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Babbel vs Duolingo
Our expert team offers their insights on Babbel and Duolingo after thoroughly testing both programs
Duolingo or Babbel? That is one of the questions we get most often in the comment sections of our YouTube videos. And we can understand why. Given that these two companies offer extremely similar language learning programs in terms of content and style, and are both highly affordable, it’s not surprising the decision can be difficult. However, if you know what to look for, there are distinct differences between them, and one emerges as the clear winner. In this guide, we compare the finer points of the Duolingo and Babbel apps, and ultimately declare a winner.
As this is a lengthy, detail-packed comparison, we’ve added jump-to links above so you can quickly jump to your section.
Babbel vs Duolingo Video Review
In the video above, TPI team member John walks you through everything you need to know when comparing the language learning apps from Babbel and Duolingo. He covers how these two courses differ, their overall effectiveness, pricing, and much more.
Let’s start this comparison off with a quick rundown of how the Babbel program works. This should help provide some context for our thoughts.
The Babbel core lessons take about 10 to 15 minutes to complete each, and generally speaking, go by super fast. This is largely because each lesson is made up of several quick-hit, interactive drills and exercises.
For the first couple minutes, you might be tasked with listening to new words or phrases and then repeating them. Then the lesson will quickly transition into a digital flashcards drill for a few minutes, before shifting gears again into a short grammatical or conjugation lesson. From there, you might be asked to type in words or phrases on your keyboard or complete a fill-in-the-blank exercise by following a mock conversation.
In short, it’s just a very fast moving, blended approach to teaching with tons of variety in the drills and exercises they employ. It’s clear Babbel’s aim is to keep their program engaging and effective.
Our Thoughts On The Babbel Program
Now that you have some context as to the nature of Babbel’s lessons, let’s get into our thoughts on Babbel, particularly as compared to Duolingo. And I’ll just start by saying that my experience was largely very positive.
Babbel Is Better For Grammar
I like that Babbel incorporates grammar content and exercises right into its lessons, whereas with Duolingo, it doesn’t seem to be as much of a priority. However, the nice thing is that Babbel doesn’t hit you over the head with dense, boring grammatical assignments. Honestly, I think that approach can sometimes do more harm than good, especially at early stages.
Rather, Babbel integrates grammar instruction into their lessons in a very subtle and efficient way. For example, one grammar exercise might include just a quick one- to two-sentence explanation in English regarding adjectives vs adverbs followed by a fill-in-the-blank drill to reinforce what you just learned.
They don’t hit you over the head with it, but do make sure to sneak it in. So overall, I just really like that Babbel makes grammar instruction a priority, and I like how they integrate it into their lessons.
Babbel’s More Natural Language Usage
The second difference I noted between these programs is that Babbel is better with using natural sentences and phrases. With Duolingo, this seems to be a recurring complaint among consumers, and I noticed it as well.
In addition, I also saw a lot of complaints from other users regarding incorrect translations with Duolingo, though I didn’t see this as much. And to be fair, it does seem like Duolingo has improved in this area as of late.
But you still occasionally come across an awkward sentence or phrase that sort of turns your head. Sometimes it’s just a small grammatical error that catches your eye, but other times you literally stop and think “wait, did I hear that right?“.
A couple examples of unnatural sentences or incorrect translations I saw with Duolingo were “I am making dinner out of you” and “the bed is food.” I mean, it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t happen all the time. However, it can disrupt and distract your learning process occasionally.
So overall, the key takeaway here is the Babbel seems to be more consistent and accurate when it comes to using natural sentences and correct translations within its lessons.
In my opinion, Babbel does a better job than Duolingo of developing your speaking skills. I just think their verbal exercises are a little more robust than the ones Duolingo integrates into their lessons.
With Duolingo, you’re essentially just asked to repeat words and phrases in a vacuum. There’s no real context. In addition, Duolingo’s voice recognition technology is just alright. I definitely think Babbel wins in that department, finding their tech to be more accurate.
Bottom line, when it comes to practicing your conversational skills, I’d give Babbel the edge over Duolingo. However, if I’m being honest, I wouldn’t consider either to be industry leaders in this respect.
