Busuu is one of the most popular language learning apps with a purported 120 million users.
But is Busuu the right language learning app to help you learn French?
I recently signed up for a free trial and spent several days trying out the app. Here’s what I discovered.
What is Busuu?
Busuu is a language learning app that currently offers lessons in 14 languages, including French. It’s available as a desktop app as well as a mobile app (for Android and iOS). The iOS app seems to be a little more developed than the other two options.
Busuu focuses on spoken informal French, with a heavy emphasis on audio and listening comprehension. It offers French lessons from CEFR level A1 (beginner) to B2 (upper intermediate). Lessons are very short, generally ranging from a little over one minute to around 5 minutes. They mostly include listening and comprehension practice, with some vocabulary and translation exercises as well.
Many of the example words and phrases in these lessons feature videos of native French speakers saying them. Some would argue this is a bit gimmicky or unnecessary, but it’s a good way to put faces to what you’re learning, reminding you that no matter how intimidating it might seem to learn French, it’s a language spoken by real people, not just some serious, academic task.
Busuu is also known for encouraging user participation. You can, for instance, record an audio sample at certain points of a lesson and post it for native French speakers learning other languages to review. You can also post French phrases or sentences you’ve written for native French users to correct. And in return, you’re encouraged to help correct work in your native language, as well.
Like fellow app Duolingo, Busuu has a points system and encourages “streaks” (consecutive days you use the app). This could be a good thing if these types of things motivate you. It also has a “Leaderboard” – a list of user rankings that compare your percentage of correct answers with those of other users. This could also be a motivator or a way to feel rewarded, depending on how competitive you are. The problems is that streaks can also make studying stressful. Nothing less demotivating than losing your streak because you were sick or took a week off. That’s why we don’t use them in French Together and prefer simply counting every day of study.
Although it mainly focuses on listening skills, Busuu has very nice extra grammar and vocabulary material in addition to its lessons. These resources are included in the paid Busuu Premium subscription, but other offerings, like tutoring and online courses, are only available for an extra fee.
There’s a lot to like about Busuu, but, like any language learning app, it’s not perfect. Here’s what I liked and didn’t like about it.
Things I liked about Busuu
Here are the things I liked about Busuu:
• It’s easy to use and fairly intuitive. This is not one of those apps with lots of symbols to decipher and things that are hard to access. The minute you open the app, you see the lessons laid out in a line and understand what to click on and what’s up next – with one exception (I’ll cover this in the “Things I didn’t like” section).
• Users have access to both the desktop and mobile versions of the Busuu app. Like many language learning apps, Busuu lets you use both its desktop and mobile versions. Both stay in sync, remembering your progress.
• Lessons follow one another in an orderly fashion. When you open Busuu, you see its lessons neatly organized into Chapters (groups of lessons). You start at beginner level and build on what you learn. This may seem logical, but it’s surprisingly not always the case. Some language learning apps, like Pimsleur, take a different, less linear approach to learning. Everyone is different, but personally, I think the “start at the beginning” order that Busuu uses makes the most sense for language learning.
• When you highlight a lesson, you’ll see a quick summary of what it covers. I like how organized this feels and how helpful it is if you want to go back and review a particular concept but can’t remember which lesson covered it.
• The desktop app includes a way for users to use French characters. There’s an “Extra French letters” section located just below write-in exercises on the app’s desktop version that lets you click on accented letters, etc. that will be added to what you’re writing – very practical for users without a French keyboard!
• Busuu has excellent grammar material. While its lessons are often a bit too brief for my liking (more on this later), I really appreciated the app’s Grammar section, which lets you learn or review tons of French grammar concepts. Each topic is clearly and concisely explained, and you can skip to any one you want, which is extremely helpful for users who already have a good grasp on French and are using the app to review or get more practice.
• There’s good representation in videos. The native French speakers featured in Busuu’s video clips are a diverse group, just like the actual French population. (Bonus: It was also fun to see them outdoors, in actual locations in France.) That said, while I very much appreciated this from a visual standpoint, I didn’t notice many strong regional French accents.
