Featured image: Babbel vs Duolingo - Which Language Learning App Reigns Supreme?

Babbel vs Duolingo: Which Language Learning App Reigns Supreme?

Are you ready to embark on a linguistic journey and unlock your full language learning potential? Look no further! In this review, we’ll dive into the world of language learning apps, specifically focusing on the question of which app is better: Babbel vs Duolingo. With their innovative approaches and engaging features, these apps have revolutionized the way we learn languages.

Join me as I dissect the strengths and weaknesses of each platform, uncovering their unique teaching methods, curriculum diversity, and flexibility. Discover which one caters best to your individual learning style, whether you prefer structured lessons or bite-sized exercises.

Get ready to make an informed decision as I guide you through this head-to-head clash of Babbel versus Duolingo, empowering you to choose the language learning companion that will lead you to linguistic mastery. Let’s dive in and unravel the secrets of these language learning powerhouses!

Not sure how to go about choosing the Best Language Learning App for you? Check out the
in-depth guide we wrote to help.

How to Choose the Best Language Learning App? featured image

Babbel vs Duolingo: Head to Head

Duolingo and Babbel are battling it out for your eyeballs and your money; so before you delve into your wallet, it’s worth spending some time working out which language learning app is best for you.

Babbel language learning app logo

Babbel was the first mover in the online language learning world. It launched in 2008, offering a free Beta version before switching to a full subscription model in 2009. Since then, it has surpassed an incredible 10 million subscriptions and won a string of awards for its educational content and business model. With its immersive learning approach, Babbel promises to revolutionize your language skills through personalized lessons, interactive dialogues, and real-life simulations, without the distraction of continual advertisements.

Duolingo language learning app logo

Duolingo, hailed for its gamified interface, brings language learning to the fingertips of millions, and makes education an addictive and enjoyable experience. It was launched in 2012 with its “Learn a language for free. Forever” slogan, and has gone on to become the No.1 app in the Apple iStore educational category and 100 million downloads from the Google Play platform.

Both apps seem exceptional, but what about user experience and lesson quality? And which offers the most useful content? And the best interface? Which is better value for money? Read on for the answers…


Today’s Best Deals

Duolingo Logo

39 languages,
Free (with ads)

Babbel Logo

13 languages,
Lifetime Access for US$299


How Many Languages are Available?

(For English Speakers)

Duolingo currently has 39 languages available, including all the same languages as Babbel. Featured are heavyweights Spanish, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Chinese Mandarin and Russian. It also has courses for some quite rarely taught languages like Navajo and a few ConLangs available.

It is also possible to learn at least English from these languages. If you want to learn Catalan, you will need to do it from Spanish.
Babbel has courses for 13 languages; Danish, Dutch, French, German, Indonesian, Italian, Norwegian (Bokmål), Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, Swedish, Spanish, and Turkish.

It is possible to learn these languages and English (US or British) from many of these languages. Polish speakers are only offered German and English, and Ukrainian offers free courses, in English, Polish and German only.

Course Levels

Duolingo has begun the task of rewriting some of their courses in accordance with the CEFR and ACTFL frameworks, in order to tap into the (particularly USA) education system*. As such, they are able to demonstrate that some of their language courses do cover the relevant aspects of language for various frameworks.

However, most Duolingo language courses do not follow the frameworks, and so guesses must be made about the levels taught by considering which language domains are covered and how many words. My assessment is that they vary from A1.1 – B1.

Matched to frameworks:
French & Spanish: B2
English & German: B1

*This information is accessible within Duolingo School, the education branch of Duolingo.
Babbel has self-assessed its courses according to the CEFR framework, but I were unable to source external evidence for the claims. Nevertheless, it appears that the assessments are reasonably close.

French & Spanish: C1
German & Italian: B2
Portuguese & Swedish: B1
Other languages: A2

To understand more about the CEFR and ACTFL, read this post about the different levels of language proficiency.


Total Words Taught

The number of words taught within Duolingo courses varies wildly. The most comprehensive courses teach several thousand words, but some, like Navajo, have very few.

Spanish: 5256
French: 4883
English: 3985
German: 3583
Other Languages: vary from just 150 – 3500 words
All of Babbel’s courses teach a significant number of words, as shown in the list below, at least enough to achieve a basic understanding of the language.

French, Spanish, German, Italian,
Portuguese, Swedish: over 3000
Other languages: 2000 – 3000

Teaching Methods

Duolingo very clearly spell out their teaching method.

