Our Review of Babbel
Babbel offers learners an incredible amount of study material, all of which is uniquely designed by their in-house team of linguists, professors and language learners. It uses translation as it's main method of instruction. While this certainly has its own merits, it contrasts with other more natural methods, such as Rosetta Stone's Dynamic Immersion, which can be more effective in helping you actually retain the languages you learn long term. We recommend using Babbel in conjunction with a handful of other language learning methods and programs for a balanced approach to study.
Ease of Use8.4
Engagement and Motivation8.0
Value for Cost7.0
Babbel is one of the fastest-growing language learning apps available on the market with over 3 million monthly users. It’s a subscription-based program available on web, iOS and Android devices.
Babbel offers learners a robust curriculum of useful everyday phrases and vocabulary, curated by an in-house content development team of more than 150 linguists, teachers and polyglots.
Table of Contents
- Lesson presentation
- Babbel offers a ton of study material
- Where to start as an absolute beginner
- Babbel offers a good deal of flexibility without being overwhelming
- Babbel’s instructional content is all around exceptional.
- The bottom line – is Babbel worth your time?
How does Babbel work?
Babbel teaches languages through bite-sized “Lessons” which generally take between 5 and 15 minutes to complete. Each Lesson starts with a few new vocabulary words (or sometimes entire phrases for advanced learners), followed by practice activities to help users learn the new material. Many Lessons culminate in a short dialogue that helps users understand the new material within the context of real-life situations. Babbel helps learners reinforce Lesson content over time through a “Review” feature based on the concept of spaced repetition.
Babbel’s language learning method is based on three pillars:
- Babbel teaches users language using real-world conversations and everyday situations.
- All audio within the app is recorded in-house by native speakers who speak slowly with clear pronunciation.
- The study model is based on learning, repeating, and reviewing vocabulary so that it sticks in the long term.
Babbel’s courses are divided by proficiency level. Each course has a handful of “Topics” to choose from and each topic has multiple “Lessons.”
In general, Babbel’s Lessons use the following structure to introduce learners to new vocabulary and encourage them to practice:
- The app introduces you to learn 3-4 new vocabulary words through a listen-and-repeat activity with speech recognition.
- You practice using the new words using a variety of review activities.
- Babbel walks you through a more expansive dialogue which includes the sentences you have been building up to in the earlier parts of the Lesson.
As you progress through Lessons Babbel encourages you to use their “Review” feature to practice your vocabulary through speaking, writing, listening or flashcard activities. Learners are expected to regularly review their vocabulary in order to make it stick better in their long term memory.
What languages does Babbel offer?
Babbel offers courses in 14 languages and each course is uniquely designed. For example, the material you will cover in the Indonesian course is entirely different from the material included in the German course. This is important because not every language can be learned in exactly the same way; German grammar and sentence structure is considerably more complex than that of Indonesian. Every language has different grammatical structures and cultural influences which should ideally be considered in course design – this consideration is one of Babbel’s key benefits in comparison with other programs.
Since each language course is designed individually, the more in-demand languages are more complete than the less commonly studied languages. Babbel’s language offering can generally be divided into two categories based on the completeness of the course content:
Mostly complete courses include intermediate and advanced course content as well as useful extras such as specific “Listening and Speaking” units or “Refresher” courses for learners with previous experience. These courses include English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish and Portuguese. If you’re studying a language from the Mostly complete category, you can expect a mostly seamless experience from absolute beginner through the advanced level.
Less complete courses include beginner material as well as some general advanced-level courses, but tend to lack the intermediate and advanced study material available for more commonly studied languages. These courses include Dutch, Russian, Norwegian, Polish, Turkish, Danish and Indonesian.
Babbel’s content team is continuously adding new study material, however it does take time since each course is uniquely designed to fit the target language. If you’re learning a language from the Less complete category you’ll likely need to find another program or app once you finish the beginner-level courses (in this case we’d recommend Duolingo or Rosetta Stone).
Babbel is an affordable app when considering the amount of content included in your subscription. At the time this article was published, access to one language on Babbel cost $13.95 per month.
How much does Babbel cost?
