Busuu Review: Where the Program Gets an A+ and What Could Be Better
I knew zero Spanish when I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Zero.
But within three months, I learned to speak (semi-)comfortably and landed at a C1 (advanced) level.
How did I do it?
It helped that I was immersed in the language while completing daily tasks like buying groceries or talking to friends.
I also used language learning apps and old-school learning methods like books (through BookMigo) and journaling.
It’s the combination of reading, writing, listening and speaking that creates the comprehensive learning experience needed to retain a new language.
But it’s hard to replicate that experience digitally.
Busuu is trying to change that.
Below, I’ve put together a comprehensive review of Busuu. Let’s dive in.
- What Is Busuu?
- How Does Busuu Work?
- Who Is Busuu For?
- Should You Get Busuu Free or Premium?
- Where Busuu Wins
- Where Busuu Needs Improvement
- Busuu at a Glance
- Busuu Review Conclusion: Upgrade to Premium for the Best Experience
What Is Busuu?
Busuu is a paid language learning app. More than other apps, Busuu encourages you to develop your speaking skills by helping you to practice the language out loud with its speech recognition tool.
The app also has a strong focus on listening to dialogues, and it gets you involved in other learners’ journeys.
Although there’s a free version, it limits you to just one language, and most of the learning is done through digital flashcards.
Digital flashcards are a very popular style of learning within language apps because they’re interactive, entertaining and move quickly, which makes you feel like you’re progressing. However, learning just with flashcards isn’t exactly comprehensive (which is crucial to learning something as difficult as a brand new language).
Most of the benefits of the Busuu app lie in its paid Premium option. Prices range depending on the subscription, but the cost can still be less than if you were to pay for private lessons at a school. Plus, there’s a 14-day money-back guarantee, so you can try out the paid version to see if it’s something that would work for you. I’ll discuss the premium membership cost and benefits later in this review.
Busuu has an easy-to-use interface for its desktop version but, of course, you can also download the app for your iOS and Android devices to get started. Whether you’re tackling French, German, Spanish or something else, you can take these handheld language lessons with you on the go.
Busuu also provides offline lessons so you can download some extra practice and take it with you anywhere, anytime.
How Does Busuu Work?
When you join Busuu, you first choose a level (Beginner A1, Elementary A2, Intermediate B1, Upper Intermediate B2). These are based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), which establishes exactly how fluent an individual is in a specific language.
The level that’s right for you depends on how far you want to go in the language—whether you want to simply ask for directions to the supermarket or hold meaningful conversations about your weekend. Busuu will then design a curriculum to help you reach that goal, based on how much time per day you can devote to learning.
You can also begin by choosing what you’re interested in learning, such as business, travel or culture. For example, I got started with an A1 level French lesson for travel because I’ll only ever need French when I go to France. My very first lesson included introductions between two French speakers and then moved on to ordering food. That’s exactly what I’d need while traveling, so the ability to choose tailored lessons is a good perk.
Then, if you’re using the free version, you start learning with the flashcard system, which has vocabulary that includes pictures accompanied by small dialogues. It’s pretty cool to be introduced to dialogue, even if you choose a beginner level, so you can get speaking right away.
New words are written out with a spoken clip of the term, complete with an accompanying example sentence. As you progress through the course, you’ll match the audio clip with the correct picture, match words with definitions, fill in dialogue gaps and more.
If you’ve purchased the monthly subscription, you’ll now get access to advanced grammar lessons and tailored content. Once you’ve got some practice in, you can even start speaking to other native speakers who also use the Busuu app.
For those who want a little extra guidance, Busuu also offers Busuu Live, a personal tutoring service. This flexible program allows you to work with a tutor through Busuu’s content, get in-depth explanations on the lessons featured in the Busuu program and practice speaking your new language. These 30-minute lessons are tailored to fit your needs and can be scheduled at any time that fits your lifestyle.
Who Is Busuu For?
Anyone willing to give this app a try can benefit from it, but it’ll work best for a few certain types of people:
- On-the-go professionals. If you’re a busy person with only 10 minutes at a time to spare, you can set the app to bite-sized lessons according to your exact schedule.
- Anyone who loves interactive apps. The free version is fun and makes it easy to learn some simple phrases and words, so you can replace a mindless game with Busuu and not feel bored.
- Language learners who want some accountability. You can set reminders during specific moments in your schedule that you’ve set aside for learning. These reminders are helpful without being too pushy.
- Anyone who wants to get better at speaking. You can get some speaking practice by using Busuu’s speech recognition tool. This is an excellent option if you don’t have access to a native speaker or you’re too shy to speak with an online teacher.
- For those who prefer learning on their computer. Busuu has developed desktop learning, instead of just focusing on their apps. The web version has an excellent keyboard control system so you can easily move through lessons while at your computer.
Should You Get Busuu Free or Premium?
