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Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone vs Babbel
Trying to decide between Babbel, Duolingo and Rosetta Stone? Don't worry, we've got you covered
Rosetta Stone vs Babbel vs Duolingo. It’s a three-way competition as old as the language learning industry, and a classic debate we wanted to settle internally as a team. So we used the language learning apps from Rosetta Stone, Babbel and Duolingo for more than a month each. After completing dozens of drills, exercises and lessons in each program over the course of weeks, it became clear that each app was very different, but that one was clearly superior to the other two. Find out which language app we like best in this detailed guide.
Let’s start this review off by discussing Babbel, as they end up nabbing our highest overall grade (sorry for the spoiler). And here’s how their program works.
Essentially, Babbel has different levels that range from total newbie to advanced, such as like Newcomer Level I, Beginner Level 2, and Pre-Intermediate. You get the picture.
Then within each of these levels, there are 2 to 6 courses. And within each course, there are somewhere between 5 to 15 lessons, which each take around 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
In a way, you can sort of think of their program structure as a pyramid. You’ve got overarching levels at the top of the pyramid, courses below that, and lessons at the bottom.
The lessons are your building blocks and what you’ll work on daily. Altogether, there is about 275 hours of lesson work across all the primary levels and courses.
As for the lessons themselves, they are very short. As noted, each lesson is only about 10 to 15 minutes long and they go by super fast.
This is largely because each lesson is made up of several quick-hit, interactive drills and exercises.
For the first two minutes of the lesson, you might listen to new words or phrases and then repeat them. Then the lesson will quickly transition into a digital flashcards drill for a few minutes.
From there, you’ll read a short note on how to conjugate certain verb types or use prepositions. Then you’ll reconstruct phrases by using your keyboard, and afterwards you might be asked to follow a short, mock conversation and fill in the blanks.
And all that happens within the span of just 10 or 15 minutes. It’s just a very fast moving, blended approach, which I personally really appreciate (this holds true for all Babbel language courses, including German, French, and Italian).
Without going way into the weeds, that’s the Babbel program in a nutshell. Like Rosetta Stone, they do have some cool extras, such as podcasts, supplemental audio lessons, language games, and vocab practice, but that’s the main coursework.
Next, let’s run through what I like and don’t like about the Babbel app and program.
Spaced Review Sessions
One thing I failed to note above is that every time you log in to Babbel to do your daily lesson, they give you a short review session. It takes just 2-3 minutes, and you get a quick refresher on stuff you’ve already learned. This spaced repetition is awesome for boosting retention.
Tons of Variety
I love how Babbel throws the same content at you in a variety of ways and really forces you to interact with the material. As a result of this, you really don’t get bored. In this way, it’s a lot different from Rosetta Stone (more on this below). Babbel just does a great job of holding your attention.
Very Fast Moving Lessons
I love that Babbel’s lessons are quick-hit and only take 10 or 15 minutes. Like a lot of people, I don’t have an hour every day to complete hour long lessons, so I like that Babbel keeps their lessons super tight and I can keep making progress everyday with just a few minutes.
That’s a key part of language learning. When you are able to make progress everyday, it keeps your motivation high.
Focus On Grammar
Babbel places a much greater emphasis on grammar than Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. It’s not over the top coverage, and they do an awesome job efficiently weaving it into their daily lessons.
It’s difficult to explain, but it is a very smart way in which they layer it in.
Next, let’s turn to Rosetta Stone, who has been around the longest. Here’s how their program works.
The Rosetta Stone program is made up of around 20 learning units (it does depend on your language, but around 20 generally). Each unit covers a different topic or category, such as greetings & introductions, transportation, feelings, professions & hobbies, etc.
Then within each unit, there are four primary lessons. Each lesson contains one, core 30-minute learning module and 3 to 15 supplemental drills. Those drills typically take 3 or 8 minutes to compete each.
