The Complete Busuu Review of 2023: Is It Worth Using?
I knew zero Spanish when I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina.
But within three months, I learned to speak (semi-)comfortably and landed at a C1 (advanced) level.
I learned that 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, including pricing options, key features, pros and cons and more.
You can also check out my colleague Teddy’s review of the program for another perspective!
A Quick Busuu Review
Description: A learning program that prioritizes listening and speaking, thanks to a speech recognition tool.
14 Languages offered: Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, Polish and Korean.
Offer price: Free (limited access); $13.95/month or $83.40/year
I recommend the Busuu premium plan for serious learners. The free version is fun but very limited. Busuu is impressive in terms of getting speaking practice and learning conversational vocabulary, but there’s still room for improvement.
- User friendliness - 8/108/10
- Delivers on promises - 8/108/10
- Authenticity - 7/107/10
- Value for price - 9/109/10
- Personalized language goals
- Explanations of vocabulary, grammar and culture
- Comprehension checks to learn new words thoroughly
- Option to record answers and get feedback from 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
- What Is Busuu?
- How Does Busuu Work?
- Who Is Busuu For?
- Should You Get Busuu Free or Premium?
- Strengths of Busuu
- Weaknesses of Busuu
- Busuu Review Conclusion: Upgrade to Premium for the Best Experience
What Is Busuu?
Busuu is a language learning program that encourages you to develop all your language skills—speaking, listening, reading and writing—at once.
For example, it has a speech recognition tool that helps you improve your speaking skills just using your phone.
Busuu offers 14 languages: Russian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, English, French, German, Italian, Dutch, Mandarin Chinese, Arabic, Turkish, Polish and Korean.
There’s a desktop version with an easy-to-use interface. Of course, you can download the app for your iOS and Android devices.
Busuu also provides offline lessons so you can download them to study without an internet connection.
How Does Busuu Work?
Busuu offers courses for four levels:
- Beginner A1
- Elementary A2
- Intermediate B1
- Upper Intermediate B2
A few courses, like Spanish and English, have lessons too at Advanced C1.
These are based on the Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR), which establishes how fluent someone is in a specific language.
I tested out Busuu for Beginner (A1) lessons in different languages, including Spanish, French and Chinese. Once I chose my level, Busuu came up with a personalized curriculum to help me reach my goal based on how much time I can devote to learning per day.
If you want extra guidance, Busuu also offers Busuu Live, a personal tutoring service that’s available with a Premium membership.
This flexible program allows you to work with a tutor through Busuu’s content, get in-depth explanations of the lessons featured in the program and practice speaking your new language.
The lessons are 45 minutes long and can be booked anytime that fits your schedule.
Who Is Busuu For?
Anyone willing to give this app a try can benefit from it, but it’ll work best for a few specific types of people:
- On-the-go professionals. Even though I had only 10 minutes to spare on some days, I could set the program to bite-sized lessons according to my schedule.
- Anyone who loves interactive apps. The free version is fun and makes learning simple phrases and words easy. Instead of playing games on my phone when I had to kill time, I tried using Busuu instead, and I never felt bored.
- Language learners who want some accountability. Because Busuu encourages regular studying, I could set reminders during specific moments in my schedule that I’ve set aside for learning. These reminders are helpful without being too pushy.
- Anyone who wants to get better at speaking. I was able to 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 are 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 its apps. The web version has an excellent keyboard control system, and I could easily move through lessons even on my computer.
Should You Get Busuu Free or Premium?
To pay or not to pay?
Busuu offers free and Premium plans, each offering different program features. 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 enough to get you on the path 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, there are also 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. Since I could hear how native speakers use new terms, I got an accurate picture of how I could use these words myself.
- Gives insights into the culture of the language. I like how Busuu explains why words work the way they do, providing cultural facts that 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!”
