and the other permit you need – I’ve even forgotten what it is in English!

  • PhoenixRage

    I can’t complain. I learned enough German from the app in Windows-8 to read the language. I’ll probably get a membership. I see low risk, high reward.

  • Nicky McG

    I’ve been using it for German but it has several problems:

    1) It doesn’t cover even a quarter of what it should be covering for each level (A1,A2,B1 etc.). It tells me, I’ve completed A2 but that is, frankly, ridiculous as my German is still very, very basic. I guess it does this to show you how quickly you are progressing but I’ve seen right through it.

    2) The vocabulary, although sometimes thematic, tends to be quite random.

    3) The exercises can be frustrating as, in some parts, if you make one mistake, you then have to sit through the entire conversation again.

    4) The voice recognition could be better with some kind of grading system.

    5) It doesn’t cover half of the skills needed. There is no writing option (I realise that would be difficult), the speaking is limited, no reading (would it be so hard to have texts with questions?), and listening is limited to typing the word you hear.

    6)It’s expensive for what it is. You could buy a textbook (with audio) for the price of a three-month subscription

    It’s basically a vocabulary-leaning tool, but without covering more skills your language skills will never improve.

    • Ron G.

      Hi Nicky, thanks for your input. This is good stuff. I agree with a lot of what you said. For instance, I didn’t like/barely used the voice recognition, but I don’t really like that in general.

      It seems like your main criticism is that the program is incomplete, which I agree with. The reason why I’m a little more forgiving of Babbel is that I had used textbooks and self-study books before this, and it wasn’t like those were any more complete or comprehensive. Babbel was a little (lot?) more interactive than a comparable textbook and incorporated some spaced repetition, so I thought it was definitely a step ahead of what I had been working with before.

      But yes, I would definitely incorporate other tools and add in more reading. (By the way, I took the A1 exam at a Goethe center not long after this and got a 98% on it. Admittedly, I had done a LOT of other stuff besides Babbel, but still…you might be closer to A2 than you think.)

  • ndee

    Just started the Babbel Spanish course. Very disappointed. Firstly, the thing seems to be aimed at Americans, as it uses South American/Mexican pronunciation, rather than Spanish as spoken in Spain. So “yo” is pronounced “jo”, and “ella” is pronounced “edja” instead on “eya”.
    The section I have just completed has been a complete waste of time, as it has been teaching me pronouns that I will never use! Pronouns are hardly ever used in Spain – and you will be perfectly well understood without them. So what is the point?
    Babbel tells me that “We All Live Here” is “nosotros vivimos todos aqui”. In Spain, I would say “Todos vivimos aqui” and be perfectly understood – and the word they are teaching me is “nosotros”, the one word I don’t need!
    Babbel may well, as you say, have experienced language teachers on their team. If they do, I would say they are Germans who have spent very little time in Spain!

    • Shelley Kersey

      I have learned that the “yo” versus “jo” pronunciation is actually tied more to South America. I have always learned “yo” but my son is being taught by a woman from Colombia and she uses “jo” and says apparently it’s very common in South America. I had one teacher who learned in Spain and the only difference she showed me from my Mexican pronunciation was that in Spain they use a “th” sound like in the word “gracias.” It can make it hard to learn when you prefer one pronunciation over another. It’s good to know ahead of time when deciding on Babbel. Thanks.

    • Ron G.

      Hey ndee, I’m sorry you were disappointed in the course. (I’m not affiliated with Babbel, so my sympathy isn’t PR or customer service–just sympathy from one person to another.)

      If you’re trying to learn Castilian Spanish and are getting Latin American Spanish, then it’s not an optimal situation. I agree that you need to find something more in line with your desires and needs.

      I will say that pretty much any Spanish-learning app (or textbook or teacher) is going to teach you subject pronouns. They’re often omitted, yes, but they’re sometimes used for emphasis and are important to know. Do language instructors focus on them too much? Maybe, but I can’t imagine instruction leaving them out entirely either.

      Babbel sounds like it’s not for you. If you haven’t already, check out the Notes in Spanish podcast. It’s Castilian Spanish, and the method is more naturalistic. It might be more of what you’re looking for.

      Buena suerte!

      • ndee

        Hi Ron

        This does seem to be a common problem for Spanish courses. Perhaps the ideal solution would be to have two different versions.

        Learning incorrect pronunciation and even completely wrong words will lead to misunderstanding and embarrassment. (duolingo, for example, teaches that a sandwich is emparedada – in fact, Spain it is, of course, a bocadillo or simply a sandwich!).
        I do understand that Spanish will always have regional differences – I used to live in the Canaries, so I would always say “gracias” with a “c” sound – now I visit Andalucía, where they say it with a “th”. But the South American version of the language does seem pretty alien to me.
        In the same way that Chinese is differentiated into Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, etc., surely we should do the same with Spanish?
        Re the pronouns – yes, they are useful if you need emphasis (although, after many years of going to Spain, I have never found myself in a situation where I needed to use them), but surely, it would be better to learn to conjugate all the useful verbs first, and then learn the use of, say, “yo”, “tu” and “usted” as an addendum?
        I have to say that I have never heard the words “nosostros” or “vosostros” used in Spain – so why teach them so early in the course? Surely, concentrating on the “o”, “e”, “emos” endings is FAR more important?
        I was lucky enough to have been taught Latin at school, so the conjugations come fairly naturally to me, but having to put an irrelevant pronoun ( and remembering the gender of it) just complicates things!
        Buena suerte a tu demasiado!