Babbel offers discounts for longer subscriptions, as well as a lifetime plan:
- 1 month: $13.95
- 3 months: $29.85
- 12 months: $83.40
- Lifetime (all languages): $249
Each subscription (except “Lifetime”) is only valid for one language, so if you plan to study multiple languages it might make more sense for you to get the Lifetime subscription.
It’s worth noting that Babbel charges a bit more if you buy your subscription through other markets (for example, a one-month subscription purchased on the App Store costs $16.99). In order to get the best price, create an account directly on the Babbel website and purchase your subscription there.
For the most up-to-date pricing information refer to Babbel’s pricing page.
All of Babbel’s language learning content is divided by proficiency level, ranging from absolute beginner (introductory material) to advanced (professional, cultural and business-level material) depending on the individual language.
Each language has different material available. More commonly studied languages such as Spanish or French tend to have more material and options (see Overview for a chart on course availability by language).
Intermediate and higher-level content is available for 7 of the 14 languages for which Babbel offers courses: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish and Portuguese. Users can take a placement test to figure out where to start.
All languages offered on Babbel have at least a few entry level courses to help you get started if you’re an absolute beginner. For the languages which don’t have intermediate and advanced content, the courses offered can vary.
For example, Babbel’s Russian course offers very little for beginners and intermediate learners, but contains quite a few intermediate and advanced topics which focus on learning vocabulary by theme.
In order to get a balanced understanding of how Babbel performs, we tried out a few languages across a wide range of skill levels.
Babbel offers a ton of study material
Babbel has a ton of study material, especially for more commonly studied languages like Spanish or German. Language learning on Babbel is organized in the app by “Course”, “Topic”, and “Lesson.” Each Course contains several Topics, and each Topic contains multiple Lessons.
Some languages have courses or topics that are not offered for other languages (for example, Portuguese has a topic covering all the vocabulary related to Carnival in Brazil!) and Babbel adds new content frequently.
The list below includes the most common courses across Babbel’s foreign language curriculum.
- Beginner level
- Beginner I
- Beginner II
- Intermediate level
- Advanced level
- Mixed level courses (usually intermediate or advanced)
- Listening and Speaking
- Countries and Traditions
- Words and Sentences
Within each Topic you’ll find a handful of Lessons which cover various aspects of the given topic you’re learning. Babbel Lessons take between 5 and 15 minutes to complete.
Most Lessons have a similar general structure on Babbel, though individual activities differ depending on the language, Topic and difficulty level. Lessons generally have 3-4 stages:
Lessons begin by introducing learners to a handful of new vocabulary words or phrases. In our beginner-level Indonesian Lesson, we first learned the words for English, German, Indonesian, and American.
Babbel introduces these words along with a bit of context, rather than just as standalone words. England, German language, Indonesian person, American people. On Babbel, every language course is individually designed by linguists, so a lot of thought is put into how to present the study material. While many other apps and programs create one curriculum then translate it into other languages, Babbel’s curriculum is entirely unique.
After introducing the vocabulary you’ll be focusing on during your Lesson, Babbel gives some concise grammar tips. We were impressed with the number of cultural notes included in each Lesson. Many apps simply translate their curriculum with little amount of true localization, so it’s very rare to encounter an app that includes such detailed cultural information.
Now you’ll begin practicing the new vocabulary words you learned at the beginning of the Lesson. Babbel uses a handful of study activities such as matching pairs, multiple choice, building words or typing in a missing word.
While the overall structure of Babbel Lessons is pretty much the same throughout, there is a variety of study activities that filter in and out, which helps mix things up and keep Lessons engaging and interesting.
For our Indonesian Lesson, we practiced using a handful of activities: “Sort the Items” in order to put words together, multiple choice lists, and typing in a missing word. The practice activities in this stage are a good way of bridging the gap between seeing a word in a new language for the first time and remembering/producing it later.
Many Babbel Lessons end with a dialogue that uses all of the vocabulary you learned.
You’re also given the opportunity to correct mistakes at the end of the Lesson. In this case, we got one question wrong so we went back to correct it (and hopefully remember better next time).
Grammar is introduced naturally
Babbel’s approach to grammar is commendable. Many traditional approaches teach grammar through lengthy, arcane explanations paired with example sentences that are entirely unrealistic. Babbel introduces learners to grammatical concepts gently and gradually.
