Babbel vs Duolingo: What’s best for ESL learners?

Without a doubt, Babbel and Duolingo are two of the most popular language learning applications available. Both apps have a lot of positives and negatives. But are they useful for ESL learners? 

In this article, we’ll examine both applications and give you the final verdictan opinion or judgement; usually given in a court of law—on Babbel vs Duolingo.

A note for advanced level ESL learners

Before we give you the rundown—analysis or summary—it’s important to note that while applications like Babbel and Duolingo are great for practice and learning some basic and intermediate level concepts, you will never achieve an advanced level using only these apps. 

If you want to work towards an advanced level in English, then you’ll need to practice and work with real, native speakers who can correct your mistakes, help with motivation, and make the process of learning fun. For that, we recommend SpeakUp by Magoosh

Babbel vs Duolingo: The Positives

First, let’s be positive and look at the good things about each application. 



Along with Rosetta Stone and Babbel, Duolingo is one of the most popular language learning sites out there. The program is free as long as you’re willing to watch advertisements. Otherwise, you can pay a monthly charge for ad-free and offline service. 

The program offers very short lessons and a gamified platform. This means that the program incorporates elements of gameplay like awarding points and medals to encourage users to continue ‘playing’ or learning. 

There are other game elements in the program like their cute owl character who makes a noise every time you correctly say or enter a word. With phone reminders, you can set up a solid system of practicing English with a short lesson every day. 

The lessons cover a lot of basic content that’s great for learners looking to master the basics or learn key words.



On the other side, Babbel is not a free service—you get one free lesson when you register an account—and there are no ads. 

The Babble platform also offers short lessons, but it’s the differences that make Babbel a positive choice. 

Because Babbel is a paid service, the lessons tend to be more thorough and written out than Duolingo. Also, they offer drills to help you practice the concepts. The program has an actual language-building process in place to learn.

Their lessons also cover intermediate and advanced concepts where it’s necessary to have some explanation in order to understand. 

A famous English idiom to apply here is: you get what you pay for


Babbel vs Duolingo: The Negatives

We can’t be positive for the whole article and give a fair comparison, so here are the negatives for each platform.


As stated, Duolingo offers a lot of basic concepts in a gamified format, but it doesn’t do much beyond that. 

With Duolingo, the exercises use a lot of nonsensicalno meaning—sentences that aren’t practical for learning a language or exploring cultural context. Also, even with basic concepts, the platform doesn’t offer much explanation for things like grammar and pronunciation. 

The exercises can become very repetitive over time. Imagine learning the same basic words and concepts over and over again with no logical order or structure. After a while, even with a phone reminder, you’ll lose motivation to keep learning.

Also, the audio quality with Duolingo is a low-point as it sounds a little unnatural which is very important for learning any language.



On the other side, Babbel doesn’t have a lot of the fun, gamifying features used by Duolingo, so you better be self-motivated to keep learning. 

The core of their lessons involve matching, filling in the blanks and repeating words into your microphone for digital analysis. While you’ll receive much more explanation than Duolingo in the lesson, repeating exercises over-and-over gets boring—fast!

Next, although speech recognition has advanced greatly over the years, it’s still a negative on the platform. Just because the technology is better, it doesn’t mean you’re learning to pronounce things correctly. You’re only pronouncing things well enough to pass a computer algorithm. Nothing compares to hearing and interacting with a native speaker.


Babbel vs Duolingo: The Verdict

Answering the question ‘Which is better?’ is difficult because the applications cater to different types of learners. 

With Duolingo, you can learn the basics through a free application that has a lot of gaming features to keep you motivated on your language learning journey. However, the application doesn’t explain much with grammar and leaves it up to the learner to figure out more difficult concepts.

Babbel has more of a traditional learning focus as it explains language concepts and structures the learning in a logical order. This allows you to have a better understanding of English, but the exercises themselves get boring after a while. There’s a greater chance of losing interest in learning with the Babbel platform.

But even with the stale learning model, Babbel is the better choice of the two. 

Duolingo’s audio sounds a little unnatural while Babbel’s audio tracks have a high-quality sound and greater clarity. That’s just too important of a factor when choosing a language learning application. 

Also, Duolingo is very basic in its lessons. Getting to the intermediate to advanced level is impossible using only the application as it doesn’t explain concepts. However, you’ll have difficulty with Babbel also.

It’s hard to recommend either platform as a primary learning source. You’ll only be able to take your learning so far on either platform before hitting a wallreach a point where it’s impossible to make any more progress

To learn a language, you have to incorporate reading, writing, listening and speaking into your learning. Babbel and Duolingo only hit a couple of those learning principles, and they do them at a basic level.



If you want to be well-rounded in your learning and take things to the intermediate to advanced level, there are better platforms out there than Babbel or Duolingo. They’re fine if you want to practice a little bit every day, but getting to the intermediate to advanced level is impossible with Duolingo and very difficult with Babbel.

Raising your English comprehension from intermediate to advanced will require motivation, working with a tutor who can fully explain and explore grammar concepts, and interaction with native speakers. 

Though SpeakUp by Magoosh, you have the opportunity to learn cultural concepts, explore current events, and interact with other English learners. Also, you’ll get feedback from native English speakers. It’s a fun way to take your English learning to the next level and explore intermediate to advanced concepts without all the textbook theory.

Jake Pool

Jake Pool

Jake Pool worked in the restaurant industry for over a decade and left to pursue his career as a writer and ESL teacher. In his time at Magoosh, he's worked with hundreds of students and has created content that's informed—and hopefully inspired!—ESL students all across the globe. Jake records audio for his articles to help students with pronunciation and comprehension as he also works as a voice-over artist who has been featured in commercials and on audiobooks. You can read his posts on the Magoosh blog and see his other work on his portfolio page at You can follow him on LinkedIn!
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