        • Ron G.

          This is really good food for thought. I just started a graduate program in instructional design, and the big thing we’re learning right now is doing a proper needs analysis–figuring out what the student actually needs to do, and then tailoring the instruction precisely to that. (Just one approach to education and/or training, but one that makes sense.)

          This might be a good example of language instruction not following that idea. Language instruction often seems to follow a logical progression based on linguistic features (in this case, teaching subject pronouns) rather than on practical usage.

          *scratching chin*…might be on to something here… :)

          • ndee

            The late Michel Thomas seems to be the only Spanish teacher I have come across who actually taught REAL conversational Spanish

  • Ron Arnett

    I am surprised at some of the comments about Duolingo on this thread.

    Duolingo doesn’t teach conversational material. It uses simple material to teach the structure of the language. It teaches a moderate amount of vocabulary in the process. There is no attempt at all to assist in speaking a language. It is all about reading and writing. They offer a microphone option but freely acknowledge that it isn’t very helpful. That is because they teach reading and writing along with some limited, low quality listening material.

    What does this mean in practice? Take the simple sentence …the bear ate the sheep. The issues in this sentence when dealing with French translation are: whether to use le or la as the article in front of bear, whether to elide it into the noun, what tense to cast the verb in since tense doesn’t always map well across the two languages and this is one example where it doesn’t, how to manage the article in front of sheep and how to derive the plural form that sheep requires. All of these skills require considerably more knowledge than simply having the vocabulary to produce a translation for each word.

    Anyone who goes through the example and thinks it is all about equipping the student to account for why some sheep are missing has missed an opportunity to learn a lot about French. Or they are so advanced that they think all the issues surrounding French use of gender/number/general/specific determiners and nouns as well tense mapping are just too simple to even acknowledge, is well past the introduction to French that Duolingo offers.

    That is what Duo is all about. A simple sentence of a few words that invokes increasingly advanced concepts of the language. It is not that the student needs to know what the German word for residence permit is. It is that even though the word looks crazy intimidating it is just a compound word composed of several simple words that the student probably already knows. If you don’t want to learn the process of building compound words then German probably isn’t the language for you. If you do want to learn the process, then when or how you would ever use a particular example is irrelevant. What counts is being to see and use the components.

    Duolingo encourages students to engage in translating web documents as part of a process to make the contents of the web available in every language. Student web translations are corrected by other students which are student corrected again in a repeating process. This is strictly optional. it is a method of allowing students to expose themselves to material that they select and is presumably of interest to them. It also helps the Duo team fulfill their intention to change the way information is made available to the world.

    Tired of bear ate the sheep instructional sentences? Fine. Just go ahead and try translating a web page and watch to see how your work is treated by other students.

    Duo is user mediated. Most of the instruction in the finer points of the language come from other students. That means any given example has help available immediately from comments from other students on comments pages attached to each example plus forum style comments pages that are one click away.

    Babbel on the other hand is completely different. It provides no opportunity for student input beyond rote answers. I started beginner Russian and couldn’t get past about the fifth example. The question was simple enough. Basic simple actually. I knew the answer without any difficulty. I just couldn’t/can’t figure out how to provide the answer. Now on Duo if something really weird like that came up I would just use one of many ways to get immediate assistance from other students who had the same problem and figured it out. But not Babbel.

    Presumably because it is a commercial venture, Babbel is all top down. There is no spot help available, only some f.a.q. that deal mostly with taking courses and sending money. Absolutely none deal with user interface. I have seen other language courses that were top down like that, presumably for the same reason. But I have never seen a language course that had a complex interface and has no option to get help. Understand, I am not saying the interface should be simple. I am just saying that it is strange that that they make no attempt to provide help on how to use their program.

    Now I am sure that Babbel users will be posting here saying that anyone that can’t figure it out must be brain dead; that they have no problem. For me, that is like saying …well I don’t understand how the light bulb in your room could be not working because the one in my room is working fine. In Babbel, there is no way to make a constructive suggestion. Whereas in Duo there is a help page tied directly to the specific example. It the simplest thing in the world to describe my difficulty and even simpler for someone/anyone to provide an answer if it isn’t already posted on the page previously.

    It is true that choosing a language with a standard alphabet, that didn’t involve keyboard workarounds might not present this exact problem. Maybe. But I assume at some point I would find it difficult to understand some point they were making no matter what the language was. If so, I would be just as stuck as I am now but with a lot more time and energy invested in it.

    • Gary Mckoy

      Use both then. Or whatever suits your style of learning. Learners are diverse, each with special needs, skills, and aptitudes. You wrote a very long post to explain one problem you have with a method, but what about the rest? Or the problems some other people will have in another method (like duo)?. Shed some “absolute” and incorporate some “relative”.

  • Veni Vidi Vici

    I like Babble because it focuses on commonly used conversation phrases spoken slowly by native speakers it is also good for visual learners like myself with the adding missing words In sentences and spelling out words too.
    The native speakers do speak a bit slowly but this is good for beginners as varied sound comprehension aka accents is one my weak points. Not sure if this is due to being a new learner of languages or an actual weakness???
    Duolingo is a waste of time of time aside from the robotic voices many of phrases are nonsensical at least according to my GF a native Brazilian.
    Mondly which is similiar uses natural speakers is better In my opinion for building vocabulary.