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Pimsleur vs Babbel
We directly compare the language learning apps from Babbel and Pimsleur in this head-to-head guide
One question that we see over and over again is whether someone looking to learn a new language should go with Pimsleur or Babbel. And it’s not an easy question to answer given each company’s wide popularity and seemingly similar language programs. However, if you know where to look, there are important differences that make each program better for different sets of learners. In this comparison guide, we evaluate how these apps stack up, and who each is best for.
Because this is a long, detailed comparison, we’ve provided easy jump-to links above so you can skip to the section you’d like to read.
Video Comparison: Pimsleur vs Babbel
In the video above, John from the Test Prep Insight team provides a head-to-head look at the language learning courses from Pimsleur and Babbel. Or, simply keep reading for a more detailed analysis.
What The Pimsleur Lessons Are Like
From a very high-level, the Pimsleur lessons are rooted in conversational practice. To start each lesson, you complete a 30-minute audio exercise, where a moderator speaking in English walks you through a native conversation step-by-step.
You’ll listen to a few sentences in your target language, the moderator will stop to explain the situation to you, and then he’ll ask you questions and have you engage in the conversation. So essentially, you can think of this exercise as a guided conversation – that’s really at the heart of the Pimsleur lessons.
Then as you move up levels, the English moderator starts to phase out more and more as you become more familiar with the target language.
Then following each audio lesson, you review what you just learned through a variety of drills and exercises. These assignments include reading drills, digital flashcards, matching exercises, and speed games.
Strengths Of The Pimsleur Program
Now that you know what the Pimsleur lessons are like in terms of structure and format, let’s get into the major strengths that our team took away after testing the program.
The Pimsleur Method
For me, the first clear highlight of this Pimsleur program has to be the learning framework that forms the backbone of their program. Some people refer to this as the “Pimsleur method,” based on the teachings of expert linguist Paul Pimsleur. Frankly, I’m a big fan.
It’s essentially just a variation of the popular spaced repetition system, but Pimsleur does put an interesting spin on it. Instead of just listening to or reading an individual word or phrase, and then repeating it in order to remember it (like you do with Babbel most of the time), the Pimsleur audio lessons ask you to say words or phrases and respond to a native speaker in the context of an actual conversation.
This helps keep you from becoming a passive listener. You’re actively involved in tracking the conversation and the moderator of the audio lessons keeps you on your toes since you need to understand what’s going on and respond at various intervals.
In my opinion, this active participation is powerful at getting you to recall language chunks and use the verbiage under pressure, just as you would in real life situations.
That’s the most important point here – you’re getting simulated real-world experience. And if we’re being honest, this is about the best environment for truly learning a new language. This is in comparison to just listening to and repeating words in a vacuum.
Flexibility In Learning
The second major strength of this course that I identified is the ability to study from anywhere, at anytime, while doing just about anything. Because the heart of the Pimsleur lessons are audio-based, I like that you can complete these lessons while you’re working out, washing dishes, taking your dog for a walk, or laying in a hammock.
It’s just nice you don’t have to be glued to your computer or phone at all times like you do with Babbel. In fact, the Pimsleur mobile app even comes with a special driving mode so you can learn and knock out lessons on your way to work or during a long road trip.
So overall, I have to give props to Pimsleur for how flexible their lessons are. I love that you don’t need to stay in one place with your head buried in your phone or laptop – you can complete lessons while you’re on the go.
Cost Savings By Account Sharing
Finally, I like that Pimsleur offers access to all their language learning courses for only $1 more per month. Now I realize the vast majority of people out there are only looking to learn one language, so this really doesn’t matter too much. But for the few that do plan on learning multiple languages, this is definitely a nice perk.
Alternatively, if you’re looking to save some money and you know a family member or friend who’s also looking to learn a new language, you can partner up and split the cost of one account. This would effectively make the cost of Pimsleur $10.50 per month each, or less if you can rope in a third person, which is a killer deal.
With Babbel, their lessons are generally shorter. Each one is roughly 10 to 15 minutes long, and they go by really fast.
This is largely because each lesson is made up of several quick-hit, interactive drills and exercises. For the first couple minutes you’ll listen to new vocabulary words and repeat them, before quickly transitioning into a digital flashcards drill for a few minutes.
From there, you might read a short grammatical or conjugation lesson, and then spell out words or phrases by typing them with your keyboard. And finally, you might be tasked with completing a fill-in-the-blank exercise by tracking a mock conversation. In sum, it’s just a very fast moving, blended approach, which I was a huge fan of.
So from a high-level perspective, that’s how Babbel’s and Pimsleur’s lessons compare. The key takeaway here is that the Pimsleur lessons take around 45 minutes to an hour to complete from start to finish, and place a strong emphasis on listening and speaking within the context of actual native conversations.
The Babbel lessons on the other hand, are much shorter, include more variety in terms of drills and exercises, and place a stronger emphasis on reading, writing and visuals.
Strengths Of The Babbel Program
Now that you know where Pimsleur shines and you have an idea of what the Babbel lessons are all about, let’s cover the major strengths of the Babbel program.
Fast, Engaging Exercises
The first major pro of this Babbel app has to be the variety of their lessons, drills and exercises. I love how Babbel throws the same content at you in a variety of ways in a very short time frame.
