Duolingo and Babbel are two of the most popular language learning apps on the market today. Both apps offer multiple languages and boast millions of dedicated users – but which one is the best?
In short, both apps offer a high quality language learning experience and both are worth using. But the ultimate answer to Babbel vs Duolingo for you will depend entirely on what type of learner you are and what you’re looking to get out of the app. If you’re looking to try out a few different languages and prefer a fun, game-like learning experience, then Duolingo is the app for you. If you’re planning to focus on one language and you’re already pretty motivated to study it on your own, Babbel has a detailed curriculum with tons of content designed specifically for each of their languages.
We’ve used both apps extensively and have written detailed reviews on each (see our Babbel review and Duolingo review). We can confidently say that both platforms are reliable and useful – but they’re definitely designed for different audiences. We outline both apps in more detail and identify the pros and cons of each in the sections below.
Table of Contents
- An overview of Babbel
- An overview of Duolingo
- Where Babbel is better
- Where Duolingo is better
- Babbel vs Duolingo – which app is the best?
An overview of Babbel
Babbel is a serious language app best suited for learners committed to studying one language over a long period of time.
Each Lesson on Babbel is uniquely designed for the given study language by their content development team, meaning the courses are chock full of useful explanations and relevant cultural tips. Babbel doesn’t have game-like features Duolingo uses to keep users motivated, so it’s best suited for learners who are self-motivated to work through the Lessons and practice regularly.
It’s also not free; Babbel currently costs $13.95 per month and has almost no free content.
What languages does Babbel have?
Babbel has a total of 13 languages available for English speakers:
- Spanish (Latin America or Spain)
Every language has a different course offering. The more common or in-demand languages such as Spanish and German generally have lots of content available – beginner through advanced as well as extras such as business-focused lessons.
Less commonly studied languages such as Russian or Indonesian, on the other hand, don’t have a ton of content. Babbel’s Russian course, for example, didn’t have any intermediate or advanced courses at the time we tried it.
How much does Babbel cost?
At the time this article was published, access to one language on Babbel cost $13.95 per month. Babbel offers discounts for longer subscriptions as well as a “Lifetime” plan that includes access to all languages:
- 1 month: $13.95
- 3 months: $29.85
- 12 months: $83.40
- Lifetime (all languages): $249
Every subscription except for Lifetime is valid for only one language, so if you plan to study multiple languages it might make more sense for you to get the Lifetime subscription (or use Duolingo).
Babbel charges a little more for subscriptions purchased through other channels (for example, a one-month subscription purchased on the App Store costs $16.99). The best price is always going to be found on the Babbel website. For the most up-to-date pricing information refer to Babbel’s pricing page.
How does Babbel work?
Babbel teaches foreign languages through bite-sized “Lessons” that usually take 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
Babbel’s Lessons begin by introducing you to a handful of new vocabulary words or phrases (usually three or four) with a listen-and-repeat activity. This activity prompts you to use speech recognition but you can opt out if you’re not in a convenient place for speaking practice.
You then study your new vocabulary by completing a series of practice activities, such as multiple choice or writing.
Babbel’s lessons include lots of insightful cultural information. They are always written in a concise and easily understandable conversational format. We also appreciate that the imagery for each course is unique to the given country or language – Babbel has a ton of images in the platform which is super helpful for building stronger memories.
Some Lessons include dialogues that use the new vocabulary items you just learned, which we found really help make things stick.
After completing a Lesson, your new vocabulary will be automatically added to the “My Vocab” section of the platform and assigned a “Knowledge Level” from 1-6. Knowledge Levels are Babbel’s way of indicating how well you’ve mastered a given vocabulary item: “Stage 1” is something you’ve just learned while “Stage 6” is something you’ve mastered.
Babbel encourages you to regularly train your vocabulary through their “Practice” feature (you have the option of Flashcards, Speaking, Listening and Writing). Using the Practice feature will increase the Knowledge Level of your vocab items and help you move them into long term memory.
Babbel’s Lessons are grouped into courses according to proficiency level. More popular languages like German or Spanish have content for all levels, ranging from “Newcomer” to “Advanced.” They also tend to have plenty of unique extras such as “Business Spanish” or “Portuguese for Carnival.”
As you work through Babbel’s courses you’ll learn interesting cultural tips and useful everyday vocabulary. Babbel worked best for us when we studied between 30-40 minutes per day, which is enough to complete a Lesson or two and also spend some time using Practice to review previously learned vocabulary.