To pay or not to pay? The age-old question of whether you should invest your dollar into a language learning program is always a tricky one to answer.
Busuu offers a free, Premium and Premium Plus version, each offering different features of the app. Read the benefits of each to figure out which is the right option for you.
Busuu Free Version
Though Busuu’s free features are limited, there’s still plenty to work with. The engaging exercises are more than enough to get you on your way to fluency in your target language.
- Provides a variety of interactive flashcards to learn languages. Busuu’s flashcard system isn’t your routine “X means Y.” While those cards are included, you’ll also get true/false questions, comprehension checks, word matching and more.
- Offers dialogues to show words in their natural contexts. Native speaker dialogues feature transcripts that allow you to fill in the gaps in the actors’ speech. By hearing how native speakers use the terms you’re learning, you’ll get an accurate picture of how you can use these words yourself.
- Gives insights into the culture of the language. Busuu explains why words work the way they do, providing cultural facts that help you contextualize the structure of the language. It’s nice to know that there’s more to a phrase than “That’s just how we say it!”
A Premium membership offers everything you need to master your one language. At €5.83 per month (about $6.85 USD), you’ll gain access to a plethora of useful features, such as:
- Enable offline mode. If you’re learning on the Busuu app, you can download lessons to your device. This means that you can study anywhere, regardless of WiFi availability.
- Unlock grammar lessons. This allows the grammar of a language to become available for study. With easy explanations of grammatical forms and their usage, a little study is all you’ll need to construct sentences with confidence.
- Offers AI vocabulary review. Using your results on quizzes and exercises, Busuu’s AI will assign a strength level to words and phrases, showing how well you understand them. Busuu will then feature the terms with which you need the most help in review sessions.
- Take quizzes to check your understanding. The quiz section of each lesson is unlocked, allowing you to test your knowledge of the material.
- Get feedback from the community. Busuu’s vibrant social community is filled with knowledgeable speakers of all of its languages. By speaking or writing in your new language, you can get feedback on how to improve from native speakers.
Busuu Premium Plus
A Premium Plus membership grants you access to the full world of Busuu, all for €6.66 per month (about $7.85 USD). It includes everything that you get with the free and premium plan, as well as the following:
- Unlock all 12 languages. Probably the most appealing feature for aspiring polyglots, a Premium Plus account will enable you to learn multiple languages at the same time.
- Personalize your study plan. By inputting your fluency goals and how much time you can invest each day, Busuu will create a study plan that fits your lifestyle. It also tells you when you’ll meet your goal. Having that completion date is super motivating—you can see the finish line!
- Get Official Certification. Busuu has partnered with a leading education company in order to provide official CEFR tests. By passing this test, you’ll get a certificate that counts as proof of language ability. (Note: Only available for English, Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese.)
If you want to get the most out of Busuu, I’d personally suggest opting for one of the Premium plans. Being able to study grammar, take quizzes and get feedback from native speakers are highly valuable options that can accelerate your studies. The sheer wealth of features makes Premium a valuable investment, especially if you’re serious about language learning.
Happily, Busuu does frequently offer discounts, so sometimes you can hop on board the Premium plans for 33% or even 50% off!
Where Busuu Wins
Create a Study Plan That’s Relevant to Your Life
Other apps and even in-person classes rely on cringe-worthy content like “the apple is red” and “Juanita is a woman” to teach you grammar. Snooze.
Any polyglot will tell you that the content you learn should be relevant to your life and be filled with phrases you can actually use when speaking to someone.
On Busuu, you get to choose grammar lessons based on your language goal (e.g., Complete French, French for Business, French for Travel, etc.).
Busuu uses lessons ranging from “What Are You Up to Tonight?” to “A Day at Home” for general learning. A business study plan has lessons like “Talking with Your Colleagues” and “Managing a Project.” I give Busuu an A+ for providing hyper-relevant content in each lesson.
On top of that, you can also choose which days and at what hour you want Busuu to ping you to learn. For example, you can set the app to remind you to study every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 p.m. with a 15-minute lesson. This ensures that you always have time for language learning!
Master New Terms Through Comprehension Checks
By far, one of Busuu’s most effective language learning strategies lies in testing your comprehension of the new words you’re learning. This isn’t your standard translation exercise, where X means Y. Instead, you’re being quizzed on the meaning contained in X.
For instance, when learning “Yo estoy bien” in Spanish, you’re not asked “What does this mean?” but rather, “Is Luis describing how he’s feeling?”
Here’s another example: In the Chinese course, there’s a conversation between a woman and a sales clerk about a purchase. You’re given a list of words from the lesson, and it’s up to you to figure out where they fit into the blanks in the conversation’s transcript through listening to the dialogue.
Not everything in the dialogue is material you’ve learned yet, which makes you really have to think and infer where your new words fit in through context, just like you learned to speak your native language.
This fun and engaging aspect of Busuu’s program kept me curious about learning these languages and really drove home the meanings contained in every new word.