“We try to introduce grammar as naturally as possible,” explains Ted Mentele, one of Babbel’s Didactics Editors, in a video on the company’s YouTube channel, “Implicitly at first, through dialogues, and different exercises give the learner an opportunity to try to figure it out on their own before we explain it explicitly later on in the Lesson. When they figure something out on their own they say, ‘Oh! I get that – and I haven’t even been taught it yet!’”
We found this statement to be quite accurate. For example, in the Indonesian course we kept running into the word untuk used in various phrases. We weren’t explicitly taught the meaning – it can mean “to” or “for” – but after seeing it in a handful of situations we began to develop an understanding of the various ways in which it can be used. This delicately crafted teaching style encourages learners to engage and think critically about the material they’re learning, which naturally leads to a more successful learning experience.
Where to start as an absolute beginner
If you have no prior experience studying your target language, the “Newcomer” level is probably the best fit for you. The “Newcomer” level generally consists of two courses with 10-15 Lessons each, though the number varies depending on the language. These Lessons cover the basics of the target language while teaching you to introduce yourself, describe your nationality, order food, and so on.
Placement test for experienced learners
For those with prior experience in a language, Babbel’s proficiency tests can help you figure out the best place to start. Babbel has a very logical approach to proficiency testing: they ask you a handful of questions then give you a rough estimate of your proficiency level.
We tried out the Portuguese test to get an idea of where to start. First, we were asked to describe our level simply as “I’m a beginner,” “I already know some,” or “I know a lot.”
We selected “I know a lot,” after which we were asked to answer four questions on a scale of 1 to 5 (1 being “I don’t know this yet” and 5 being “I feel very confident about this”).
- I can get the gist of a short TV clip without subtitles.
- I can give an oral summary of a TV series, book, or film.
- I can comfortably use slang where appropriate.
- I can comfortably debate topics like politics or philosophy.
Babbel then informed us that our level was “Advanced.”
While this test may seem a bit simplistic, it’s actually the perfect way to estimate a learner’s proficiency. Many language apps use a placement test based specifically on the content they offer within their program. For example, a program that includes Lessons on “colors” or “articles of clothing” early on in their curriculum might put you in a low level course for not knowing all of the vocabulary from those Lessons. You may be an intermediate-level learner with decent understanding of grammar but end up stuck in a low level since you aren’t able to translate something like “the woman is wearing a purple blouse.”
Plus, the proficiency test recommendation isn’t binding. There’s no limit on which courses you’re allowed to If you place at a beginner level but then decide you want to try out intermediate level content.
The “Refresher” course
If you’ve studied a language in the past and are looking to jump back in, Babbel offers a “Refresher” course for learners with prior experience. Described as “upper beginner’s level,” this course is perfect for learners who, for example, studied a language in high school or college and want to start learning again.
The “Refresher” course is available for Spanish, German, French, Italian, Portuguese and Swedish. Spanish, German, French and Italian all have two levels with 20 Lessons each, Swedish has two levels with 10 Lessons each. Our team decided to check out Babbel’s Portuguese offering, which has one level with 19 Lessons.
The Lessons in the “Refresher” course generally follow the same structure as other Lessons on the app, albeit with a bit more grammatical review and some extra explanations. The first few Lessons for Portuguese featured vocabulary words for a few common cooking ingredients as well as a grammar Lesson covering “trazer” and “levar,” verbs which both mean “to bring” but are used in different situations. Later Lessons in the course covered useful vocabulary topics such as looking for an apartment or describing a previous vacation. There were a handful of Lessons that focused on topics Portuguese-learners sometimes have trouble with, such as question words or negation.
Each Lesson takes less than 15 minutes to complete, so you can expect to finish this course in about a week if you’re studying for an hour per day and spending 15-20 minutes using the “Review” feature to practice. For the languages which have a complete content offering (Spanish, German, French and Italian) the “Refresher” course provides about two weeks worth of study content. This is the perfect amount of study content for someone looking to get back into a language for a trip, a job or further studies. After completing the “Refresher” course, learners can expect to move up to one of Babbel’s “Intermediate” or even “Advanced” courses.
For some of the more commonly-studied languages, Babbel offers an impressive layout of intermediate and advanced level courses. We tried out a few of these courses for Spanish and Portuguese.