• The app uses everyday spoken French well. Busuu focuses on everyday spoken French, and the audio and videos on the app generally featured good examples of it. There are even a few sections that teach you fun expressions from other French-speaking countries and cultures, which was a neat extra.
• You get a certificate for each level you complete. These certificates, which are sent to your email, could maybe be included on a resume/CV to indicate your language level. At the very least, they can help you feel good about your progress.
Things I didn’t like about Busuu
Here’s what I didn’t like about Busuu:
• Lessons often felt too short. Many apps strive to make French learning accessible to even the busiest of us, which is an extremely admirable goal. But Busuu’s short lessons sort of felt like they run through new concepts and don’t reinforce them enough, at least not to my liking. The ways to apply and practice were relatively limited, too, with fewer opportunities to speak than I would have expected and a relatively limited variety of exercises.
Some of the first A1 lessons were only about a minute long, although most of the subsequent lessons take around 5 minutes to complete. I know that short lessons may be the only way for some people to practice French, but one minute a day doesn’t really feel like enough, and with a relatively limited variety of ways to learn and practice, even 5 minutes didn’t always feel sufficient.
• The tests at the end of each “chapter” (group of lessons) – and even the app’s final, B2-level test – sort of felt short and a bit light. It’s not to say these tests aren’t challenging, but as with Busuu’s lesson exercises, the test questions are relatively limited in terms of format. I especially surprised by how relatively limited the app’s final, B2-level exam was. It involves only one fairly short dialogue, whereas it would have been nice to have several different ones to really see if you understand French in different contexts and situations.
• AI means limited knowledge and options for answers. Like many apps, Busuu’s lessons rely on AI, not live teachers. This means, among other things, that the possible answers you might give are limited to what it’s been programmed to recognize. So when I translated a question into French using inversion rather than intonation, it was marked incorrect, even though it was correct – it just didn’t follow Busuu’s generally informal French guidelines.
This problem extended to at least one of the texts included in a lesson. A letter to a friend includes the question Comment tu vas ?, which is a very informal, usually oral way to ask “How are you?”. The far more common way you’d see this in writing (as well, in my experience, as hear it in everyday French) would be Comment vas-tu ?. But since the app doesn’t seem to want to use inversion, that had to be avoided, to the detriment of learners.
Some words, like week-end, have only one spelling option that’s considered correct; an otherwise correct sentence in a fill-in exercise I did was marked incorrect because I wrote weekend instead (In contemporary French, this word can be written either way.)
The same goes for definitions of the words and phrases you’ll learn. For instance, the first time learners come across it, vous is defined as “formal, singular you”. But it can also be plural “you” – it’s just that in this particular lesson it’s not used that way. It’s hard to write all of that for easy learning purposes, especially for beginners just starting out and grasping the language, but it might be helpful to give a footnote or something you can click on for more info on some of these important words.
• You can’t slow down audio. Being able to slow down audio is something I got used to with French Together , but it’s not available on Busuu (although you can pause and repeat audio).
• The app’s helpful Grammar section, as well as the Vocabulary section, are hard to find on the mobile app. While I praised Busuu’s easy-to-use interface, this is the one exception. I knew there were supposed to be additional grammar and vocabulary resources, but couldn’t find them on the mobile app. After a bit of searching, I was able to access them by using a bar graph symbol, I guess because the Vocabulary section monitors your vocabulary difficulties? Whatever the case, it was annoying to be scrambling around searching for what ended up being one of my favorite things about Busuu.
At least in the app’s desktop version, this isn’t a problem, since the symbols are labeled.
• You have to pay extra for online lessons and tutoring. Busuu also offers online lessons and tutoring, but despite the fact that you’re already paying for the app, these cost extra. This means you may be better off using a dedicated French conversation practice app.
