Duolingo vs Babbel: Two Popular Language Learning Apps Compared
It is easier than ever to find tools to help you learn a language. At home or on the go there are seemingly endless choices for language apps that let you fit learning into your schedule. Don't let decision paralysis prevent you from starting your language learning journey.
In this post, I’m going to review two of the most popular language-learning apps available: Duolingo vs Babbel.
I’ve personally been using these apps for over a year to learn Italian so I know the good, the bad, and the ugly for each platform.
Within each I’ve reviewed:
- Ease of use
- Time commitment
- Content quality
- Depth of learning
- Offline access
So make sure to read this review to the end. That way you can pick the best language learning app for you.
Before we dive into the comparison, I want to give you an overview of each product.
This free language learning app offers an impressive 23 different languages. You can easily toggle between different languages. Everyone starts as a beginner unless you pass a placement test. Lessons are short and you can pick from topic themes such as food, animals, or travel. You’ll translate sentences first using word blocks and then typing out phrases as you get more advanced. Duolingo has some audio components. You will listen and transcribe what you hear. You will also repeat phrases back to be tested on pronunciation. Overall, it’s a cute, gamified, and social platform for learning language basics.
While you can do a trial lesson for free, the rest of the Babbel lessons are located behind a paywall. Subscription plans are billed monthly, quarterly, semiannually, or annually with the 12-month plan offering the best value. Babbel has 14 different languages to choose from, but some have more content than others. When starting, you’ll pick your goal for learning a language such as learning for business or vacation. This helps targets the lessons Babbel recommends, but you have access to all lessons within the course so setting a goal doesn’t restrict your learning. Lessons start with vocabulary and the app checks your pronunciation (if you allow microphone access.) You’ll learn by completing sentences and phrases as well as answering questions. Overall, the app presents quality content based on real-world situations that quickly build your confidence in speaking a new language.
Now let’s get into the comparison of features
Duolingo is free, which is great for the budget-conscious learner. However, nothing is truly free. The app does play short advertisements after each completed lesson. They aren't overly intrusive and I find them very easy to ignore along with all the other notifications Duolingo gives you after each lesson. Since you aren’t paying for it, the app doesn’t cater to your goals well. Overall, for a free app, you really do have the potential to learn a significant amount. Therefore Duolingo is very much worth the cost (FREE) for the value it provides.
You must purchase a Babbel subscription to use the app, which prevents many people from signing up. However, the lessons are well structured and focused on real-world skills. A year subscription is under $90, which is much more affordable than in-person language lessons. Plus they often run sales, which can give you access for a steep discount (sometimes up to 50% off.) After one month of studying with Babbel, I was able to have a (short) conversation with an Italian. So I feel Babbel is well worth the price.
Conclusion: Free or Paid, both present good value
Ease of Use
Duolingo functions very well on both the desktop and mobile versions. When typing, the keyboard autocorrects, which sometimes works in your favor. Lessons are clearly marked and the extra features easy to locate and use. New features are added frequently to keep it fun and fresh. In my opinion, it has a pretty great interface and doesn’t require any instruction to get started. But I’m a millennial who used to using mobile apps, so it might have a bigger learning curve for those less comfortable with technology.
Babbel has well-designed mobile and desktop versions. Lessons are easy to navigate and finding extra features is logical. My issue with the mobile app is the keyboard. It isn’t as easy to use as my phone’s regular keyboard. I often find myself making mistakes in the lesson simply because of a typo, usually an inserted space in the middle of a word. It’s a minor frustration, and the only issue I have with the usability of the program.
Conclusion: Duolingo is a frustration-free experience, mobile and desktop
Duolingo lessons are short. Usually, they can be completed in a couple of minutes, though sometimes the app challenges you with a hard or extreme lesson that can take around 5 minutes to finish. You aren’t learning much in a 2-minute lesson, but it does make it difficult to find an excuse for why you can’t fit one in.
I find that Babbel lessons take about 10-15 minutes to complete. Each lesson focuses on teaching new vocabulary and grammar rules, which does take more time. If you can’t finish a lesson, when you come back to the app, it will start over from the beginning. A daily vocab quiz and the review section offer quicker ways to study, with each taking only a minute or two.
Conclusion: Duolingo offers shorter lessons while Babbel takes the time to go more in-depth
The Duolingo platform is very gamified, making it quite easy to form a habit with the app. Each completed lesson gives you points. Each day you complete lessons extends your learning streak. The app reminds you and encourages you to keep building upon your learning streak. Each week, you compete against other Duolingo learners for a top spot by completing the most number of lessons. The app and owl give happy sounds each time you get an exercise right. It works very well to motivate you and makes it very easy to form a habit.
Babbel will send you push notifications at a set time and frequency that you choose. You can see your learning streak on the calendar within the app, but there is very little gamification to make completing lessons rewarding. If all you need to study is a simple reminder, it will work very well.
Conclusion: Duolingo’s gamification makes it very easy to form a habit while Babbel relies on you to motivate yourself.
Duolingo has a lot of content available. For Italian, it has almost 70 different topics with five levels of learning within each topic. However, the lessons, phrases, and translations don’t seem to have much relevance to real life. The audio included in Duolingo lessons is mostly robotic, text-to-speech, which can make listening exercises difficult. The tips section for each topic is well written and visually appealing. Overall, because of the amount of content available, Duolingo is great, even if some of the content doesn’t seem very logical.
Babbel’s lessons are professionally designed and you can tell. The content is highly relevant to real life. As you advance through the program, you continue to get new lessons of high quality. Audio tracts are done by professional voice actors with native accents, allowing you to get an ear for the language.
Conclusion: Babbel has superior content, which is to be expected for a paid service.
Depth of Learning
Duolingo covers a wide range of topics. It increases the difficulty within these topics as you progress. However, it fails to fully explain grammar rules and weird quirks within the language, opting for more of a trial and error style of learning. This limits your depth of learning and can make navigating conversation outside the app quite difficult.
Babbel’s professionally designed lessons offer much-needed explanations of the rules. You’ll learn grammar with each lesson and then practice those skills in the conversation exercises. You can learn advanced language skills with Babbel, but not every course has the same amount of material available.
Conclusion: Babbel takes the time to explain the necessary language rules, leading to a greater depth of learning.
The free version of Duolingo doesn’t offer any offline access. If you pay for Duolingo Plus, then you will have the ability to download lessons for offline learning. Duolingo Plus costs $9.99/month or $79.99 annually.
Babbel automatically has 5 review lessons available for offline access. It is easy to download lessons individually on your phone or you could download the entire course. Lessons automatically delete after you have completed them so they won’t take up space on your phone.
Conclusion: Both apps offer solid offline capability if you’re willing to pay for the privilege.
If you are serious about being able to converse in a new language only using one language learning app, then Babbel is the way to go. It offers professionally designed lessons that focus on conversation skills first. And since it forces you to pay, you'll be more invested in learning this new skill.
But learning a new language is difficult; it takes time and multiple methods. As you saw in this Duolingo vs Babbel review, Duolingo has many great features at a desirable price tag (free!) Anyone looking to become fluent would benefit from the additional practice that Duolingo has to offer.
Now, don’t lose your momentum and jump into learning right now!
- Sign up for Babbel to start learning practical language skills fast