An overview of Duolingo
Duolingo is a bright and colorful app featuring 38 languages, a gamified learning environment, and cool extra features designed to help you build healthy long-term study habits.
Duolingo doesn’t have the highest quality language learning material on the market, however it’s good enough for someone using it as a vocabulary supplement to a more robust method such as a language class or private tutoring.
The app is fun, easy to use, and completely free, making it the perfect choice for learners looking to get their feet wet before seriously committing to one language.
What languages does Duolingo have?
Duolingo currently offers English learners the choice of 38 different languages:
- Haitian Creole
- High Valyrian
- Scottish Gaelic
How much does Duolingo cost?
Duolingo is completely free. However, the free version has ads and some features are limited or unavailable.
Duolingo Plus, the platform’s premium subscription, cost $6.99 per month at the time this article was written. Duolingo Plus removes the ads and unlocks additional in-game features, such as Unlimited Hearts or monthly Streak Repairs.
We’ve used Duolingo Plus as well as Duolingo’s free version. Plus unlocks some convenient extra features but it’s by no means necessary. You can get a lot out of the free version without feeling the need to upgrade.
How does Duolingo work?
Duolingo teaches languages through a game-like platform that rewards users for practicing and building healthy study habits.
The course content is made up of dozens of “Skills,” organized into a skill tree. Each Skill has a theme such as “Travel” or “Numbers” or “Adverbs.”
Every Skill is made up of five “Levels” and each Level has a handful of “Lessons.” Within Lessons, users learn new vocabulary and grammar through various study activities such as translating to/from the target language, listening and typing what was said, or listening and repeating a phrase using voice recognition.
Duolingo has a ton of cool features designed to make language learning fun and addictive (and thus help you build a habit of studying every day). XP, competitive Leagues, Daily Streaks and in-game items help make language learning even more rewarding.
Where Babbel is better
Babbel isn’t as fun and exciting as Duolingo, but it’s the clear winner in terms of course content. Babbel’s language courses, uniquely designed by professional content designers, feature culturally relevant learning material as well as simple and easily understandable explanations.
Babbel’s courses are created independently of one another
Babbel’s approach to curriculum design is completely different from most language learning apps. For most apps, a single course is created and then translated into multiple languages. Babbel’s courses, on the other hand, are all created independently of one another. That means that Babbel’s French course and its offerings, for example, is going to be entirely different from its German course.
Babbel’s approach to designing courses independently of one another allows for a more targeted approach to the grammar, since every language has its own unique structures and peculiarities. Duolingo has improved their content a lot in the last few years and their courses are much more unique than they used to be, however they still don’t match the level of detail in Babbel’s courses.
Babbel’s content is more culturally relevant
Babbel’s approach to creating each course independently of one another allows for a lot more customization within the lesson content. You’ll learn relevant phrases and vocabulary as well as helpful cultural tips.
Each language on Babbel features topics unique to the given language or culture. When we were studying Portuguese, we worked through a topic called “Portuguese for Carnival” which taught us the relevant vocabulary such as “parade” and “tambourine,” as well as cultural traditions for Carnival in different parts of Brazil. The course included eight Lessons with a storyline, dialogues and lots of imagery.
Duolingo’s courses simply don’t compare when it comes to the sheer amount of culturally relevant content offered on Babbel.
Babbel’s curriculum has no limits
Babbel’s curriculum is “unlocked,” meaning you can access any part of the course material at any time. You can choose to move up to a higher level course or down to a lower level one, depending on your personal needs. Duolingo’s course curriculum, on the other hand, is “locked,” meaning that you must take a placement test in order to access higher level topics.
This gets frustrating for learners who begin Duolingo at an intermediate level since you have to take tests in order to access more advanced content that may be better suited for your current level of language mastery. These placement tests are based on Duolingo Skills, and you are penalized if you don’t know the specific words included in Duolingo’s curriculum. When we initially started using Duolingo for Portuguese, we were penalized for not being able to translate things like “The architect moves the chandelier.”
Since we didn’t know some of the more niche vocabulary included in the placement test, we were placed into an early intermediate level. The course content was far too basic and we had to take several additional placement tests to find the appropriate level.
Since the more advanced Skills in Duolingo’s Skill Tree are locked, learners are limited in what they can practice at any given time. For example, if we wanted to focus on learning the future subjunctive in Portuguese (a tense of verbs used for saying things like, “As soon as I have enough money, I’ll go to Brazil”) we would have to unlock all the Skills leading up to the “Future Subjunctive” Skill. This is inconvenient for learners who have specific focus areas they’d like to work on.
