Do you dream of being able to converse naturally in your target language? Babbel believes that it can help.
Babbel is a highly-praised language learning app that’s recently gained a big spike in popularity.
I wanted to see for myself the unique workings that apparently make the program stand out from the dense crowd of language learning apps.
With thorough but easily accessible language lessons, Babbel strives to teach “language for life.”
In this review, I investigate how well Babbel lives up to its promise.
A Brief Overview of Babbel
About Babbel: What It Is and What It Offers
First launched in 2007, Babbel bears the precious title of being the world’s first language learning app. Technically being the oldest app of its kind that’s still widely active today, it’s certainly earned at least some prestige!
With lessons developed by a team of experienced linguists, Babbel focuses on practical language usage. Rather than just working to teach vocabulary, it also aims to emphasize instruction in the kind of words and phrases you’d actually use in real-life situations.
Currently, Babbel has lessons available for 14 languages: French, German, Italian, Russian, Portuguese, Turkish, Dutch, Swedish and Polish.
The software has been subject to plenty of praise. It was even utilized for scientific studies related to language learning via apps.
Babbel’s Features: The Core Aspects
Babbel’s lessons are roughly 10 to 15 minutes in length. Each lesson features both text and audio of the phrases and vocabulary words you’ll learn.
Exercises are primarily of the “fill-in-the-blank” format, asking you to provide the appropriate word or translation. There are also questions that require you to listen to sound clips before arriving at your answer, and others still that ask you for translations.
Babbel also has a speech recognition system that allows for verbal responses. This is optional, however, and you can opt not to have your lessons in this format.
You can easily check your progress either per lesson or weekly. A percentage will let you know how much of a given lesson you’ve completed. If you’ve set any weekly goals, Babbel gives you an overview of how you’re doing at meeting them.
There’s also a separate review section that lets you revisit what you’ve learned. Review exercises are available in a variety of formats, including written, speaking, listening and so forth. There are even mini-games that let you practice vocabulary in a more cute, stylized manner.
Babbel’s Extras: Bonus Content
Besides its main learning program, Babbel offers a few extra resources for those who want to further their learning.
Babbel Live is a service that lets you take live classes with language instructors. After paying for a plan, you sign up for the class that suits your needs and schedule. You then join the class at the assigned time and get personalized instruction from your teacher.
Besides these classes, Babbel also offers language podcasts and a magazine website that features helpful blog posts for learners. The podcasts are available on the app, but you can also find them on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.
Babbel’s Cost: The Pricing System
Babbel doesn’t offer a free trial. However, registration and the first lesson of any course are free. After that, you’ll be expected to sign up for a paid plan.
Babbel’s subscriptions are month-based. Currently, the offered plans are for one month, three months, six months of 12 months. The cheapest is the 12-month option, which asks for $6.95 per month (as of October 2021).
The Babbel Experience: How It Works
As soon as you make an account with Babbel and pick your language of choice, you get to start on your lessons. For the purpose of this review, I chose German. It’s a language I’ve had lessons in before, but I wanted to gauge how Babbel would organize the language into level-based lessons.
Based on the Common European Framework of Reference standards, Babbel claims to offer lessons that range from A1 (beginner) to C1 (proficient) levels. In the German version, the lessons are split into newcomer, beginner and intermediate levels. There’s also an “independent” course following the intermediate one that pushes a few lessons and concepts just a bit further.
The curriculum isn’t “locked” as you can skip around different lessons and courses as you wish. This is in contrast to a few other language learning apps, such as Duolingo, that won’t let you proceed until you complete your current lesson or topic.
Each lesson will focus on a certain concept or vocabulary, which you’ll learn and memorize via exercises. These exercises consist of text, audio and images and will train you in a select few words and phrases. The lessons are predominantly scenario-based and focus on different day-to-day situations such as dining, eating, describing future actions and so forth.
For extra practice, you can take advantage of the review system. Babbel has its own dedicated “Review” section that lets you work on any problem spots. The review system utilizes spaced repetition, an effective learning tool based on timed intervals, that helps you focus on the vocabulary you need to practice.
You can do so while focusing on reading, writing, speaking or listening skills. Alternatively, you can even get some vocabulary training done with some cute mini-games!
My Personal Experience
I used Babbel for about a week and found it to be quite a nifty little learning resource. At the end of my trial run, I can safely say that a beginner learner would likely learn a lot of foundational material strictly from using Babbel.
My learning was straightforward, breezy and stress-free. Babbel’s lessons were organized in a sensible way, so I never felt that I was getting hit with curveball questions or that the vocabulary was becoming level-inappropriate.
I did move about the different levels, and I’m a bit iffy about this allowance. It can be a dangerous freedom for new learners who may overestimate their skills or are too impatient to learn the basics.
While Babbel does include comprehensive quizzes at the end of each level, I was able to skip them entirely, so I think a stricter barrier should be implemented to halt those who haven’t yet proved their prowess.
