I knew zero Spanish when I moved to Buenos Aires, Argentina. Zero.
But, I learned to speak (semi-)comfortably and landed at a C1 (advanced) level within three months.
I love old-school learning. I’m a sucker for elevating my reading and writing skills with classic literature on free book apps like BookMigo, listening to self-help audiobooks on Audible and journaling (okay, maybe not so old school).
Yet, while those tools were fantastic as I learned a new language, I desperately needed verbal practice. I picked up the Spanish accent, street lingo and fluidity by speaking to friends I met while living in the city and through daily tasks like buying groceries.
It’s the combination of reading, writing, listening and speaking that creates the comprehensive learning experience needed to retain a new language.
The problem? It’s been hard to replicate that digitally.
Luckily, language apps are very accessible and easy to use. But, far too often I see someone race through levels that only focus on one skill. Or, the app tells them they’re at an intermediate level but the learner can’t answer a simple question out loud.
Busuu is trying to change that. It’s one of the newest language apps to join the list of interactive programs that incorporate all of the language skills.
Below, I’ve put together a comprehensive review of Busuu. Let’s dive in.
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Busuu Review: Where the Program Gets an A+ and What Could Be Better
Busuu is a paid language learning app. More than other apps, Busuu encourages 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 seven-day money-back guarantee so you can try out the paid version to see if it’s something that would work for you.
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?
You first choose a level (Beginner A1, Elementary A2, Intermediate B1, Upper Intermediate B2).
Then, if you’re using the free version, start learning with their 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.
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 moved on to ordering food. That’s exactly what I would need while traveling, so the ability to choose tailored lessons is a good perk.
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.
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 profiles.
- On-the-go professionals. If you’re a busy person with only 10 minutes at a time, 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 learning some simple phrases and words easy, 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. If you don’t want to simply memorize grammar but you don’t have access to a native speaker or you’re too shy to speak with an online teacher, you can still get speaking practice by using Busuu’s speech recognition tool.
- For those who prefer learning on their computer. Busuu has developed desktop learning, not just focusing on their apps. It has an excellent keyboard control system so you can easily move through lessons while at your computer.
Where Busuu Wins
Create a Study Plan That’s Relevant to Your Life
You get to choose grammar lessons based on your language goal (e.g., Complete French, French for Business, French for Travel, etc.). 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.
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!
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 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 friends within the app 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 aren’t many languages available, and you only get to learn one in the free version. You must upgrade 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 only offers the following languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, English, German, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Russian, Portuguese, Spanish and Turkish.
Could Use More Entertainment
While I think their 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 may 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.
If that’s more your learning style, then you may want to consider a different app, like FluentU.
FluentU takes real-world videos—like music videos, movie trailers, news and inspiring talks—and turns them into personalized language learning lessons.
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.
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 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.
Busuu gains major points for trying harder than most 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 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!
This blog post is available as a convenient and portable PDF that you
can take anywhere.
Click here to get a copy. (Download)
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