So if you wanted to complete an entire Rosetta Stone lesson, it will likely take you right around an hour or so. And that’s really it in terms of structure: you’ve got 20 units, 4 lessons per unit, and each lesson is comprised of exercises and drills.
As for what the actual Rosetta Stone lessons are like, they’re essentially a combination of images and recorded audio. You’ll spend most of your time listening to a word or phrase, repeating that word or phrase, and then matching it up to a corresponding image.
In this respect, think of the Rosetta Stone lessons and drills as a type of interactive flashcard. For example, say you’re learning Spanish. You’ll listen to a voice say “la niña bebe,” and then you’ll click an image of a little girl drinking a glass of juice to match the two up.
The idea is that you have to rely on visual cues, intuition and inference as you slowly acquire the language content necessary to move onto the next lesson or unit.
That’s it. There are some bonus features and extra resources around these primary lessons, but that’s the meat and potatoes of the Rosetta Stone program.
So, let me explain what I like about this structure and lesson design, and what I don’t.
Accurate Speech Recognition Technology
Rosetta Stone has some awesome speech recognition software that is incredibly accurate and gives you great feedback on your pronunciation. It is simply awesome (Rocket Languages offers top-notch speech recognition technology as well).
Because of all the imagery and pictures within the lessons, the Rosetta Stone system is great for people that learn visually.
There are literally thousands of images across the Rosetta Stone program, and I know that a couple of our team members who are visual learners loved this.
Tons of Cool Extras
Next, some of those bonus resources I mentioned are pretty cool. Rosetta gives you bonus video lessons, short stories, phrasebooks, and podcasts, among other tools.
For people going the extra mile, they’re pretty useful. I found myself using them during downtime and to fill in gaps.
❌ Repetitive Lessons
As for the things that I don’t like about Rosetta Stone, the first and clearest thing is how repetitive the lessons are. They are just unbelievably monotonous.
You sort of end up doing the same style of drill over and over and over. Just matching pictures to phrases time and time again. It just wore on me a little bit.
❌ Lack of Emphasis on Grammar
Another thing I wasn’t crazy about is the lack of emphasis on grammar. Rosetta seems to place a big emphasis on learning language chunks, which is important, but not actual grammar.
In my opinion, this makes it kind of hard to fully learn a new language. When you’re not getting lessons in verb conjugations, how to structure sentences, and the like, it’s difficult to fully grasp what’s going on.
❌ Full Immersion, Barely Any English
Lastly, there are barely any translations in the Rosetta Stone program. They are a full immersion program, making it sort of sink or swim.
Without English guidance and translations, it can be pretty frustrating. I know there were instances when I would ask myself “what the eff is going on right now?,” simply because there wasn’t any English guidance. For the most part you figure it out, but it can be annoying.
Now let’s discuss the last of the trio, Duolingo. And I want to begin by being honest. I did not like Duolingo as much as the other two apps (nor did the other two team members that tried it).
Duolingo to me is kind of like Babbel Lite. The Duolingo program is similar to Babbel in many ways, but just not as deep or comprehensive. Let me break it down for you.
The lessons are very short and only take about 5 to 10 minutes to complete. Not surprisingly, that’s largely because each lesson is made up of a dozen or so quick-hit, interactive drills and exercises. These exercises include:
writing full sentences
completing mock conversations
They are very diverse, quick moving lessons.
In addition, as you complete each lesson, you earn experience points (“XP Points”), 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 from the Duolingo store.
The whole idea here is that Duolingo is trying to sort of ‘gamify’ your language learning journey. And that’s actually a good place to start with the things I do like about Duolingo.
Gamified Language Learning
I really like the gamification of the Duolingo app and program. Duolingo has this cool feel to it like you’re playing a questing game or something similar alongside other users. Honestly, it makes it kind of addicting.
You stack up points, buy features from the store, and see how you stack up. I thought that was really cool.
