Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists

Tim Brookes 05-02-2013

Learning a language is challenging once you’ve left school. As a child your brain should still be receptive to new information and able to retain data, but once hairs start appearing on your chin and makeup on your lips you’re already past the point of optimal learning.


The Web is already a great tool for learning a language through the use of online communities, interactive services and audio resources. Babbel is another tool that promises to make learning a language easier than simply burying your head in a textbook by providing interactive lessons to learn as you go.

The service is more than a tool for learning, but also suitable for refining and refreshing languages you already have a grasp of. Read on to find out how it all works.

First, The Truth

I feel that I should stick this at the very beginning of my review because it’s something I’ve long known, and Babbel merely confirmed it again. Learning a language is not easy. Regardless of the language you choose, the books you read or tools you use – it will still be hard. Babbel does not make learning a language easy – nothing makes learning a language easy. Those trashy online adverts about learning a language in a fortnight are all lies.

Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists lesson basic1

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can say that Babble is a great way to go about learning a language. It uses just about every trick in the book to engage your brain, so regardless of how you best learn it’s got a good chance of sinking in. The service breaks learning a language down into simple lessons designed to get you up to speed with vocabulary, grammar, sentence construction and some more specialised lessons in linguistics.


Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists special

In total there are 11 language courses on offer, for each of the following: English, German, Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Dutch, Polish and Indonesian. The lessons take an all-round approach to learning for the most part, utilizing audio as the user interacts with the lessons. The process feels quite passive, and for much of the time takes on a “fill in the blanks” approach, with plenty of reading and real-world dialogues for good measure. The lessons are a pretty standard affair, but they’re plentiful and varied enough to remain interesting.

You can even use a microphone and voice recognition to speak your answers, though your mileage may vary using this method particularly if you don’t have a very convincing accent.

Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists forum


In addition to lessons there are several other areas of the site of particular use to you if you’re learning a language. Members are encouraged to meet each other on forums and via chat rooms and being surrounded by like-minded learners creates quite a nurturing environment in which members can help each other and benefit in the process.

Refresh & Refine 

At school I learned Welsh, a little-spoken but still useful second language, as well as French to A-Level (sixth form, high school… call it what you want) and while I’ve not spoken it for a while the last time I found myself surrounded by Francophones it slowly started to come back. If you’re in a similar boat to me in that you’re not completely useless on the language front and used to know a bit or this or that, Babbel caters quite well to your level of skill.

Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists refresher

In addition to beginner courses through to advanced, there are special lessons and others designed to re-awaken the linguist inside you. If you have been learning for a while but are still confused about certain nuances then the special set of lessons that accompany each language target specific areas of your chosen language.


Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists refresher lesson

Babbel keeps the whole process very simple, and the design of the site was responsive even on the slow Internet connection I have been using for the past week. Much of the elements are loaded in one block as you begin a module, which means you’re not waiting around for things to load once you get started.

My main gripe with Babbel is the requirement to log in with Facebook, something I don’t usually mind on free websites but considering this is a paid service it would be nice to choose a simple username and password combination instead.

Babbel: An Interactive Tool for Budding Linguists facebook nonsense


Facebook integration means that Babbel will automatically tell your friends about your progress when you finish lessons, a method of marketing for Babbel and so-called bragging rights for you. If you’re not keen on this then you can turn it off from the Profile menu, something I’d recommend doing before you even begin.


Babbel is an effective learning tool for the budding linguist looking to learn or brush up on a non-native tongue. As previously mentioned, Babbel will not make this process easy – but that’s because this process is not easy. You should expect to struggle learning a language, but Babbel will make an excellent companion if you’re serious about the task in hand.

Its ability to connect you with like-minded individuals is not entirely unique but well-executed and a welcome addition. If you’re not a Facebook user then it’s worth setting up a dummy account just to use Babbel – though hopefully the developers will open up Twitter, Google or good old fashioned username and password registrations some time soon.

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  1. Muo TechGuy
    February 6, 2013 at 9:08 am

    Clicked to try out the advanced French course - found myself being asked to click numbers 1-10 in order. Really? Hate to think what easy level was.

    How would you say this compares to something like Rosetta stone? I've rarely got time to keep up with my studies, but I always foudn the RS method was far more effective and tended to ramp up difficulty comfortably.

    • dragonmouth
      February 6, 2013 at 10:12 pm

      Not everyone can afford Rosetta Stone.

    • Tim Brookes
      February 6, 2013 at 10:55 pm

      It's definitely different to Rosetta Stone, which is at the premium end of the language tool market. I mean those courses cost like a couple hundred quid per language, right?

      Babbel is good for the price, and it's definitely a great aid to existing education (i.e. you're attending school, or evening classes). I'm not sure what the RS online learning is like (do they have any?) because I've not tried it, though I know their audio courses are insanely popular. Personally I'm not sure how well I'd get on with a book/audio combo on my own, but the interactive elements in Babbel appealed to my short attention span.

      One thing I really did like about Babbel were the refresher courses. There's also a decent community of learners to resort to if you want some real practice with speaking the language to a real person.

      I'm guessing RS is still going to give Babbel a run for its money, but that much is evident in the price. Which language did you try James? I don't remember the French course starting out like that, it went straight into phrases like ca-va, bonjour and so on.

      • Muo TechGuy
        February 7, 2013 at 8:56 am

        You're right; perhaps it would have been better to compare this to something like lang8 (, which is free and really effective, and has word sets created by users too so you learn "real" language, not textbook crap. I actually added it into the curriculum for computer based language learning I taught at Notredame in Kyoto.

        It's a shame Babbel doesn't have any of the more complex languages like Chinese or Japanese; seems like most of us start out with a good level of French or German, and English is basically the same as most European languages anyway, so it's tough to really judge language learning there.

  2. Robert Owens
    February 6, 2013 at 12:05 am

    Thank you for the informative article. I went to the Babbel website to test it out. As the author, Tim Brookes, states in the article, it helps to know at least a "beginner's" amount of your target language. I was quite surprised that the "Beginner" course immediately began a flashcard-style quiz on basic words and phrases (like "hello," "what is your name?" and so forth).

    The Facebook requirement is a big turn-off, however. Creating a "dummy" account, as recommended by Mr. Brookes, might be worth considering.

    And as stated in the article, learning a language IS NOT EASY. Sites like Babbel, though, are definitely helpful! I wish they had some Far-East languages, such as Japanese, Chinese, Korean, or Filipino in their language catalog.

    • Tim Brookes
      February 6, 2013 at 1:48 am

      I thought dropping people in it with the first few phrases was quite a good way to start, but then everyone learns differently. I think Babbel makes a definite difference in that it fires on all cylinders, with audio, visuals as well as an interactive element to the learning process. Learning with Babbel will be just as hard as any other system, it just might "stick" a bit more using this method - plus it's excellent use of Rewards points ;)