There are lots of options out there for how to learn languages – particularly for people who aren’t able to commit to in person classes. But which one is best? Erins take a look at a few of the most popular options for learning a language remotely: Duolingo, Babbel, and Lingoda.
Why would you want to learn a language this way?
Some people would tell you that the only way to learn a language is in person, with a proper teacher who grew up speaking that language. Of course, that is an excellent way to learn a language, but it’s not for everyone. It’s usually expensive, and requires a commitment over a long period of time, not to mention getting to classes and fitting it into your schedule. It’s just not feasible for everyone. There are many reasons to want to learn a language too, maybe you just want a few phrases before you go on holiday, or to stretch your brain a little
When Duolingo first launched their app in 2012, it introduced a new and easy way to approach language learning. Now, it seems like everyone has tried to learn a language on Duolingo, even if it was a made-up one like Klingon or Dothraki. The green owl is friendly, and the simple cartoon people, with their occasional zombie jokes, are pretty fun. If you’re just starting out on your language journey, Duolingo is a great, and free, way to learn some simple words and phrases. They also offer an incredibly long list of language options. However, the sentences they have you practise are often quite random, and wouldn’t really help you navigate any real world situations – unless your bus driver often asks you about invisible bears
As you progress, the grammar rules are hardly explained unless you’re using the website version, and even then it’s not super helpful. If you know a bit of the language and want to start somewhere in the middle, Duolingo does not make it easy for you to figure out where to begin. In the last few years, they’ve introduced Duolingo Stories to help people practise language with more than one sentence at a time. Duolingo is fun, but you’re not going to be fluent using it alone.
This online language-learning platform is more involved than Duolingo, and gives you a better chance of being able to converse in the language you’re learning. It’s not free, however, so for some very casual learners, this may not be for them. Babbel covers 14 languages, and allows you to use an app on your phone or their website. They have you do a placement quiz if you know a bit of the language you want to learn, so that’s very handy. The desktop web browser-based version has more options than the app, and much like Duolingo, if you really want to learn the grammar you should use the desktop version. Babbel is definitely not as user-friendly, and I had trouble using the app, making mistakes because of the user interface rather than language ones. As for the learning method, if you’ve ever use Rosetta Stone, the old language learning software, it is very similar.
While it feels much more involved than Duolingo, and there is more to learn, Babbel is still limited by being an app. It’s still quite easy to get lost in the grammar, or feel you haven’t quite understood a concept. I was using it to learn German, and I found the text input massively confusing, and not very helpful, considering there were no upper and lowercase letters. This is quite an important part of the German language so it seemed odd to leave that out.
Lingoda, on the other hand, is an online language school, rather than a platform or an app. It is all online, so you still have the flexibility of doing it wherever you are, as long as you have an internet connection. Of course, it isn’t free, but you’re getting much more language learning for the time you pay for than you do with Babbel.
Instead of being on your own, moving through impersonal lessons that may have nothing to do with what you do in everyday life, or why you’re learning a language, with Lingoda you’re in a small class of five people (or even a private lesson, if you like) with a live, native-level teacher. They take you through the lesson, but also ask questions, get you to role play with other students, and even deviate entirely when you need help with a sticky point of grammar. Your pronunciation gets fine tuned in a Lingoda class, which an app can’t do for you. It’s amazing some of the things I’ve mangled in Duolingo and got that little correct answer chime. The other day, we spent five minutes discussing the different terms for a receipt at a restaurant in different parts of the German-speaking world, to clarify one of the exercises in the class material. These are the types of things that make you a robust speaker of your target language.