Launched in 2008, with a learning system developed by educators and linguists, Babbel is one of the most famous language learning apps on the market,
But is Babbel a good choice for French learners and is it a better choice than conversational French apps like French Together?
I recently sat down and put the app to the test, focusing on two different learning levels: the equivalent of beginner, Newcomer, which corresponds to CEFR level A1, and the app’s most advanced level, Upper Intermediate, which corresponds to CEFR level B2.
Here’s what I found.
What’s to like about Babbel
First, the positives. Let’s start with looks, since that’s the first thing we notice. Babbel’s interface is clean-looking, very easy to use, and intuitive. This is great for everyone, especially people like me, who aren’t great with complicated or flashy tech.
When you sign up for Babbel, you have to take an evaluation test to see which level you are. But one thing I really appreciate is that regardless of the results, you have access to all course levels. So if you want to start learning or revising by doing something easier, or if you want a challenge or test of your current language abilities, that is absolutely an option.
What is a Babbel course like? Each course is made up of about 9 lessons. Each lesson takes around 10 minutes or so to complete.
At first, the lessons may seem a bit repetitive, as they focus on specific vocabulary and a dialogue. But as many other reviewers and fans of Babbel have pointed out, the app’s creators are very skilled at varying exercises. So one time you might have to say a vocabulary word into your microphone and in the next part of the lesson you might have to find it by unscrambling the letters that make it up.
This mix of fun and serious makes it easy to keep your attention on the lesson, and is also good for different types of learners and different learning goals. For instance, as a visual learner, I really appreciated having to “construct” words based on their letters. Audio learners will appreciate options like interactive dialogues.
Speaking of which, another good thing about Babbel’s French courses is that all audio is provided by native speakers just like with French Together, so you really get to hear actual French people.
In terms of the speaking you’ll do, the microphone option works very well. At one point, I was in the middle of an interactive dialogue and had to run and turn my oven off. Even though I was speaking into the bottom of my laptop as I carried it hastily into the kitchen, the app still understood me!
And when the AI doesn’t understand you, you’ll see a helpful transcription of what it thinks you said.
Another good point is that as you learn vocabulary, the lesson adds scenarios, words, and contexts that show you how you can use that core knowledge in practical situations. For instance, using prepositions can be applied to asking directions if you’re visiting a French city.
And in some lessons, a little window will pop up at the top of your screen to offer additional information, grammar tips, or a warning about a potentially embarrassing faux ami. Very helpful! I also enjoyed that some of these tips are very specific things about art or culture – for example, popping up to cite Courbet’s Un enterrement à Ornans in a fill-in-the-text activity where it wasn’t absolutely necessary. That gets major props from an art lover like me!
The highest level you can take in Babbel’s French offering is Advanced Intermediate (the equivalent of CEFR level B2). I was pleasantly surprised that these lessons were truly challenging, with all text, including instructions, completely in French, and audio that was at a normal speed or slightly slow, with people sometimes swallowing or slurring words, even proper names – just as they might in real life.
The word scrambles and other exercises at this level were also sufficiently challenging. In fact, the review section really required you to have remembered very specific vocabulary words. I was impressed – and genuinely stumped a few times. Fortunately, you can click on a button to get a clue (in the form of a word scramble) for any words you don’t remember.
Lessons at all levels can be rigorous, but I love that they’re not timed, so you can sit for a moment and think about your answers if you need to – or even take an emergency bathroom break! If you get something wrong, the app will give you a gentle message, along the lines of “It’s okay, try again”, which is also very nice and low-key and encouraging. When you do get things right, the autoresponse is full of praise, which is nice, too.
The app also has a lot of different kinds of review options, from additional exercises to flashcards and audio practice.
Another nice feature is an “Explore” tab that will let you see all sorts of additional learning options, from podcasts to online classes.
I think that the price of the course is very reasonable, and I like that there are several options.
As of this writing, a one-month subscription costs $13.95 USD, a three-month subscription costs $29.85, a six-month subscription costs $50.70, and a one-year subscription costs $83.40. There’s also a lifetime plan, which costs several hundred dollars but offers access to all of the languages offered by the app.
