With a low price and truly useful content, Babbel is one of the best language-learning programs available. Babbel has a web app and mobile apps that help you learn and practice a new language at your own pace, plus new podcasts for a few languages and for different experience levels. Its interactive exercises can feel tedious at times, but they are also more challenging than what most other language apps offer. With Babbel, you learn concepts, words, and phrases unique to the language at hand—it is not a cookie-cutter course for each language, the way many of its competitors are. If you find other apps too easy, Babbel might be up your alley. Bring a pen to take notes, and get ready to learn a lot.
Alternatively, if you need a slower approach to language learning, one that will not throw too many new words at you at once, we recommend Duolingo (free) and Rosetta Stone ($11.99 per month), our Editors’ Choices. Duolingo is a wonderful app to add to any language-learning plan, and Rosetta Stone is a top pick for building a solid foundation of words and phrases.
What Languages Can You Learn With Babbel?
Babbel offers programs in 13 languages, assuming your language of instruction is English. You can learn Danish, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish. There is also a course for learning English, with instruction available in French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, or Swedish.
If you already have experience in the language, you can take a brief placement test, and Babbel will start you out at the right point in the program, based on your knowledge.
Babbel’s Pricing and Plans
Babbel sells subscription memberships starting at $12.95 per month. The per-month price decreases when you pay for several months of access in advance. You can buy three months ($26.85), six months ($44.70), or one year ($83.40). A paid membership gives you unlimited access to the language program you choose on the website and mobile apps.
These are competitive prices—especially the six-month and one-year plans. With most language-learning apps, you can expect to pay around $10-$12 per month, and somewhere in the range of $100-$200 per year. For traditional language-learning software that you buy once and own forever, the cost can be anywhere from about $130 to nearly $500, depending on the program and how many lessons come with it.
Before you buy a Babbel membership, you can try a small portion of the program free, but you do not get enough lessons to keep you learning for long.
Getting Started With Babbel
We have tested Babbel multiple times in the past, looking at its courses for Dutch, German, Spanish, Italian, Norwegian, and Swedish. This time, we returned to German, a language that we do not know well, although we have some familiarity with it and can say a few phrases.
You would not know it from trying just one of Babbel’s courses, but the material is unique for each language. For example, in the Dutch program, there is an exercise that involves a French woman speaking, and another person responds to her in Dutch, “I don’t speak any French.” In The Netherlands and Belgium, that is a phrase you might actually have to use. The Dutch lessons also expose you to the name of cities in The Netherlands and teach you their local pronunciation. In the German program, you get a lesson early on with all kinds of words for drinks: juice, wine, beer, mineral water, lemonade, coffee, tea. In the Russian program, the early lessons focus a lot on helping you learn Cyrillic.
The fact that each Babbel course is unique boosts our confidence in the service. Some other language-learning programs use the same images and the core vocabulary no matter what language you are learning, Rosetta Stone being a prime example. Do enough Rosetta Stone, and you will be able to say “the dog eats rice” in 20 languages. You might never learn how to pronounce Groningen like a local, however, the way you do in Babbel.
Babbel’s Program Structure
Babbel has a reasonably clear structure. There are courses that contain lessons, and unless you have prior experience with the language and want to jump ahead, you are meant to do them in order.
One part that is a tiny bit confusing is Topics. Topics allow you to choose to learn the language for a specific topic, such as Business German, Countries and Traditions, but also Grammar, Speaking and Listening, among others. Babbel starts you out with a Topic based on your interests, which you indicate when you first sign up. Beginners might find themselves in the Words and Sentences Topic, as I did. If you switch Topics, however, it can be confusing to figure out what you were learning before the switch and return to it. Babbel would benefit from laying out these Topics visually so that you could see them all at once easily and remember what you have learned so far, a kind of learning roadmap. If you never switch Topics, then it is all very clear. You log in, and the next lesson you are meant to do is right in front of you.
The amount of content in the programs vary the same way their content does. In the German course, you get six levels: Pre-intermediate (containing three courses), Intermediate (three courses), and Independent (two courses). Under a section called More Courses, you can find added lessons on Grammar, Listening and Speaking, Business German, Countries and Traditions, and more.
By contrast, the Dutch program has Beginner I (four courses), Beginner II (four courses) and Pre-intermediate (two courses). Dutch also has a section for More Courses, with slightly fewer modules than what you get for German.
In the very earliest lessons, you encounter explainers, a few sentences at a time that tell you something about the language. They are typically interspersed with interactive questions that you answer to show you read and understood the material. If you are new to a language, these lessons are very helpful in orienting you to new sounds, letters, and concepts. If you come into Babbel with some familiarity with a language and take a placement test, you might skip over these sections. Even if you skip them, however, you have access to them and can do them at any time.
In Babbel, if you work consecutively, the app always shows you the next course in your program when you log in. You can jump ahead at will or repeat lessons at any time. Not all apps let you do this. For example, Duolingo locks advanced lessons until you pass enough of the earlier ones.
Interface and Information
In the years, we have been reviewing Babbel, its interface has come a long way. It does not have the same finesse as Rosetta Stone nor the sticky gamification of Duolingo, but it is simple, straightforward, and easy to use.
Babbel’s website and mobile apps synchronize up well so you get nearly identical experiences no matter which device you use to do your language lessons.