We took a brief break from our Portuguese “Refresher” course in order to try out some of the Lessons in “Portuguese for Carnival.” We were able to bounce back and forth between the two topics, which helped us maintain interest and also gave us a sense of ownership within the learning process.
Babbel’s audio features native speakers
All of the audio in Babbel’s Lessons is recorded in-house by native speakers; they don’t use any computer-generated audio. In contrast, Duolingo uses text-to-speech (TTS) technology to generate audio for their learning material. Duolingo is beginning to add native-speaker audio to some product areas, such as Duolingo Stories, however the majority of the audio on the platform is still generated with TTS.
In general, Duolingo’s TTS audio isn’t terrible. You can understand what’s being said and get a decent grasp of the pronunciation, but the intonation still sounds a bit weird and robotic at times.
Babbel’s commitment to using native-speaker audio for all of their learning material means you’ll always be able to get a clear, accurate understanding of the intonation and pronunciation.
Babbel features helpful explanations and in-game tips
Babbel’s Lessons are designed by professional curriculum developers and each Lesson includes useful, clear explanations. Our introductory Indonesian course, for example, gave us a concise, easily understandable explanation of the differences between “Saya” and “Aku,” which both mean “I” but are used differently depending on the formality of the situation.
Duolingo also has explanations, called Tips, available for some Skills, but we found they can sometimes be a bit difficult to understand.
For example, the sentence “Here, we are going to see the Pretérito mais-que-perfeito composto, meaning it’s a compound tense (having an auxiliary verb)” might be a bit overwhelming to new learners. The majority of language learners don’t have a linguistics background and might be confused by words like “compound tense” and “auxiliary verb.”
We found Babbel’s grammatical explanations much more straightforward and easy to understand. They’re usually explained in just a few sentences and Babbel doesn’t give you too much information to digest all at once. Babbel introduces grammar points in small bites, meaning it’s easier for learners to process and digest new concepts.
Babbel also has in-game tips that appear from time to time as popup notifications within Lessons. They’re unobtrusive and generally pretty short, meaning it’s easy to process and understand them without having to stop the Lesson and think too much.
Where Duolingo is better
Babbel has great lesson quality, however it can sometimes feel a bit dry. Duolingo, on the other hand, makes language learning super exciting.
Its gamification features promote competition between learners and the streak/reward systems help build healthy study habits. Duolingo also features tons of languages, including some interesting conlangs (artificial languages) like Klingon and High Valerian.
Duolingo offers an exciting, game-like experience
Both Babbel and Duolingo can feel a bit repetitive after a while since the lessons and review structure stay largely the same throughout both app experiences. Duolingo, however, has a lot of fun ways of keeping users engaged and motivated to continue learning.
Duolingo has mastered the concept of gamifying the language learning experience. The app features a few particularly engaging features, namely XP, Leagues, Streaks Lingots, and Achievements:
- XP: Every time you complete an activity on Duolingo (such as completing a Lesson or using the Practice feature to train previously-learned skills) you’ll earn XP (experience points). XP is used as a rough measure of how much studying you’ve completed on the platform. Users set daily XP goals to keep themselves motivated and the weekly XP Leagues introduce an aspect of friendly competition among learners.
- Leagues: Leagues are groups of randomly assigned players competing against one another to see who can study the most in a given week. They’re basically XP competitions designed to give users a motivation boost. If you finish in the top 10 (of 30 users) you’ll advance one “Level” in the following week’s League competition. In total there are 10 Levels, so as you can imagine the competition gets significantly more intense as you reach the higher levels. Leagues are a clever way to help users build good study habits while also creating a sense of community on the platform.
- Streaks: Streaks are probably the most effective and motivating of Duolingo’s gamification features. When you meet your (self-set) XP goal, you begin a study Streak (represented by a flame icon on your profile) that keeps track of how many consecutive days you’ve practiced. It feels super rewarding to keep track of how many days in a row you’ve been learning – they definitely make you want to keep your study momentum.
- Lingots/Gems: Lingots [ling-guhts] (or Gems, on mobile) are Duolingo’s in-game currency. There are a number of ways to earn Lingots, for example by completing Lessons or reaching daily XP goals. They can be used on Duolingo’s “Shop” to purchase in-game items, such as new outfits for your Duolingo Owl or a “Streak Freeze” (used to freeze your Daily Streak for one day).