You can check Babbel pricing in your region’s currency on Babbel’s Prices page.
What’s not to like about Babbel
There’s a lot to like about Babbel, but few things in life are perfect.
For one thing, like just about any language learning app out there, Babbel alone will not make you fluent in French. You’ll need additional help for that (more on this further on).
With this in mind, there are courses offered on Babbel that can help you practice and expand your French. These interactive online classes are led by French teachers and are often focused on a particular subject or theme. They seem like they would be really interesting and helpful. But despite the fact that you’re already paying for Babbel, these classes cost extra (after a one class free trial).
Another issue – though this might be a bit nitpicky – is that while the quality of Babbel’s tech when it comes to processing audio from you microphone is impressive, it’s a bit relaxed when it comes to evaluating pronunciation. It’s understandable that the AI doesn’t expect language learners to have the same accents as native French speakers, of course. After all, no matter how advanced your level of French is, just about every non-native speaker will have at least a slight accent. But it would be nice if it was a bit more demanding at times, or if there were an option where you could practice tricky sounds. Again, I realize this is a bit nitpicky, but it’s something I noticed.
Speaking of, well, speaking, it’s good that all audio is from native French speakers, and that dialogues are generally spoken at a normal or only slightly slower speed than usual. That said, if you’d like to really take the time to break down and listen to words and dialogues (something many other language learning apps, including the French Together app), offer, that isn’t possible here.
I also haven’t been able to find transcripts of the audio the lessons are largely based around. The dialogues are shown in writing line-by-line in certain exercises but it would be very helpful to have a review option that lets you go back and listen to the dialogues alongside the text. This is especially useful for a language like French, where endings that indicate specific verb tenses aren’t always pronounced. And as someone who’s both a visual learner and slightly hard of hearing, transcripts are always helpful tools.
I was also disappointed that while some press material and informational sections of Babbel’s website promise features like short stories in each language, these don’t seem to be available for the app’s French version. Fortunately, there are lots of other ways to practice reading in French, but still, it seems a shame to have a false promise on a website – especially a paying one.
So, is Babbel worth it?
Babbel is affordable and easy to use. Its lessons reinforce points without being totally repetitive.
Many of the lesson formats have a fun element to them, like word scrambles. And dialogues are built upon so that you can see how what you’ve learned can apply to more complex conversations.
As many other reviewers have noted, it’s also cool that Babbel’s lessons are relatively short, allowing you to learn on a regular basis even if you’re busy. I also appreciate the fact that they’re not timed, which takes the pressure off and lets you really think (or take an emergency bathroom break!).
On the other hand, it seems like there’s a lot that’s been promised with this paying course that isn’t delivered, at least for the French version. It would be cool to see some short stories, for instance.
It also seems sort of unfair that it’s already a paying app but the live teaching sessions on the site cost extra. This might not be so egregious, but there is a fairly limited amount of learning content on the site – that, again, you’re paying for – so it makes you wonder if you’re really getting your money’s worth if you plan to use it long-term.
Not to mention the fact, of course, that this course can only take you so far. There isn’t a lesson on every topic, and it doesn’t cover extensive grammar, etc.
I also didn’t like that there doesn’t seem to be an option to slow down audio or to listen to audio at both slow and normal speeds (something French Together offers).
And on the other hand, as a visual learner and someone slightly hard of hearing, I would have liked an option to see a transcript of the more advanced-level dialogues at some point – not necessarily during the main lesson, but it would have been a helpful additional resource or something used during the review.
With its varied lessons and quality audio, it’s understandable why Babbel has had so much success. If you want a good overview of French that may not go super in-depth into any one area (analyzing audio, reading skills, grammar, culture, etc.), Babbel is a good option.
But if you want to focus more on conversational French I’d suggest giving French Together a try.
Going beyond Babbel
Ultimately, like most language learning apps, Babbel can’t do it all. It’s a good way to reinforce your French knowledge, especially if you like a more fun approach and like to see how what you’re learning can apply to something beyond a practice conversation.
It’s also less focused on conversational French than other apps such as French Together.
This is not necessarily a bad thing depending on your goals but it’s something to keep in mind.