Awesome User Experience
Next, I love Duolingo’s user experience. Their digital platform is simply awesome and goes hand-in-hand with the gamified learning. There are tons of cool little motion graphics and visuals, and it just feels super modern and fun.
This design, combined with the gamified learning experience, makes it incredibly interactive and fun. It’s almost like you’re playing a video game.
Lastly, just as I did with Babbel, I like the variety and swiftness of the Duolingo lessons.
Lessons only take 5 or 10 minutes to complete, and are fun and easy to knock out.
❌ Too Surface-Level
While I like the fun and fast lessons, what I will say is that the lessons are almost too fast and light. I mean, they’re fast to the point that I sometimes would complete a lesson and feel like I didn’t really learn much.
Babbel’s lessons, while similar in style, are a little longer and deeper. I think they’re a more appropriate length.
❌ Unnatural Language
The next negative with Duolingo is that they use unnatural language. You’ll frequently get weird phrases in drills like “the bed is fat” and “my horse collects teeth.”
It’s just a little weird. I’ve read that they do this on purpose to make you think more about the grammar than the meaning of the words, but boy does it trip you up sometimes.
❌ Light On Grammar
My third con is that Duolingo is a lot lighter on grammar than Babbel and Rosetta Stone. There just isn’t much emphasis on direct grammar tips and lessons.
I much prefer how Babbel weaves in their grammar, with callout boxes, motion graphics and quick lessons.
❌ Free Version Lacks Value
Lastly, as for that free version I referenced above, it isn’t my favorite. Duolingo places daily caps on the number of mistakes you can make before you get blocked out, and you get bombarded with ads. It’s pretty annoying.
For the low cost of these programs, I would just pay up for the pro version of Duolingo if you go with them.
Before getting into my final verdict, let’s do a quick comparison. In terms of regular pricing, Rosetta Stone, Babbel and Duolingo are all in the same general ballpark.
As noted, Duolingo does have a limited free version, but in terms of paid plans, all three cost somewhere in the range of $7-$12 per month, making them pretty comparable.
However, what I will say is that Rosetta Stone, Babbel and Duolingo all seem to run pretty frequent sales and special promotions, so be sure to check for coupon codes before buying. A lot of times you can snag a nice little discount, which will stay in place on your subscription account.
The Winner: Babbel vs Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone
It’s time for our final verdict. Should you go with Rosetta Stone, Duolingo or Babbel?
Well, if it’s not already clear by now, I have a huge preference for Babbel among these three companies. While I like Duolingo’s gamified style of learning and cool features, such as interactive short stories and motion graphics, to me, they’re just sort of gimmicky and the lessons aren’t super effective.
Then with Rosetta Stone, I love the visuals and voice recognition technology, but the lessons are just incredibly repetitive and it can be frustrating at times with no guidance in English.
However, with Babbel, I feel like you get the best of all worlds: diverse, fast moving lessons that only take 10 or 15 minutes; smart, efficient grammar lessons; spaced reviews; speaking practice; and a bunch of cool extras.
For me, after using all three programs, I much prefer Babbel. They are my first choice and the program I still use.
Which is better - Babbel or Duolingo or Rosetta Stone?
After using each program for more than a month, it was clear to us that Babbel is more comprehensive and engaging than the language apps from Rosetta Stone and Duolingo. While there are elements of the Rosetta Stone and Duolingo programs that we like, Babbel clearly has a more effective learning framework.
What is the difference between Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Babbel?
The primary difference between Duolingo, Rosetta Stone, and Babbel is their lesson design. Rosetta Stone uses longer lessons (close to an hour long) that rely heavily on imagery, while Babbel uses a variety of quick-hit exercises and review sessions, and Duolingo’s lessons feel sort of game-like.
How do Rosetta Stone, Duolingo and Babbel compare?
On our grading system, Rosetta Stone, Duolingo and Babbel all rate out fairly well, though Babbel clearly gets higher marks than the other two. We prefer Babbel’s learning framework and lesson design to those of Rosetta Stone and Duolingo.