1. Learn by doing
2. Learn in a personalised way
3. Focus on what matters
4. Stay motivated
5. Feel the delight

The focus is on getting you going quickly; keeping things moving by cutting down lessons to bite-sized portions; placing you in leagues for some friendly competition; and above all, having fun.
Babbel likewise elaborate on their teaching method.

1.Keep it real (i.e. real world conversations)
2. Use native speakers
3. Learn it, review it, retain it

Babbel’s focus is on providing content that is as genuine as possible, with real-life conversations, situational learning, and carefully crafted lessons.

Curriculum

Duolingo courses have been designed with input from native speakers and language educators. All curriculum are proprietary, and are quite opaque except for those with access to the schools backend.

Duolingo courses have had many iterations of its curriculum, but if they continue down the path of aligning with the CEFR/ACTFL frameworks, that will hopefully change. Links are provided to their French, Spanish and English course structures, which are aligned with the frameworks, from their website
Babbel’s proprietary curriculum offers a structured and beginner-friendly approach to language learning. It emphasizes practical, real-life conversations and situations.

Language courses with Babbel have been designed to align with CEFR, and are labelled to indicate where they fit in the framework.

The curriculum includes interactive exercises for vocabulary, grammar, listening, and speaking practice, and incorporates cultural context and regular review sessions to enhance understanding and retention.

Course Flexibility

As of 2023, Duolingo has a defined language learning path that must be followed lesson-by-lesson. Each lesson builds on the previous, and reviews include vocabulary that has been taught in previous units.

It is possible to ‘test out’ of a whole unit by clicking the first step in the following unit. But in whichever unit you are, it is not possible to move ahead into lessons that are still locked, until you have completed all previous lessons.
Image of Duolingo pathway for French Unit 23
Duolingo pathway for French Unit 23
Once you have paid for a subscription, Babbel’s courses are completely open for you to choose and move around in. You can change your level or topic at any time.

Of course this may mean that if you choose a higher level, you will encounter vocabulary and grammar structures you haven’t yet learned.

But it does mean you can adjust your learning to follow your interests on any given day.
Image of Babbel Course Outlines for French A2
Babbel Course Outlines for French A2

Course Progression

Because Duolingo has such a defined course path, progression is very clear. You can see exactly what has been covered and what is yet to be covered. The grammar is progressively introduced, although not specifically discussed unless you click into the Guidebooks.
Babbel courses can be chosen by level or by theme. Either way, the course progression is quite clear. Each course contains a reference to the CEFR level, the course number and the level number.

However, as noted previously, lessons do not HAVE to be followed in this order, and learners have complete flexibility over how units are completed.
Image of Babbel's 'Explore' dashboard.

Pricing

Prices vary according to region and are charged in local currencies.

Duolingo is free. For every language.

The catch is that, when you use the free version on your phone, you have limited lives (hearts), and mistakes will limit your language learning sessions.

Also, at the end of every short lesson (around 5 minutes) you will have to wait for an advertisement to run.

More recently, Duolingo has created Duolingo Max for their French and Spanish courses (in limited markets). Duolingo Max features an AI chatbot that will roleplay conversation with you, and another one that will explain various aspects of the language.

All languages: Free with ads

PREMIUM PACKAGES:

Super Duolingo:
(Formerly Duolingo Plus)
from US$6.99/month, billed annually
No ads, unlimited hearts/lives, mistakes reviews, unlimited legendary challenges

Family Duolingo:
From US$2.38/month, billed annually
Super Duolingo for up to 7 users

Duolingo Max:
From US$14/month, billed annually)
Super Duolingo + AI Roleplay and AI Explain my Answer
* Currently for French and Spanish courses only, in Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, United Kingdom, United States

Babbel allows you to trial the first lesson any of their courses for free. However, after the first lesson, you must subscribe to continue.

There are no advertisements in the Babbel app.

It may feel that Babbel is expensive vs the no-cost courses of Duolingo, however with annual subscriptions starting from as little as US$7.45/month, Babbel is considerably cheaper than in-person classes.

Offline App Use

Limited

I could find no information from Duolingo about this, and when I tested it I could not use it offline, however according to Techcrunch this functionality has been added as of March 2023 for all but the AI speech recognition feature.
Yes

The Babbel app is able to be used offline, either by manually downloading courses to your phone when you are online, or by setting all courses to automatically download.

Language Testing

Free Placement Tests available for every language as you start the course, and if you feel the course is too easy, by clicking on “Jump Here” you can test ahead. Tests are of language skills contained in the lessons.
Screencap of Duolingo language test.
In Babbel, free placement tests available for Spanish, French, German, Italian and Portuguese, however the tests are simply questions that ask you to self assess your abilities (questions in English).