Spanish is one of the most popular language choices among learners and Babbel has curated a wide variety of study material, such as a “Discover the Culture” course with topics such as “Food in Latin America” or “Spanish Around the World.” Babbel also offers “Business Spanish,” which includes six topics for users interested in learning how to converse in an international business setting. The “Business” course (which has six topics) covers essentials such as “Flawless Phone Calls” or “Email Expert,” both of which are rare finds for language apps or even university courses.
These Lessons follow a similar Lesson structure as in other Lessons (see “Lesson structure” above) and begin by introducing a handful of complete phrases. We’ll highlight one of the Lessons under the topic “Meeting Management,” titled “Terminar una reunión” (Ending a meeting). This Lesson introduced us to a handful of new phrases such as “Todos pudimos llegar a un acuerdo” (We were all able to reach an agreement) during the first stage. We were asked to repeat them aloud (using Babbel’s speech recognition technology). While these phrases at first seem unconnected and random, learners quickly realize that the phrases build up to a larger storyline within the Lesson.
In the second stage, we listened to a dialogue which included all of the phrases from the first stage. The dialogues are recorded in-house by native speakers so the audio is crisp and clear.
Also, Babbel has a neat listening format that allows users to jump back and forth between the individual phrases. It’s particularly helpful if you want to rewind the last phrase or two and listen a few times. Comprehension questions at the end of the activity check for comprehension.
In the third stage of the Lesson we practiced the phrases we learned at the beginning of the Lesson using a variety of different activities, such as matching translations or sorting words to build the phrases.
In the final stage of the Lesson we were asked to “Speak a part of the dialogue” that we covered in the second stage. The app tells us which lines we are to say and Babbel’s speech recognition software grades us on our performance.
We feel this type of activity significantly augments the learning experience; rather than acting as invisible bystanders, we are able to truly immerse ourselves in the situation.
The individual phrases we learned at the beginning of the Lesson ended up contributing to a larger dialogue in which, at the end of the Lesson, we were fully participating.
It’s also worth noting that the dialogues are entertaining and sometimes pretty funny. The fact that the learning material is entertaining as well as useful further enhances the learning experience – we’re much more likely to remember a Lesson that includes a plot twist or joke that gives us a laugh.
Currently, the “Business” courses are available for German, French and Spanish, and each language is a little bit different. “Business German” has 9 topics, each containing between 7 and 12 individual Lessons. The “Business Spanish” course (available for both Latin American and European Spanish) has 6 topics, each with 5-7 Lessons. “Business French” only has one topic, which focuses on pharmaceuticals.
All in all, we were quite impressed with the “Business” courses. They’re well designed and especially helpful for learning some of the more formal styles of language commonly used in professional communication. We hope Babbel expands these courses in the future to cover more languages and more topics.
Babbel offers a good deal of flexibility without being overwhelming
We experienced Babbel from the perspective of a complete beginner with the Indonesian course as well as intermediate and advanced in the Portuguese and Spanish courses. We found Babbel’s interface easy to navigate and clutter free; an overall clean and professional learning environment.
Babbel’s course content offers a good deal of flexibility without being too overwhelming and the Lessons are quite easy to follow. The content is rich in real world examples and the grammar is explained in a concise, straightforward manner. The audio (recorded in-house by native speakers) plays frequently and the app regularly encourages you to practice speaking using their speech-recognition software.
Getting started with a new language
If you’ve never studied your target language before, Babbel makes it super easy to get started. When we decided to try out Indonesian at the beginner level, we were able to easily find the “Newcomer” course and begin learning useful new things immediately.
The course progression is quite clear for beginners and the app does a good job of leading learners through Lessons and review. While Babbel does not offer intermediate-level Lessons for every language (only about half of the languages offer content past the beginner level), it is nonetheless a good starting point for anyone looking to dive into a new language.
Unlocking course content
We very much appreciated the fact that Babbel courses are unlocked, meaning you can jump into any Lesson at any time. This will come as a huge relief to anyone who’s previously used Duolingo (see our Duolingo review), since you can’t preview or even see the complete skill names of any of Duolingo’s advanced skills until you reach a high enough level.