Something Babbel does well is give you information about how it works. For example, it has a help page that explains what space repetition means and why it is important in language learning. On this same page, you can read about one part of the Babbel program, called Review, to understand its purpose and how it is meant to work. Very few language programs give you deep insight into how language-learning works. Pimsleur does (the whole program is designed around Dr. Pimsleur’s theory of language learning), and Duolingo makes research and studies about its efficacy publicly available.
Learning with Babbel
Babbel teaches reading, writing, listening, and speaking. Most of the exercises have you practice by filling in missing words from sentences, spelling words and short phrases, translating, and repeating words and phrases aloud.
As mentioned, we tested German this time around. We have never formally studied German and we can only manage a few words and phrases. We took the placement test and were bumped up only a tiny bit, enough to skip the Newcomer material that teaches new sounds and letters, which seemed appropriate.
For my first lesson, we remembered our prior experiences with Babbel and grabbed a notebook and pen. In the past, we sometimes felt frustrated with Babbel when we could not remember how to spell a long word exactly right, and we would therefore fail an exercise. Therefore, we decided this time to take notes. Pen in hand, we started with some exercises. Here’s how a typical round of exercises might go, taking about five minutes to complete:
First, the app introduces a small set of words and phrases, three or four only, and has you repeat them out loud. Here, you can choose to have Babbel rate you are speaking on a pass/fail basis or leave your microphone off. Next, the same words and phrases appear with images, and you have to match the word to the picture. Next is spelling. You see a picture, hear a word, and must spell it using a bank of letters. In this exercise, you can either type or select the letters by clicking or tapping on them. That is helpful when it comes to special characters, like letters with diacritical marks. A little later, Babbel asks you to type the word but this time in the context of a sentence. The English translation is below the sentence, and the word you need to spell is in bold in the translation.
Our notes helped a lot with spelling. Without them, we was forever swapping ‘i’ and ‘e’ and being marked wrong. When you are wrong in Babbel, the app does not highlight the incorrect letters. It just tells you are wrong and that you can start over or move on. I wish it would give feedback in a more constructive way.
The exercises can get dull quickly, but they are challenging, especially when you get a full sentence and have to type in a missing word. The sentences are not overly simplified and often expose you to a lot of new grammar. If you pick up languages quickly, this type of word exposure is probably to your benefit. If you get frustrated easily with language learning, this challenge may be too intense.
A new Review section, which we mentioned earlier, encourages you to do space-repetition learning. In other words, it tailors a review session to you based on what you learned and when. We still found it helpful to have ours notes by my side for this part, but overall it is a great feature.
We dipped into the Spanish program, to see what it covers from the beginner through advanced lessons. Similar to the German course, the beginner content has great explainers that actually teach you about the language, as well as truly useful words and phrases. In the more advanced areas, you get longer passages to read, though you still have to write words into blank spaces often. You also get audio segments with multiple speakers who go at a natural pace. When you finish listening, you answer a question about what you heard. It is great content, especially for people who are ready to figure out words from context rather than learning them all through direct translation.
As far as we got with any of Babbel’s programs, we never had to generate language. Language generation means thinking what you want to say and then saying it without too much delay for mental translation. Outside of classroom experiences and tutoring, you will rarely find opportunities for language generation. One-on-one tutoring is surprisingly easy to find online and for a very reasonable cost. Rype, for example, is a marketplace where you can find language instructors for around $9.99 per half hour session.
Learn by Listening to Podcasts
Babbel has added some bonus content in the form of podcasts. There are quite a few for people learning Spanish, Italian, French, and English. I listened to two to get a sense of what they contain.
A-Zero to A-Hero is Spanish for beginners. It is a conversation between two people who both use English to help guide the listener. The hosts discuss a simple conversation they might have in Spanish and talk out loud, as they break down what they want to say in Spanish.
Palabras Bravas is for intermediate to advanced speakers. It is entirely in Spanish, giving you the opportunity to practice extensive listening and hopefully pick up a few new words in the process. The show we listened to was about language: One person introduced foreign words or phrases, and the other hosts guessed what language it came from and what it meant, all in Spanish.
Babbel is not the only program with podcasts, however. Duolingo has podcasts for intermediate to advanced learners of Spanish and French. Unlike Babbel’s podcasts, where the topic is language, Duolingo’s podcasts tell real stories (they are short radio documentaries, really) and each episode uses a mix of English and the language you are learning to take you along. Duolingo also has a feature called Stories (available for select languages) that lets you practice extensive reading and listening, too.
Rosetta Stone has bonus content that includes videos that help teach you how to use the language in everyday situations. These videos are very much structured for beginners.
We like Babbel’s podcasts and hope the company continues adding more bonus content like this so that learners have more diverse ways to expand their skills. It is off to a great start.
Learn Something Useful With Babbel
The minds behind Babbel have clearly spent time crafting a language-learning program that is unique to each language. When you learn with Babbel, you learn words and phrases you will actually use as a beginner in your new tongue. Some of the exercises can get boring or feel repetitive at times, but the content is solid and the low price makes up for it. It is a great app for language learning, especially people who are somewhat experienced at learning languages or those who take well to challenges.
Useful and challenging content
Helpful instructional blurbs for true beginners
High quality lessons that are unique to each language
Podcasts available for some languages
Total amount of content varies by language
Needs a better visual layout of Topics and lessons completed