• It’s hard to stay anonymous. When you sign up for Busuu, I highly recommend you don’t use your real name as your username. This is because it turns out that your results and audio recordings will be visible to other users due to features like the Leaderboard and automatically submitted audio recordings. It’s frustrating that there’s not an option (or at least not one that’s easy to find/use) that allows learners to opt out and stay private.
• Busuu’s desktop version couldn’t access my microphone. Well, it could, but it couldn’t get an audio recording no matter how much I tried. Bugs can happen with language learning apps, but what was most frustrating here is that Busuu didn’t recognize that my recordings weren’t working and I couldn’t correctly complete exercises.
Also annoying: Since the app automatically sends your audio to other users who might want to correct or comment on it, I got several messages from users who said they couldn’t hear it. I felt bad about wasting both their time, and mine.
I can’t say my issue was due only to my computer, because some other user reviews I’ve come across have said the same thing about Busuu. Luckily, the app was able to record audio when I used it on my phone.
• Busuu’s iOS version has more features, at least for now. Notably, this includes flashcards. Other versions of the app include a Vocabulary section that has a list of vocabulary you’ve studied and maybe made mistakes with. You can click on a word and see and hear it, but that’s it. It’s frustrating that flashcards, which are a fairly standard feature of most language learning apps, aren’t available on all of the app’s versions, despite them all costing the same amount. Hopefully this will be fixed soon!
• You have to take a test to access other levels. You can’t just jump from one level to another on Busuu — instead, you have to complete a short test (“Checkpoint”). This is fine and logical if you’re learning French, but if you wanted to use Busuu to review and brush up your French skills, it can be a bit of an annoyance. Fortunately, this isn’t the case for the Grammar section, which does let you pick and choose topics, regardless of the level they’re associated with.
How much does Busuu cost?
The paid version of Busuu has lots of users and fans, but the free version of Busuu has a lot of critics. This is because it only offers flashcards and five lessons. So if you want to use Busuu to learn French, you’ll have to pay for it.
As of this writing, Busuu costs $65-$130 per year (depending on whether or not it’s on sale) or $5 per month. Customers outside the US should check their localized version of the site for prices in their currency.
Can Busuu make me fluent in French?
Whenever I review a language learning app, I always say that it alone will not make you fluent in French. Trust me, I’d even say this for the French Together app. This is because language learning apps usually focus on one or a few aspects of French, but won’t give you the whole picture.
For instance, Busuu is a good way to train your ear, learn vocabulary, and polish up your French grammar skills. But it doesn’t focus as much on speaking/pronunciation, and while there are some reading exercises, it certainly isn’t the same as, say, reading a French short story or diving into a French novel.
The listening skills you’ll gain with Busuu will come from short phrases or dialogues. To really master French listening skills, you should use this as a foundation and then move on to watching French TV shows and movies in French, as well as listening to French podcasts and French radio stations online.
Whichever language learning app you use, think of it as a way to gain some solid practice or review in particular areas of French, but it’s best to use the app alongside other learning and practice material.
For instance, you could use Busuu for listening and grammar practice, and complement it with an app like French Together to solidify your French speaking skills. In addition, be sure you’re reading, watching, and listening to French in other ways, too. And once you feel confident enough in the listening and speaking skills you’ve gained, you should consider trying to find a French conversation partner, which is, luckily, fairly easy to do thanks to a number of language exchange websites. Bonus: Most of these are free!
Is Busuu worth it?
With its easy-to-use interface, charming videos of native French speakers, and excellent grammar resources, Busuu is a solid French learning app, especially for learners who want to focus on improving their French listening skills. Its use of motivational techniques like “streaks” and rankings may help some people stick with it. And having access to a community of native speakers who can check and comment on your work is a helpful resource.
On the other hand, if you want to focus on speaking, reading, or writing French, you should consider another app, or plan to use Busuu along with another one. You should also consider avoiding Busuu if privacy is important to you or if you don’t like a competitive aspect when it comes to learning.
I hope this review of Busuu’s French app has been helpful. Whatever French learning app(s) you choose, good luck in your French learning journey!