The lessons force you to interact with the material through several different perspectives, including listening, speaking, reading and writing. And as a result, not only do you get experience with all these mediums, but you also don’t get bored with the lessons.
Simply put, Babbel does a great job holding your attention. And if I’m being totally honest, I can’t always say the same about Pimsleur (or Rosetta Stone for that matter). Sometimes their audio-based lessons can just move a little slow.
So overall, I just really like the swift, interactive nature of Babbel’s lessons, and I think you’ll appreciate them too.
Great For Visual Learners
The second noteworthy aspect of the Babbel course is that their lessons are better suited for visual learners. Where Pimsleur’s lessons place a strong emphasis on listening and speaking, Babbel’s lessons and drills span the spectrum.
Of course you will practice and listening and speaking with Babbel as well, but there’s just broader coverage. In addition, Babbel’s lessons utilize voice recognition technology so it can tell you when you’re pronouncing words correctly or incorrectly. This is something missing from Pimsleur’s program.
Furthermore, you’ll also be asked to complete drills where you have to practice using your keyboard to type in words or phrases. In some instances, you’ll even be asked to reconstruct words and phrases in their entirety.
But perhaps most importantly, Babbel incorporates grammar content and exercises into its lessons in a sly way. Babbel doesn’t hit you over the head with dense, boring grammar lessons, which I think is a very good thing. Sometimes that approach can do more harm than good when you’re first learning a new language.
Instead, 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 or two sentence explanation in English regarding adjectives vs adverbs, and then you participate by filling in blanks in example sentences.
In short, the key takeaway here is that with Babbel you get to practice listening, speaking, reading and writing, and you’ll learn key grammar principles in your target language along the way without even knowing it.
Babbel’s Live Classes
My last comment on Babbel is that they offer live classes. To be totally clear, these classes are not included in Babbel’s standard subscription – you have to pay extra and it can get a little pricey.
But essentially, the company offers hundreds of small-group live classes per week across all different learning levels. You can find classes based on your current fluency level, and each class is capped at 6 students.
Each class is typically 60 minutes long and covers all sorts of different topics. For example, if Russian is your target language, the class topics might range from local food in Saint Petersburg, to national holidays, to classical architecture in Moscow. It really does vary widely and you can find yourself going down some serious rabbit holes.
Overall, they’re just a fantastic way to dive deeper into specific subjects, interact with your peers, and learn from experienced 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.
Before we dive into the final verdict, let’s quickly cover pricing and affordability, as it’s an important decision point. In short, both companies offer multiple subscription options.
With Pimsleur, you have your choice between two packages: the Pimsleur Premium plan, which costs $20 per month and includes access to one language, or for $1 more per month, you can upgrade to the Pimsleur All Access plan, which includes access to all Pimsleur languages (there’s over 50 of them).
Babbel, on the other hand, offers four different subscription plans, all of which include access to one selected language. In total, there are around 15 languages to choose from, but no matter which language you choose, there’s the following plans:
The monthly pay-as-you-go plan costs $14 per month
The 3-month plan costs $10 per month ($30 total)
The 6-month plan costs around $8.50 per month ($50 total)
The 12-month plan costs $7 per month ($83 total)
So from an overall cost perspective, there’s no question that Babbel is the clear winner. On average, their plans are around $6 to $13 less than Pimsleur per month, depending on which subscription option you go with.
That said, both companies do give you the chance to test the waters before fully committing. With Pimsleur, you can get a 7-day free trial period, and with Babbel, there’s a 20-day money back guarantee if you’re not satisfied.
Now that we’ve covered all the detail in this comparison, let’s get to the final verdict – should you choose Pimsleur or Babbel? Well, after testing each program it’s a very close call. Honestly, it’s almost too close for our team to declare a clear winner, and we sort of dub this head-to-head battle a tie. One course simply doesn’t stand head and shoulders above the other. Both have their own strengths and weaknesses and are better suited for different situations.
The decision here ultimately boils down to your budget and learning preferences. If you’re on a tight budget and just can’t stomach an extra $10 or so per month, then Babbel is clearly the way to go. However, if price isn’t a concern, then you need to think about your schedule and how you learn best.
If you have a somewhat open schedule and don’t mind taking 45 minutes to an hour to complete a lesson from start to finish, Pimsleur will be the better choice. This is especially true if you’re more of a verbal learner – for example, you learn best by listening and participating in real conversations.
Conversely, if you’re super busy and you can only spare 10-15 minutes per day to complete a lesson, Babbel will likely be preferable. This is particularly true if you’re more of a visual learner – in other words, you want to see tons of images and you need to regularly practice reading and writing in order to learn.
At the end of the day though, I don’t think you can go wrong with either Babbel or Pimsleur here. They’re both extremely strong and rate out really well.
Which language program is better, Pimsleur or Babbel?
After a thorough review of each language learning program, our team had a very difficult time declaring a winner between Pimsleur and Babbel. They both have unique strengths and weaknesses.
Is Babbel based on Pimsleur?
Babbel is not really based on Pimsleur. Some of the language acquisition techniques in Babbel are descended from the Pimsleur method, but by and large, the two programs are very different.
What is the Babbel learning app like versus Pimsleur?
Whereas Babbel focuses its lessons on engaging, quick-hit drills and images, Pimsleur tends to focus more on audio-based lessons and speaking exercises.