Unlike a few other popular language learning apps such as Duolingo, Babbel isn’t very game-like in format. I wouldn’t say it’s incredibly entertaining to use, but that was fine by me. After all, I cared more about the learning aspect than the fun factor, and I think Babbel did a pretty good job balancing the experience.
The Pros of Babbel
Teaches applicable, usable language
Babbel’s exercises let you encounter the language without overwhelming frills or quirks. In fact, the vocabulary and phrases are used in a realistic manner, so what you learn can be used pretty quickly in real-life scenarios.
This is best expressed in the conversation snippets that are included in each lesson. They present two speakers using what you’ve just learned in a normal, casual context. It was during these exercises that I was the most engaged and alert, as I was seeing the material actually being used more extensively.
This is a great advantage that Babbel has, as many existing language learning apps tend to focus on isolated vocabulary as opposed to usable phrases. This strength can be further amplified if a bit of cultural context was included as well.
That’s where FluentU steps in.
With its vast library of native content, FluentU can give learners a much broader and richer exposure to a language. It’s a perfect companion to other language learning apps that instruct in a more traditional manner, such as Babbel.
You can also supplement your Babbel learning with further authentic resources like movies and TV shows, as well as books and even blogs. I also recommend finding a language exchange partner for authentic speaking practice, too.
Lessons build upon previous knowledge
Babbel’s curriculum is designed to have a logical flow of progression.
You start with very basic phrases and words before moving on to more involved conversational and involved sentences. From learning how to introduce yourself to describing your activities, Babbel makes sure that you’re climbing a structurally sound ladder of language ability.
And you’re not going to forget the material you learn in earlier lessons, either. You’re guaranteed to encounter them again while balancing the new content of your current lesson.
This kind of format made my learning experience both comfortable and stable. Even as I progressed to the next-level courses, the lessons were still inlaid with familiar territory regardless of the new concepts or vocabulary.
Includes language tips within lessons
One of Babbel’s best features is the inclusion of tips that explain specific concepts related to what you’re learning in a lesson. These notes can add a bit more context related to grammar, formality, sentence order and so on.
As simple and brief as these tips are, they’re great additions that can build your utility of a language. In fact, I’d even say they’re critical to helping build confidence in language learners as they deal with initially unfamiliar concepts, but unfortunately not so common in the curriculum of other language learning apps.
This feature is a personal big favorite of mine. It was always a nice surprise to see a note giving me just a few more nuggets of information regarding how the German language could be molded and shifted about.
The Cons of Babbel
Limited language choice
At the moment, Babbel only offers 14 languages, and most of these are European. This low number may decrease the applicable user pool who can make use of the app.
While 14 is a fairly standard number of languages, I point this out specifically because of Babbel’s lifespan on the app market. After all these years, I (and probably others) would expect that Babbel would have a more varied and extensive list of offered languages.
Of course, this may be due to a number of limiting factors. A great deal of time and effort was likely spent on each of the language courses. However, I hope that Babbel is avidly working to bump up their roster so that they can reach a great deal more learners.
Doesn’t offer much for advanced learners
Currently, Babbel’s lessons end at the intermediate level. This means that more advanced (or even high-intermediate) learners who want to add to their existing knowledge will likely not see Babbel as the most viable resource.
At most, high-level learners may use Babbel for review purposes. However, this too would be limited since much of the attention is on beginner-level material.
Based on other user reviews, some of the languages may have less content overall than others. This imbalance can negatively affect not just advanced learners, but learners of other levels as well.
Speaking from my own experience with the German course, I think that even the final intermediate course was still a bit too simple. It also felt rather short in length. While the progression of material was reasonable, I didn’t feel that there was a noticeable step-up in difficulty from the lower-level material.
Exercises can be somewhat dry
While thorough, Babbel’s lessons and exercises can become rather rote over time.
This is primarily because the overall exercise format isn’t very varied in style. Oftentimes, the answers are the same inputs. The questions also don’t change much. I personally got a bit tired of the repetitive nature of my studies, even though I can agree that they can quicken vocabulary memorization.
The issue is exacerbated by the lack of “game-y” features in Babbel, which can further de-motivate the learner who thrives on amusement and rewards. Again, I don’t mind sacrificing entertainment value when it comes to learning, but Babbel might benefit from a bit more excitement and variety in their lessons.
The Final Verdict
Ultimately, Babbel is a great app for those who are just starting a new language. Its content can very likely provide a stable foundation of basic vocabulary and phrases for beginner learners, who can then seek more advanced and comprehensive language instruction.
Unfortunately, Babbel does seem limited in its scope of content and its lesson plans. I find this to be its biggest weak point that can make users vulnerable to a less fulfilling learning experience than expected.
With more content and depth, Babbel can greatly enhance its already strong educational potential. Due to its popularity, I’m certain that more revamps and updates are coming for Babbel, and I’m eager to see how it evolves to live up to its hype.
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