Babbel’s overall learning experience feels open-world and discovery oriented. The unlocked course structure allows users a considerable degree of agency in choosing which paths to follow in their learning experience. Want to take a break from your Spanish email etiquette Lessons and do a few activities covering international air travel? Sure, no problem. On Babbel, users can work on any Lesson from any topic at any time, which is really exciting for language learners interested in a variety of experiences.
Lessons are also conveniently short – each one takes between 5 and 15 minutes. The brevity of Babbel’s Lessons ensures that a user isn’t stuck on a given path when they might rather be learning something different.
Babbel’s unlocked course structure is a breath of fresh air. Apps with locked course content require you to advance past a certain level or take a test in order to access higher level material, which can be frustrating for learners seeking a degree of customization in their study experience. We found that hopping between levels now and then keeps things interesting – after a few days of reviewing Portuguese grammar on the “Refresher” course, we decided to take a break and jump into a completely different (and super exciting!) new topic: “Portuguese for Carnival”
Babbel’s instructional content is all around exceptional.
Each language features a variety of course options, with many topics tailored to fit relevant trends or cultural themes. The carefully curated Lesson material actually fits many real-world situations and, since the Lessons are reasonably short, users are easily able to skip a Lesson they feel isn’t applicable to them.
Individual course design
Babbel’s approach is completely different from many other language programs which create one curriculum and translate it into multiple languages. Some languages are significantly more complex than others so there should be a degree of customization. Additionally, it’s easy to lose important cultural information if a course isn’t created specifically for the given target language.
Each Lesson for each language is uniquely designed by Babbel’s team of more than 150 linguists, teachers and language experts. Babbel’s courses are completely unique, meaning you won’t see the same material in Spanish as you will see in Indonesian. The courses are also unique in terms of the learner’s native language. For example, an English speaker will see a different German course than a Spanish speaker, since English speakers learn German differently than Spanish speakers.
It is considerably more difficult and time consuming for Babbel to create such finely tuned courses, however the result is an unparalleled learning experience that is hard to beat.
Babbel is rather unclear about what courses they offer for each language. Out of the 14 languages Babbel offers, only half of them offer study material at the “Intermediate” level or higher. This makes sense since the majority of language learners are interested in studying more common languages like Spanish, French or German, and each one of Babbel’s courses is uniquely designed for that language.
We do feel, however, that Babbel could be a bit more transparent in what courses they offer for each language. We initially purchased a Russian subscription but had to request a refund since the course does offer very much in terms of intermediate or advanced courses. Luckily, we were able to receive a full refund (no questions asked) within a few days.
Consideration of world cultures
Babbel’s course content includes an abundance of detail surrounding world cultures and traditions. Each course uses culturally relevant photos rather than standard stock images, as well as culturally appropriate names, situations and examples. We enjoyed getting a glimpse of what Indonesia and Indonesian culture feel like since we weren’t too familiar with the country before beginning the course.
The dialogue situations are all very culturally relevant as well. Babbel’s Lessons are chock full of useful culture tips which appear as little popup notifications during Lessons. For example, a Lesson covering Portuguese-language phone etiquette informed us that, “Meia is another form of saying the word seis (six) commonly used for phone numbers.” This type of information is so important to know, yet it’s often left out of language programs or standard classes.
Each Lesson on Babbel is a goldmine of relevant, useful linguistic and cultural knowledge. While many apps feel bland or repetitive after just a few Lessons, Babbel keeps the learning experience interesting by teaching realistic and culturally-relevant concepts.
The bottom line – is Babbel worth your time?
Is Babbel worth using? Is it worth the cost of a subscription? Can you actually learn a language on Babbel? The short answer is: yes, very much so, but it depends on the language and how much time you invest.
Some of Babbel’s courses are more complete than others – languages with less demand often have less study material available than other, more popular languages. We’ll also note that every language learner should include a variety of different tools in their language learning routine. We’d recommend using Babbel in conjunction with a handful of other methods and programs.
Babbel offers learners an incredible amount of study material though, all of which is uniquely designed by their team of in-house linguists, professors and language learners. The lessons use audio recorded by native speakers and include plenty of interesting, culturally relevant tips. We found Babbel’s study material to be considerably more useful and realistic than most other language apps on the market and we would definitely recommend trying it out.
– 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.