Whether you’re looking to add to your resume, planning to study abroad, or simply ready for a new challenge, few things are as enriching as learning a new language. No computer program can replace years of college courses or time spent in a foreign country, but they can give you a strong foundation to launch from.
In this article, we’ll compare three popular options: Duolingo, Babbel, and Rosetta Stone. We’ve included the costs, benefits, and drawbacks of each one so that you can choose the option best suited to your needs.
What is Duolingo?
With over 300 million users, Duolingo is the world’s most popular education app. Designed to feel like a game, both the website and the app offer a smooth and interactive learning experience. Best of all, Duolingo is completely FREE.
Duolingo offers 37 languages in various stages of development. More popular languages have more content available, while newer languages may still have quite a few errors.
With Duolingo, it’s easy to study more than one language at a time. You can choose as many as you like, and it will keep track of each one for you. You can start at the very beginning, learning new alphabets like Cyrillic or Arabic abjad. If you’ve already studied your target language, you can test past the early levels. The quick placement test covers vocabulary, grammar, and your ability to understand spoken words.
Duolingo is famous for its odd sentences, including such gems as “We have to eliminate the witness,” and “Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.” It keeps things interesting, but Duolingo is somewhat less tailored to useful content than the other two options are.
Still, they do organize their short lessons into useful topics. Lessons begin with basic words and eventually progress to more complicated topics like politics and spirituality. At the same time, it moves up through increasingly complicated grammar concepts like verb conjugations and pronouns, all incorporated into sentences.
At the end of each lesson, you have a second chance to answer each question you got wrong, helping to cement that information in your memory.
If you want more explicit information about what you’re learning, Duolingo has that built-in! You can click a lightbulb icon on each lesson to read about the syntax and morphology of your target language. So far, this is only available for more common languages like Spanish, but more information is being added every day.
Duolingo has a beautifully designed Stories feature that narrates a story to you as you read, with the opportunity to hover over any word to see the translation. They also offer podcasts in Spanish and French.
Duolingo offers a paid version called DuoLingo Plus for $7 each month. This gives users an ad-free experience and the opportunity to download lessons for offline access. Duolingo Plus offers a two-week free trial.
What is Rosetta Stone?
Rosetta Stone offers a fully immersive experience using only the target language. It aims to mimic natural language acquisition through visual clues, repetition, and voice recognition. It’s designed to help you learn your target language naturally, the way a child does.
Until recently, each course cost upwards of two hundred dollars. Even after their courses became available online, people paid for each language separately. But as of February 2020, customers with one-year or lifetime subscriptions can access any of the 25 languages they offer.
Rosetta stone is designed by experts rather than crowdsourced. You’re less likely to encounter errors here than you are when using Duolingo — though even Rosetta stone occasionally includes things that native speakers don’t generally say. Voice recognition technology helps you to say each word correctly.
Like your high school language classes, Rosetta Stone breaks your learning up into themed chunks: Dining and Vacation, Home and Health, Tourism and Recreation, etc. They offer stories and articles entirely in the target language using what vocabulary you’ve learned so far.
One of the main drawbacks of Rosetta Stone is a lack of translation options. They’ll throw sentences and paragraphs at you without offering any English translation at all — nothing but a photo or two for context. With the release of their mobile app, they began to offer hidden translations (you can press and hold to see them). This is available in eight of their 25 languages: French, Italian, German, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, and Turkish.
Unlike Duolingo and Babbel, Rosetta Stone doesn’t offer any explanations or additional information. All learning is meant to be implicit. The idea is that you learn linguistic patterns on a subconscious level rather than learning the rules of the language.
Rosetta Stone also doesn’t remember which vocabulary words you’ve struggled with or automatically repeat the questions you got wrong. It’s less responsive and personalized than the other options.
There’s an online community called Rosetta World that offers language-based games… it’s honestly pretty clunky and unattractive compared to its competitors. But it does give you the opportunity to participate in real conversations with native speakers, helping them to learn your native language as you learn theirs.
Rosetta Stone has four pricing options:
- $36 for three months of only one language
- $80 to $100 (depending on promotions) for one year of access to all of their languages
- $179 for lifetime access
- $300 for Lifetime Plus (includes one year of unlimited live group coaching sessions)
Tutoring sessions are available for $14 to $19 each; the first one is free.
Students are eligible for a seven-day free trial.
What is Babbel?
Babbel is another subscription-based language learning platform. Designed by hundreds of linguistics experts and language teachers, Babbel aims to equip you with truly useful vocabulary.