Premium membership offers everything you need to master your language. At $13.95 USD per month, you’ll gain access to a plethora of valuable features:
- Enable offline mode. You can download lessons to your device if you’re learning on the Busuu app. This means that you can study anywhere, regardless of WiFi availability.
- Unlock grammar lessons. 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 you need the most help with 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 its languages. By speaking or writing in your new language, you can get feedback on how to improve from native speakers.
- Unlock all 14 languages. Probably the most appealing feature for aspiring polyglots, a Premium account will enable you to learn multiple languages simultaneously.
- 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 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.)
Luckily, Busuu frequently offers discounts–I’ve seen it offer Premium plans for 33% or even 50% off!
Strengths of Busuu
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.
On Busuu, you can choose grammar lessons based on your language goal.
Busuu uses lessons based on everyday topics, 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 the hour you want Busuu to notify you to learn.
For example, I set the app to remind me to study every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 6 p.m. with a 15-minute lesson.
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.
For instance, when Busuu teaches the Spanish phrase “Yo estoy bien” in Spanish, the question isn’t “What does this mean?” but rather, “Is Luis describing how he’s feeling?”
Here’s another example.
In the Chinese course, a conversation between a woman and a sales clerk is about a purchase.
I was given a list of words from the lesson, and I had to figure out where they fit in the blanks in the conversation’s transcript by listening to the dialogue.
Not everything in the dialogue is material I’ve learned yet, so I had to think where new words fit in through context, just like how we learn to speak in our native language.
Learn Cultural Tips
Busuu offers helpful 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. You can then exchange messages with your new friends for them to review.
Busuu presents you with a small prompt—like a picture or a video—about which you can write or speak.
Your Busuu friends and anyone within the app 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 to improve.
Along the same line, I started receiving messages from people in the app learning my native language. It’s fun to give them a helping hand!
Weaknesses of Busuu
Limited Language Options with the Free Version
There are 14 languages available, but you only get to learn one in the free version.
You must upgrade to the Premium membership to access more than one language. That’s a bummer for people like me who want to learn French and Portuguese simultaneously.
Quality Varies Depending on the Language
With 14 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 and 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 compared 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.
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 speakers from correcting your recording, for example.
All that person needs to do is include your target language 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 downgrades what could arguably be Busuu’s best feature.
Could Use More Entertainment
While I think Busuu’s digital flashcards aren’t bad, this type of memorization makes it easy to answer correctly without 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, the program could better cater to people who like to learn with more entertainment—you know, the many people who like to learn through Netflix or listen to music.
A good supplement (or even alternative) for this would be a program like FluentU, which lets you learn vocabulary and grammar in context by watching authentic videos made for native speakers.
With FluentU, you hear languages in real-world contexts—the way that native speakers actually use them. Just a quick look will give you an idea of the variety of FluentU videos on offer:
FluentU really takes the grunt work out of learning languages, leaving you with nothing but engaging, effective and efficient learning. It’s already hand-picked the best videos for you and organized them by level and topic. All you have to do is choose any video that strikes your fancy to get started!
Each word in the interactive captions comes with a definition, audio, image, example sentences and more.
Access a complete interactive transcript of every video under the Dialogue tab, and easily review words and phrases from the video under Vocab.
You can use FluentU’s unique adaptive quizzes to learn the vocabulary and phrases from the video through fun questions and exercises. Just swipe left or right to see more examples of the word you're studying.
The program even keeps track of what you’re learning and tells you exactly when it’s time for review, giving you a 100% personalized experience.
Start using the FluentU website on your computer or tablet or, better yet, download the FluentU app from the iTunes store or Google Play store.
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.
What stood out about Busuu is that it really got me to practice speaking and taught me authentic native expressions, although some improvements can still be made. I also like how you could interact with native speakers on the app (with prompts already provided).
Still, the free version is pretty limited, so if you want more options for lessons and offline availability and interactive lessons, I recommend giving the paid subscription a chance.
And be sure to make the most out of the social features by speaking, speaking, speaking at every chance you get!