As such, it is simply a rough guide, not at all a language assessment.
Screencap of Babbel language level assessment.

Extra (Free) Resources

Free Podcasts:
Podcasts (with transcripts) available on Apple Music, Google and Spotify, for French and Spanish from English, and English from Spanish and Portuguese.
Screencap of Duolingo's French Podcast in Spotify
Free Podcasts:
Podcasts (with transcripts) available at a range of languages and levels, across Apple Music, Spotify, and in the Babbel app.

Babbel YouTube:
Babbel has a variety of videos to supplement your learning, but it is not particularly structured. There are specific playlists of Spanish and German short videos, as well as a variety of travel, culture and ‘behind the scenes’ videos in a variety of languages.


Extra Paid Resources

Duolingo has no extra paid resources other than Duolingo Max that includes an ad-free version of Duolingo.

Babbel Live:
Online tutoring classes for Spanish, German, Italian and French,  taught in small groups, live online, with a certified language teacher.

From US$50-99/month for unlimited classes.


App User Experience

Duolingo

Apple iTunes:
4.7/5 stars with 87.5K reviews

Google Play:
4.4/5 with 15M reviews

Babbel

Apple iTunes:
4.6/5 with 995 reviews

Google Play:
4.6/5 with 877K reviews


App Platforms

Duolingo

Android
iOS (iPhone & iPad)
Web

Babbel


OVERALL RATING

Babbel's logo
3.9/5
From US$299 (for Lifetime Subscription)
Babbel’s language courses are thoughtfully designed to be as useful for day-to-day conversation as possible. They are also clear in their alignment with CEFR levels, and as such articulate easily with other curricula.

For those who wish to learn a language using natural sentences and with clear alignment to CEFR framework, Babbel is a strong contender.

Duolingo Logo
3.4/5
Free (with ads)
Loved by millions, Duolingo‘s little Green Owl is a fun and effective way to begin your journey with a foreign language.

The language you learn may not be the most immediately applicable to everyday use, but the vocabulary and grammatical structures you will learn can be used to support more academic studies later.

Babbel vs Duolingo – The Verdict: Choosing Your Champion

Now that we’ve examined the strengths of Duolingo vs Babbel, it’s time to choose a champion that suits your language learning goals.

Babbel is for you if you are serious about language learning, intend to do examinations to certify your language learning and want to get quality tutoring to be certain that you are learning in a holistic and progressive manner.

Duolingo’s gamified approach, vast language selection and sense of humour make it an excellent choice for those who seek an interactive and enjoyable learning experience. On the other hand, Babbel’s emphasis on practical skills, and speech recognition technology cater to learners who prioritize conversation and real-life application.

For a few years Duolingo lost me – when they introduced the rediculously repetitive ‘Crowns’ system, they made changes that did not fit my learning style or goals. But since getting rid of crowns and changing to the learning path in late 2022, I have slowly begun again to use Duolingo for language learning.

I am not usually a fan of gamification for the sake of gamification. But Duolingo is obviously making real efforts to be a serious language learning app, while having a lot of fun with the silly sentences they include. Sure – learning a sentence like “The fox drinks milk with the bear,” makes me roll my eyes at times, but it still teaches appropriate grammatical structures, usable vocabulary and fits the CEFR framework. For my purposes, learning as a hobby and mostly for conversation interactions, it is a really nice introduction to a new language.

Ultimately, the winner of the Babbel vs Duolingo duel depends on your individual learning style, preferences, and objectives. Both apps have proven track records of helping users achieve language proficiency, and many language learners have achieved remarkable results with either one.

So, are you ready to embark on your language learning adventure? Whether you choose Duolingo’s captivating gamification or Babbel’s tailored tutoring, rest assured that both apps are powerful tools that can unlock the doors to fluency. Start your journey today and witness your language skills flourish like never before!

Cate is a language enthusiast sharing her language learning journey here. Apart from her native English (albeit 'Strine'*!), as an adult she has also learned Auslan (Australian Sign Language) to approximately a C1 level, Dutch to around B1/2, French to around A2, and has a smattering of other languages.

B.A. (Anthropology/Marketing), Grad. Dip. Arts (Linguistics), Grad. Cert. Entrepreneurship & Venture Development, (CELTA).

Auslan Interpreter (NAATI), and general Language Nut.

*For more information on 'Strine', visit https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strine