If you value verbal practice over everything else, you may want to check out Pimsleur. Their language programs do a really good job of getting you to remember, repeat and respond to native speakers in the context of actual conversations. I’ll link our review of Pimsleur here if you want to check that out.
There’s no doubt that Babbel offers better live classes than Duolingo. To be clear, these classes are not included in Babbel’s standard subscription packages, and you have to pay extra if you want access to them.
But essentially, Babbel offers hundreds of small-group live classes per week across all different learning levels. Each class is capped at no more than 6 students and a typical class is 60 minutes long, covering all sorts of different topics. For example, if Portuguese is your target language, the class topics might range from medical terms you should use at the doctor’s office, to various street types (e.g. avenida, rua, travessa), to travel destinations in Brazil.
It really does vary widely and you can go down some serious rabbit holes. But I like that there are some really interesting topics to learn about all while improving your language skills.
Overall, they’re just a fantastic way to dive deeper into specific subjects, interact with your peers, and learn from some cool overseas teachers. And since there are so many classes, you can basically pick the days and times that work for you and drop-in and out of the classes as you please.
Duolingo, on the other hand, doesn’t really offer formal live classes per se. Instead, they give you access to online events, where you can connect with other learners to discuss topics in your target language. These online events are definitely useful, but they’re just not quite as organized or robust as Babbel’s live classes.
This one is simple. I found Babbel to offer more flexibility than Duolingo. For one, with Babbel, you can jump around from level to level, or course to course. You’re not forced to follow a strict progression.
By contrast with Duolingo, they dictate the order in which you complete modules. New modules only become active once you’ve completed the previous one or you’re able to “test out” of it early.
Another example is that within Babbel’s review sessions, they give you the choice of how you want to review. You can choose between flashcards, listening, speaking or writing, which I loved.
So if you feel you’re weak in any particular aspect, you can hammer practice exercises until you see some improvement. With Duolingo, their lessons, review sessions and progress quizzes don’t offer that sort of flexibility.
Let’s start by diving into what the Duolingo lessons are like. And to be honest, similar to Babbel, they are very short as well. In fact, they move even quicker.
Each Duolingo lesson is only about 5 to 10 minutes long. Like Babbel, the Duolingo lessons are made up of a dozen or so quick-hit, interactive drills and exercises that include listening drills, fill-in-the-blank exercises, matching pairs, verbal practice, writing full sentences, and completing mock conversations.
So all in all, Duolingo and Babbel are very similar in how they deliver their lessons. Both companies rely on short, interactive exercises that span reading, writing, speaking and listening.
I’m a big fan of how Babbel and Duolingo throw the same content at you in a variety of different ways, all within a short time frame. I think this helps keep you engaged and attentive to what’s happening, as opposed to being a passive learner.
I also think it’s great for busy professionals or parents who maybe don’t have an hour every day to dedicate to learning a new language. With Babbel and Duolingo, you just need 5 to 15 minutes per day to knock out lessons and feel like you’re making progress.
Our Thoughts On The Duolingo Program
Let’s switch gears now and cover our evaluation of Duolingo, especially as it compares to Babbel.
The Free Version
The clearest highlight of the Duolingo program is the fact they offer a free version. I think this is great and love that their language programs are accessible to everyone. However, just to set expectations here, there are some serious downsides that come along with that free price tag.
Most notably, the free version is ad supported, and frankly, the ads can become distracting and annoying. It’s not bad at first, but it does start to wear on you over time.
Second, the free plan comes with a limited amount of “hearts,” which are essentially just misses or incorrect answers. You start with 5 per day and if you answer a question incorrectly during a lesson, you lose a heart. Then, when your five hearts are up, you either need to stop for the day or go back to old lessons in order to earn some hearts back. And from reading the forums, it sounds like a lot of folks just end up giving up for the day, which is what I did before upgrading to the paid plan. Bottom line, it can just be very discouraging as you try to learn.