There are 13 languages available through Babbel.
The courses for German, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Italian are well-reviewed. They offer some languages not available through Rosetta Stone, including Norwegian and Danish. Babbel does not offer Arabic or Asian languages.
Unlike Rosetta Stone, Babbel offers translations for all of its languages — and grammar explanations too. Examples are voiced by native speakers, and voice recognition technology helps you improve your accent.
Babbel also offers a wider variety of exercises, such as sorting the days of the week into their correct order. Some of the exercises are clever, while others are more tedious, like sorting syllables into words. Grammar is introduced through dialogue, formatted to look like text messages. It includes cultural tips too, adding context as you learn.
Each lesson takes 10 to 15 minutes to complete.
Babbel also offers stories. Early stories are mainly in English with a few words from the target language sprinkled into the dialogue, with more and more vocabulary included as you progress.
While DuoLingo will only let you complete its lessons in the order provided, Babbel gives you more flexibility. If you want to skip a vocabulary section that you have no use for or jump ahead to another lesson that you want to learn first, you can.
The app also incorporates a review manager, which lets you track your progress and return to words and phrases you haven’t learned yet. When you answer correctly, it increases the time between repetitions.
Podcasts are available in English, French, Italian, German, and Spanish.
Babbel doesn’t offer much of a free trial — you can preview the first (very basic) lesson for free, and that’s it. They do offer the chance of a refund if you contact them within 20 days of purchase. After that, it costs about $14 for one month, or half that (per month) if you pay for a full year up-front.
They have four options:
- $13.95 for one month
- $29.85 for three months
- $50.70 for six months
- $83.40 for one year
Please note that these prices are only for one language at a time!
Access to multiple languages at once is only available through a yearly subscription of $156. This works out to $13 per month and includes all 13 languages: Spanish, French, German, Italian, Brazilian Portuguese, Swedish, Turkish, Polish, Dutch, Danish, Norwegian, Indonesian, and Russian.
Like Rosetta Stone, Babbel has recently introduced live classes. It offers a placement quiz to see which level is best for you, and offers classes at any time of day or night (the company is based in Europe) on lots of interesting topics. Classes range from $15 to $22, depending on how many you pay for at one time.
What are the benefits of each one?
- 37 languages
- Low to no cost
- Engaging, responsive platform
- 24 languages
- TruAccent speech recognition
- Immersive learning style
- Designed by experts
- Voiced by native speakers
- Speech recognition software
What are the drawbacks of each one?
- Iffy translations at higher levels
- Autogenerated voices
- No offline mode in free version
- Less responsive / personalized
- Limited translation options
- No explanations or rules provided
- Limited free trial
- Most expensive for multiple languages
- Only 13 languages available
How much does each one cost?
A three-month Rosetta Stone subscription costs $36, while three months of Babbel costs $30.
For access to multiple languages, Babbel charges $156. Rosetta Stone is usually available for less than $100 for access to twice as many languages.
Duolingo is absolutely free; Duolingo Plus would be $21 for three months or $84 for one year.
What kind of person thrives with Duolingo?
If you want to play around with a bunch of different languages just for fun, Duolingo’s a great pick. It’s also a viable option if you’re serious about learning a language but don’t have the money to invest in that just now. And it’s the obvious choice if your target language isn’t available from Babbel or Rosetta Stone!
What kind of person thrives with Babbel?
Choose Babbel if you’re willing to pay for a carefully designed platform voiced by native speakers and want more contextual information than Rosetta Stone provides. Babbel is a particularly good choice if you’re interested in learning one of the European languages they offer. If you want to focus on one language at a time and access to multiple languages isn’t important to you, Babbel may be a better choice than Rosetta Stone.
What kind of person thrives with Rosetta Stone?
If you want the full-immersion experience, Rosetta Stone is a great choice. Instead of memorizing verb conjugations or learning vocabulary in relation to English words, you’ll learn grammar naturally and come to associate each word with the concept itself. It’s a good fit for auditory learners who want to focus on pronunciation and speaking, or for visual learners who would rather learn to associate new words with images rather than with their English translations.
Any of these options could serve you well in learning a second language. And hey, Duolingo will always be there if you want to learn a bit of Klingon or High Valyrian.
Conclusion: Babbel vs Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone
All three platforms are well designed. Each of them is available both online and as apps. Both Babbel and Rosetta Stone have the option of offline access, as does Duolingo Plus. In the end, it comes down to learning style and target language.