Learn Cultural Tips
Tell me, how many times have you said something you learned in your high school language class to a native speaker only to have this exchange with them:
Native speaker: “No, we don’t say it like that.”
You: “But that’s what I learned in class.”
Native speaker: “Well, we don’t say that.”
Oops. Textbooks and classes sometimes teach us formal, often outdated language.
For instance, while practicing “hello” is very useful while learning English, we know that native English speakers hardly use it, as we have many more natural variations for greeting someone during the day (hi, hiya, hey, etc.).
Busuu understands this and offers useful cultural tips that help you learn when to say something and how to use it appropriately.
For example, my beginner lesson in French told me, “To greet people during the day, we use bonjour (good day, hello). After sunset (usually between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.) we say bonsoir (good evening).”
Busuu offers tons of cultural tips (click on the lightbulb icon on each slide), so you can, as they say, “avoid missteps” while communicating.
Build a Social Community
Busuu has an entire tab dedicated to getting social on the app. You can find people who are native in your target language, which the app calls friends, and add them. The point of this is to be able to exchange messages with your new friends for them to review.
Here’s how that works: The app presents you with a small prompt, like a picture or a video, about which you can either write or speak. Your Busuu friends and anyone within the app in your target language can reply to your written or verbal response to give you feedback! In my experience, they typically encourage you to write complete sentences and tell you how you can improve.
Along the same line, you’ll start receiving messages from people in the app learning your native language, so you also have the chance to respond to their written or verbal responses. It’s fun to give them a helping hand!
Where Busuu Needs Improvement
Limited Language Options
There are 12 languages available, but you only get to learn one in the free version. You must upgrade to the Premium Plus membership to get access to more than one language. That’s a bummer for people like me who want to learn French and Portuguese at the same time.
At this time, Busuu currently offers the following languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. With the free version, you’ll need to choose one language and stick to it.
Quality Varies Depending on Language
With 12 languages, Busuu has a lot of keeping up to do and, inevitably, some courses are better than others. The features and audio quality vary depending on the language you select.
For instance, Busuu’s Spanish course offers video skits, crystal clear audio at native speeds and feedback for speech and writing. However, its Chinese course has no videos, grainier audio which is spoken very slowly and only offers feedback on your speech, not writing. While both are good courses, the Chinese is lacking in comparison to the Spanish.
Furthermore, while Busuu offers placement tests, they’re only available for English, Italian, Spanish, German, Portuguese and French. When I tried the Chinese course, I had to start from zero despite having some existing knowledge of Chinese. A bit of a bummer, I have to admit.
Could Use More Entertainment
While I think Busuu’s digital flashcards aren’t bad, this type of memorization makes it very easy to answer correctly without actually internalizing the language. It’s easy to be lazy and quickly choose the correct answer using the process of elimination, like in an exam.
Plus, after a while, this method can get tedious. While the relevancy of Busuu’s lessons is great (general learning, business, travel, etc.), the app could better cater to people who like to learn with a bit more entertainment—you know, the many people who like to learn through Netflix or listen to music.
You Can Receive Incorrect Corrections
While Busuu’s social aspect is one of the best features that makes this app stand out, there’s also nothing stopping people who aren’t native German speakers from correcting your German verbal recording, for example. All that person needs to do is include German in their profile’s list of “languages I know.” This means that non-native English speakers can correct those learning English, and so on.
The lack of strictness here downgrades what could arguably be Busuu’s best feature.
On top of that, I see that most people opt to write their social responses as opposed to speaking them. It seems that many people on the app are still too shy to utilize the speech recognition tool, and that’s a shame.
Busuu at a Glance
All in all, Busuu is a worthwhile program for serious and casual language learners alike. Whether you want to get survival words for your trip to Spain or talk about horoscopes in Chinese, Busuu offers an engaging interface that helps you keep on track to reach your fluency goals.
- Allows you to set personalized goals based on your own language objectives.
- Offers explanations between each lesson on the finer points of vocabulary, grammar and culture.
- Comprehension checks enable you to think critically about the meanings of the words you’re learning.
- Allows you to record your answers and get feedback from a community of native speakers.
- Limited selection of languages.
- Quality varies depending on your language course.
- Content is somewhat lacking in entertainment value.
- It’s possible to receive incorrect corrections.
Busuu Review Conclusion: Upgrade to Premium for the Best Experience
At the end of the day, I recommend Busuu’s paid version if you’re serious about learning. The free version is fun, but there are better free apps out there that offer the same features.
Busuu gains major points for trying harder than most programs to get you to practice speaking—and speaking like a native—although some improvements can still be made in that aspect.
If you want a downloadable app with offline availability and interactive lessons, I recommend giving the paid subscription a chance. Just make sure that your target language is available in their lesson bank first.
And, be sure to make the most out of the social features by speaking, speaking, speaking at every chance you get!