- Achievements: Duolingo also wants users to keep their eyes set on long term goals, which they gamify in the form of Achievements that can be completed by reaching certain milestones.
Babbel doesn’t have any comparable gamification system to keep users motivated, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing – some users don’t need extras to keep them motivated to study every day. For other learners, however, Duolingo’s habit-building gamification features are a lifesaver – we personally have busy lives and can sometimes fall into a bad habit of putting language learning on the back burner.
During especially busy periods we really appreciated Duolingo’s XP goals and Daily Streaks – they sometimes made the difference between skipping a day entirely and squeezing in a bit of language study before bed.
Duolingo offers more languages than Babbel
Duolingo currently offers English speakers the option of 38 study languages, including a few off-the-beaten-path ones such as Hawaiin or Navajo. Babbel, in comparison, only offers 13 languages for English learners.
Duolingo is able to offer so many languages because they crowd-source the development of their courses. Babbel, on the other hand, has a large in-house content team that designs each language course independently of their other courses.
Additionally, Babbel’s subscription (currently $13.95 per month for a month-to-month subscription) only includes access to one language. This is no problem for learners who have a specific language they plan to focus on over a long period of time, but it’s a bit inconvenient for learners studying multiple languages or learners who like to try out new languages every now and then. Duolingo allows users to try out as many languages as they want.
Every language learner has different habits, preferences and strategies that work best for them. We like to go back and forth between languages every few weeks, for example spending two weeks on German and then two weeks on Portuguese. It keeps us motivated and helps prevent us from getting burned out on one particular language. Duolingo’s flexibility with switching between languages (as well as the option to try out a completely different language every now and then) is therefore particularly appealing.
Duolingo is free (and the premium version is cheaper than Babbel)
For users who prefer not to spend money on language learning resources, Duolingo is the clear best choice. Duolingo is completely free to use, albeit with ads (which don’t feel all that intrusive).
The platform’s premium subscription, Duolingo Plus, costs just $6.99 and removes the ads from the platform. Duolingo Plus also unlocks a host of extra features such as additional course content and Practice Quizzes to help you track your progress over time.
Babbel offers very little in terms of free content. New users are able to try out one Lesson (about 10 minutes) before they hit a paywall. Subscriptions then range from $13.95 (for month-to-month) to $249 (for Lifetime). Additionally, Babbel subscriptions are currently limited to one language. The only subscription currently offering access to all 14 languages is the Lifetime subscription, which is a significant investment for most language learners.
Duolingo Stories are a great way to practice real world situations
Stories are conversation-based lessons that feature Duolingo’s characters. They’re generally pretty short, perhaps 200-300 words, and feature native-speaker voiceover as well as questions to keep users engaged.
Currently, they’re only available for a handful of languages (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French and German) but Duolingo is constantly adding new content. Portuguese, for example, has about 200 Stories available.
Stories are a breath of fresh air for long-term Duolingo users; the app has historically been notorious for its seemingly random study content. The computer-generated phrases can sometimes sound super strange and there are numerous social media pages dedicated to the weird things users encounter on the platform.
Stories, on the other hand, are much more realistic. Users will find real-world practice topics such as going to the doctor or booking a plane ticket as well as realistic, everyday words and phrases.
While Babbel does feature some dialogues within their Lesson content, they aren’t as funny or witty as Duolingo’s Stories. Also, Babbel doesn’t currently offer a way to practice the dialogues without going through the entire lesson over again. Duolingo’s Stories are a fun and engaging way to get some on-demand exposure to your target language.
Babbel vs Duolingo – which app is the best?
So which app is better, Duolingo or Babbel? The short answer is: they’re both good language learning apps…but they’re designed for different audiences.
Babbel is best for language learners who:
- Are willing to spend money on a monthly subscription.
- Plan to focus on one language over a longer period of time.
- Are self-motivated and don’t need an app with a built-in motivation system.
- Want learn a commonly studied language like Spanish or German.
Duolingo is best for learners who:
- Prefer a free app.
- Want to try new languages or switch between multiple study languages.
- Enjoy a game-like experience with habit-building features to keep them motivated.
- Are interested in studying less commonly studied languages like Romanian or Finnish.
As always, we recommend using a variety of different language learning tools as part of a balanced language learning routine.
– written by Drew Grubba for Smarter Language. Drew has ACTFL-certified proficiency in Swedish, German, Portuguese, French and Spanish. He’s also studied Mandarin Chinese, Norwegian and Dutch, and is currently learning Russian.