And lastly, free users have a limited amount of “test outs.” In short, if there’s skill or topic that you already know really well and you want to skip ahead to keep learning new material, you can take a short quiz to “test out” of that particular topic and move on to the next lesson. However, free users only have a very limited amount of “test outs” they can use.
These are really the three biggest drawbacks of the the free version. So in essence, I love that there is a free version, but it is extremely limited.
Tons of Extras
Another differentiator with Duolingo is all the extra resources they offer. Among these bonus offerings, you get (1) short stories to sharpen your reading and listening skills, (2) forums to connect with other learners about their program tips experiences, (3) a regular podcast that’s pretty cool, and (4) a translation dictionary.
However, my favorite resource of all is the series of online events, where you can directly interact with other learners. These are great, free resources that learners can take advantage of.
My final highlight worth noting with Duolingo is that I like that they try to gamify the learning experience. As you complete each lesson, you earn experience points (or XP points for short), as well as Duolingo currency known as “lingots.”
The XP points relate to your daily goals and allow you to track your progress, while the “lingots” can be used to purchase additional features within the Duolingo store.
I’m also a big fan of Duolingo’s digital platform, as well as all the visuals and reminders that they provide. Their dashboard is super clean and easy to navigate, and includes a daily goal tracker, as well as a scoreboard where you can compete against other users and keep track of your achievements.
Together, this all creates a fun, game-like environment to keep you motivated and on-track (similar to Rocket Spanish’s course). It’s almost like a sort of long term questing game, and for that, Duolingo definitely gets two thumbs up.
Before jumping into the final verdict, let’s compare pricing. In short, both companies offer multiple subscription options. With Babbel, they offer consumers four different plans in total, all of which include access to one selected language (of their 15 different languages to choose from).
You have the monthly plan which costs $14 per month; the 3-month plan, which costs $10 per month; the 6-month plan, which costs around $8.50 per month; and the 12-month plan, which is the best value at around $7 per month.
With Duolingo, you have their free version (which I’ve discussed above), as well as their paid subscription plan called Duolingo Plus. The Plus plan costs $84 per year, or $7 per month. And just to be clear, for upgrading to the Plus plan, Duolingo removes those annoying ads, includes unlimited hearts, unlimited test out attempts, and adds personalized lessons to review your mistakes, among other things.
So if you compare the paid plans from both companies, pricing is pretty much the same. You’re looking at around $7 per month for a full year. So honestly, it’s tough to declare a winner here.
But what I will say though is that both Babbel and Duolingo are more affordable than other competitors in the language learning space like Rosetta Stone and Pimsleur. In addition, both companies give consumers the chance to test their programs before fully committing. With Babbel, you have a 20-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied, and with Duolingo, consumers have a 14-day free trial period to test out the Plus subscription.
So which language app is better, Babbel or Duolingo? Well, after testing each program, I give the edge to Babbel. Although the two companies are similar in several respects, I just think Babbel is the better overall language learning program.
I do like that Duolingo offers a free version and how they try to gamify learning, however, if you’re serious about learning a new language, I think Babbel is the better bet. I like that Babbel makes grammar more of a priority, and they’re more consistent and accurate when it comes to using natural sentences and correct translations. In addition, I think Babbel is better for practicing your conversational skills, which is an imperative part of language acquisition. Plus, their live classes are better organized and well-executed.
So all in all, Babbel gets the win here as the superior language learning course from top to bottom.
Is Babbel better than Duolingo?
After thoroughly testing out and reviewing each language learning program, we feel that Babbel is better than Duolingo for multiple reasons. Based on the strength of their curriculum, teaching style and delivery, we rate Babbel as the superior app over Duolingo.
What's the difference between Babbel and Duolingo?
The main difference between Duolingo and Babbel is that while Babbel focuses on a more robust and traditional form of teaching a foreign language through comprehensive lessons, Duolingo tries to gamify your learning and offer a modern experience.
Is Babbel or Duolingo better?
Having used both programs, I can say that Babbel is better than Duolingo in terms of effectiveness, engagement and offering guidance. I like that Duolingo is free, but that’s about it. Babbel is hands down the better overall language learning app.