Rosetta Stone, Living Languages, Pimsleur, Michel Thomas, Rocket Languages - these are just some of the names that come to mind when we talk about language learning platforms and applications. Any language learner who has spent any sort of time researching methods on how to learn their chosen foreign language will have encountered these titles one way or another; in no small part due to the aggressive marketing they put out in the market.
Recently, however, a new player has emerged from the streets of Berlin seeking to provide a more tailored approach to language learning as opposed to the rather formulaic and rigid structures that the Rosetta Stones and the Pimsleurs of the language learning platform world usually puts out for language learners: and that player is Babbel.
With that in mind, let's take a look at just how Babbel's value proposition is different from its older, presumably more established predecessors, and what makes it different from every run-of-the-mill language learning application or platform out in the market today - without the excessive hype or praise many of today's "reviews" come along with (which are often poorly hidden attempts to shill for a particular product for reasons we already know). But I digress!
Let's take a look at Babbel and how it can help you in your language learning journey as it happens.
What's the "Babbel" All About?
Babbel was established in 2007 by Markus Witte, Thomas Holl, and Lorenz Heine, in their efforts to provide a language learning solution over the internet at the time, which had barely any options available online apart from its established cousins in the retail software market (we're talking about the Rosetta Stones and the Pimsleurs of the world). As only expensive solutions for advanced and highly-motivated language learners existed back then, Babbel's founders sought to formulate a solution for language learners who were at the opposite end of the spectrum: those who neither wanted to spend a lot of money for one-on-one tutoring nor had the time to really study the intricacies of the language in question, and preferred their learning in bite-sized chunks they can work with on the go. And so Babbel was born.
How Does Babbel Work?
Babbel works like its predecessors do, for the most part - they are completely autodidactic lessons that touch on various aspects of speaking, pronunciation, writing, reading, and listening comprehension made simple and easy-to-use, as well as featuring a plethora of language games and quizzes to reinforce what you learned from the coursework. Babbel also makes its lessons accessible through the cloud, so you don't have to worry about keeping track of your progress regardless of what device you use to access the coursework, which you can access anytime, anywhere, and anyplace as long as you have an internet connection. Babbel also prides itself on the fact that its courses are specifically tailored to the language learner's native language, which should theoretically make language learning faster and easier, especially coupled with tried and tested teaching methods such as spaced repetition (prominently featured in Pimsleur's courses) and the use of native speakers to demonstrate how the language should be pronounced. It's a practical approach to learning a language, teaching you exactly what you need to know when you start learning.
How is the Coursework Structured?
Babbel's coursework is structured based on the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR), which provides a clear and organized framework for you to be able to follow your own progress using officially recognized guidelines. Babbel offers courses from level A1 to level B1, which, according to the CEFR's own reference levels, are from beginner to intermediate levels.
Each lesson consists of vocabulary exercises, dialogue, a short grammatical overview of the dialogue, and finally a quick recap of what you've learned in the lesson. No lesson goes over 15 minutes (depending on your aptitude and your level), which is ideal to retain engagement and participation, while providing the learner an opportunity for daily practice and training. Forget about having to come up with your own lesson plan - Babbel will do it for you based on the best practices of language learning, in a very practical and measurable way thanks to its basis on the CEFR. Don't get me wrong, however - being based on the CEFR means that the learner is held to that standard, and as such, the coursework can be said to be more challenging than its competitors...and that's a good thing to set themselves apart.
Which Languages are Included?
Babbel features 14 languages: English, Danish, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Swedish, Turkish, and Welsh, featuring almost 9,000 hours of premium, bespoke language learning content on offer.
So what's so good about Babbel, in the first place? Well, let's examine the ways.
* Unbeatable price point for paid-tier language courses: This is where Babbel blows every paid language learning course out of the water - when it comes to the pricing. Babbel offers a 12-month subscription at $6.95 a month (totaling to $83.40 a year), which is half of what Rosetta Stone offers for an annual subscription (regularly priced at $179 - offered at a discount of $129). Few language courses can offer such a comprehensive course backed by a global standard for language learning such as the CEFR, and that's what Babbel has managed to do.
* Strong focus on building conversational skills and working vocabulary: Every language learner began his or her journey by wanting to be able to communicate in their desired language anyway - and Babbel recognizes this. Babbel thus emphasizes the dialogues that are presented in its coursework, as well as building conversational skills right from the get-go. Vocabulary exercises are repeated all throughout the lessons. Grammar is explained in bite-sized chunks, which will ensure that the lesson doesn't descend into rote discussion about semantics and sentence structures.
* Well-organized, high quality, and structured coursework: Babbel prides itself in formulating courses suited to the Common European Framework of Reference for Languages, which makes for a well-structured course syllabus, regardless of what language you choose to learn. Being based on such a framework gives language learners a real sense of progression, which they can actually build further on towards CEFR-recognized language certifications. It also gives them a proper assessment of their language skills in all honesty, and keeps students grounded as to what aspects they need to improve on.
* More challenging lessons: And because it is based on the CEFR, beginners should expect a more challenging course than, say, Duolingo offers. And that's a good thing - because language learners will find their working vocabulary much larger and their conversational skills much improved. That's the beauty of learning a language based on globally-recognized guidelines - you'll know exactly where you stand with regard to your journey.
* Clean and simple interface: Babbel's interface is clean, easy to navigate, and intuitive - which translates well to any smart device, laptop, or smartphone.
* Poor voice recognition software: One thing many language learning solutions have is the lack of a reliable voice recognition software or feature - and Babbel is no exception. Though Babbel offers pronunciation practice and allows the learner to record and compare his or her voice and diction with that of the native speaker on the program, it can be a difficult matter in practice due to the unreliability of its voice recognition.
* Lack of downloadable content for offline use: Unlike other courses, Babble doesn't offer downloadable study guides or MP3 files for offline use, and neither does it offer cheat sheets and exercises offline. This can be a bone to pick for students who have poor internet connection in their areas.
* No live lessons or e-tutoring: Unlike Living Languages or Rosetta Stone, Babbel doesn't offer live lessons conducted by native speakers, which is undoubtedly the best way to learn a language and test out your own progress with. Fortunately, Babbel's community of learners and native speakers works so that you can practice your writing and speaking skills with them.
* Mobile app a work in progress: Don't get me wrong, the mobile app is excellent, but you need an internet connection for Babbel to work on your smart device. This is something its developers should work on in the future.
* Varying mileage on different language courses: Language learners who want to use Babbel to learn another language may be surprised that certain language courses Babbel offers have a fewer number of lessons compared to others - this is true for its more "exotic" language courses.
Well, you can't beat the quality of the language instruction in Babbel for the pricing it comes in - and that is its most important selling point. After all, what would all the bells and whistles some language learning solutions offer amount to without a high quality, CEFR-based course? And that's exactly what you pay for with Babbel. Granted, there are a lot of features that need to be improved in terms of its mobile app and its interface (which may seem rudimentary for some), but the strength of the coursework's quality makes up for any of its shortcomings.
It's an affordable language learning app that will definitely exceed your expectations in terms of course quality, and will get you on the right track in your language learning journey.