Babbel vs Duolingo: Which Language App is the Best?

Women holding wine glasses and laughing in front of hilly background. Babbel vs. Duolingo
Photo credit: Babbel
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This post is sponsored by Babbel.

Learning a new language takes time and consistency. For busy adults, finding the time to learn a new language requires flexibility and commitment to practice. Days are packed, so finding a learning platform that maximizes short bursts of learning time is important. After using online language learning apps to learn Spanish, here’s my take on using Babbel vs Duolingo.

Real-Life Language Learning

I am a native speaker of English, although I always wanted to learn a new language. With language learning apps, I found I could easily sneak in a few minutes each day on my phone.

In school, I studied French for several years, and can still understand some of it. The classroom experience is best for learning a new language. Unfortunately, real-life time constraints make that a challenge for most adults.

For my work, Spanish is helpful but not necessary. I studied it briefly years ago but, until recently, I was mostly fluent only in restaurant Spanish along with some basic phases.

I wanted to improve my language skills by learning new words and moving beyond basic three-word sentences.

Screenshot of Babbel pick a language screen - Babbel vs. Duolingo
New users get a money back guarantee and the choice between 14 languages. Photo credit: Catherine Parker

Babbel Review

Enter the Babbel app.

Babbel is a language app that has been downloaded more than 10 million times. It uses a series of activities to help you learn (or improve upon) reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills in a new language.

This language learning app features high quality content and a professional design. And, one of my favorite features: the audio examples use native speakers with different accents and pronunciations so learners get to hear the differences, for example, between German spoken in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

I signed up for a six month Babbel subscription. There are also 3-month, 12-month and lifetime paid subscriptions and Babbel offers discounts frequently. So far, it feels like it’s worth the cost.

A subscription gives you access to all of the Babbel courses, from basics to business jargon. I recommend planning to dedicate some time to exploring Babbel when you start your subscription so you can decide which courses are right for you and your language learning needs.

Screenshot of screen showing how to read an airline reservation in Spanish in Babbel. Babbel vs. Duolingo
This lesson is about reading an airline reservation in Spanish. Photo credit: Catherine Parker

The Pros of the Babbel App

  • The program starts with a quick placement test to determine the course level that is best for you.
  • It’s easy to skip around from level to level, or course to course to focus on your individual language learning needs.
  • The multi-lesson Getting Around section teaches helpful phrases that a traveler would need to get around the airport and basic phases for using public transportation. After just a few lessons, I felt more confident using my Spanish when traveling in Mexico: I could ask directions and read the signs in the airport with ease.
  • The learning experience is geared toward adults, not gamified. The app overall is more serious and subdued. l felt more comfortable using this app on my phone in public and professional settings. Unlike other language learning apps that use flashy (and noisy!) game challenges, Babbel’s lessons are professional and subdued.
  • There’s a strong focus on grammar.
  • Lessons take only about 15 minutes, so it’s easy to fit in language learning during small breaks in your schedule – waiting for the bus, in the carpool line at your kid’s school, standing in line at the grocery store or, my favorite time, when I crawl into bed at night.
  • The lessons use real-life examples to illustrate the language, such as learning to express your love for someone in French. What could be more French than that?
  • Babbel works across platforms and syncs your lessons whether you use Babbel on your phone, laptop, desktop, or the web.

The Cons of the Babbel App

  • The free trial is limited – you get access to the first lesson only at each level – Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Grammar, etc.) when you register for a Babbel account. You can cancel within 20 days and get your money back.
  • Babbel uses fewer speaking lessons than Duolingo. So I didn’t repeat phases as often as I needed to build my speaking skills.
Screenshot showing a fill-in-the-blank question teaching spanish in Babbel. Babbel vs. Duolingo
One of the methods they use is fill-in-the-blank. Photo credit: Catherine Parker

Babbel’s Learning Experience

  • Babbel uses flashcards to help learners.
  • Grammar lessons are integrated into the program.
  • The app uses conversations to help learners listen to the language.
  • Learners can skip around more in the program to focus on their individual language needs.
  • Babbel added bits about culture into its lessons (this made the lessons more interesting.)
  • Babbel offers a podcast featuring native language speakers (included) and live classes (available for an additional fee).
  • Babbel lessons require spelling new words in Spanish early in the lesson. I found this difficult.
  • You can set learning goals and a daily time for taking the lesson and Babbel will send a notification to your phone to remind you that it’s time for class.

Babbel offers lessons in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Dutch, Turkish, Danish, Norwegian, Indonesian and English. Worth noting, it doesn’t offer Arabic.

Screenshot of Duolingo cartoon characters cheering after a completed lesson. Babbel vs. Duolingo
The cartoon characters of Duolingo cheer language learners on. Photo credit: Catherine Parker

Duolingo Review

Duolingo offers 45 different languages on its mobile app. This app is frequently used in schools and geared towards students. The experience overall is more gamified and geared toward kids to make the learning fun. Like a video game, language learners compete on a point system to move up the levels.

The interactive learning model uses different methods for different learning styles. From the beginning, I was speaking, repeating full sentences into the app. Don’t worry, it starts slow.

For me, the speaking component was important. When I took a second language in school, I didn’t have the confidence to speak as often as I needed to. Speaking into my phone as Duolingo analyzed my pronunciation didn’t feel intimidating.

The Pros of the Duolingo App

  • The platform is bright and enthusiastic, which engages learners.
  • Duolingo uses different types of exercises, from fill-in sentences to matching pairs. This helps with spelling and writing. The app repeats new words frequently.
  • When you make a mistake, Duolingo will repeat that lesson several times within the lesson.
  • There’s a free version that offers plenty of interactive learning. It’s worth noting, though, that the free version only allows you four to five mistakes a day. Once you’ve hit the limit, you’re locked out until your bank of chances is replenished.
  • From quick-speaking young people to slower-speaking older people, the app helps language learners with a variety of native speakers. There’s a button that lets you slow down the speakers whenever you need to.

The Cons of the Duolingo App

  • Duolingo takes language learners through an entire target language course. It doesn’t offer lessons specifically for travelers.
  • The kid-friendly game-like design doesn’t feel as professional and I wasn’t always comfortable using it in a professional setting.

Duolingo Learning Experience

Listening is another problem area for new language learners. Duolingo gets learners to listen to short conversations and then answer questions on the content. The app will repeat a listening exercise as many times as I need to understand.

Language learners will also translate short paragraphs with a word bank at the bottom. I found this helpful as well. While grammar lessons can be boring, Duolingo adds quick tips instead if you make a mistake.

New language learners will be speaking into the app, as it analyzes the pronunciation. I found this helpful as I gained confidence with my second language.

What to Look for in a Language Learning App

There are several language learning resources on the market and most apps require a monthly subscription. Babbel is one. One of the pioneers, Rosetta Stone, is another. Duolingo is popular among teens thanks in part to its free version.

From beginners to advanced learners, today’s language learning apps cater to an individual learner’s language level.

  • Language learning apps offer instant feedback on your smartphone.
  • The audio or video clips help learners listen to native speakers.
  • Learn a new language and about a new culture.
  • Try it out for free.

For new language learners, definitely try out a free lesson first to see if it meshes with your schedule and learning style.

The Bottom Line: Babbel vs Duolingo

For those who want to learn a few phrases quickly for an upcoming trip, Babbel is the clear winner with its targeted travel lessons.

Busy adults want flexibility to skip around and learn what they need. Babbel offers the greatest flexibility while being effective.

For parents who want to learn a language with their kids, then the game-like Duolingo app is the way to go.


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