Any recommendation for language between Babbel or Rosetta Stone?
February 16, 2023 1:26 PM   Subscribe

I'm considering the lifetime/all languages packages from Rosetta Stone for $179 or Babbel for $349 for learning Spanish. Any strong recommendations either way? Or some third option? Might use it for other languages in the future, but Spanish for now.
posted by andoatnp to Writing & Language (14 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If finances factor into your choice, see if your library (or one you can join for free/a trivial amount) offers access.
posted by mdonley at 1:44 PM on February 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

I’ll admit I’ve not used either, but I’d suggest trying Language Transfer for free, and spending the money on some in person or online classes with a real person somewhere down the line to practice conversation.

I don’t think any apps can get you all the way on their own, so might as well find some economical online resources and drop the money on human interaction.
posted by penguin pie at 1:57 PM on February 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

Rosetta Stone is good to have, but don't fall for the advertising, it's not enough by itself. Use it as a supplemental learning tool, but be aware that there's gaps, missing info, which is why you need a teacher as well, to answer your questions when new stuff is introduced. The structure of a class is also extremely helpful in acquisition of another language. You can create some of that structure on your own by reserving a time and a dedicated place for your language study, ideally every day.

I'm unfamiliar with Babbel but I've used the free Mango software you can access at the library. Another free option is Duolingo; here's some comparisons between them at a language blog: Babbel vs Duolingo: I Honestly Wouldn't Use Either Of Them and Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone: A Totally Ridiculous Comparison.
posted by Rash at 2:05 PM on February 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

I've become fond of Pimsleur for learning to speak Spanish.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:09 PM on February 16, 2023 [2 favorites]

Some libraries offer free Mango subscriptions.
posted by erattacorrige at 2:21 PM on February 16, 2023

What level of Spanish are you starting with, and how far do you want to get?

Personally I'd get started with a book and Youtube and save the money for private lessons, as suggested above, but ymmv.
posted by trig at 2:53 PM on February 16, 2023

Here's an archive of the Foreign Service Institute Spanish courses.
posted by snuffleupagus at 3:01 PM on February 16, 2023 [4 favorites]

I was going to post the same links as Rash. I haven't decided yet, but they came up pretty quickly when I started shopping.
posted by rhizome at 3:05 PM on February 16, 2023

The Duolingo vs Rosetta Stone comparison article seems at least five years out of date, although the blogger doesn't put a date on so it seems current; the article was written before Duolingo offered paid subscriptions, which was in 2017. Most of the problems that the writer cites with Duolingo -- being used for corporate translation, a lot of bizarre sentences, the course ending too soon to be practical (for popular languages at least, including Spanish) -- aren't there in the product today. I would assume the site is similarly out-of-date on Rosetta Stone, Babbel, etc.

The only one that is still there is the "gamified" approach -- which is mostly a taste and/or learning style thing, and seems to me like a positive if, as the writer reports, a main problem with Rosetta Stone is people giving up on it too easily. To me, it reads like a cult of toughness sort of thing, where only real men have the balls to learn languages the hard way, not like weak little kiddies -- never mind that children are famously the actual best learners of languages.

I mean, I thought Rosetta Stone sucked ass when I used it, but that was in 2008 and so I was fundamentally using a completely different product and I have nothing meaningful to say about it. It's almost certainly improved in the subsequent years.

Duolingo isn't perfect, but my main point is don't look at 5+ year reviews for any software product that's being updated. A 5 year old review of Twitter would say it's a place to get news where they ban Nazis and you only see Elon Musk's tweets if you really want to.
posted by Superilla at 4:23 PM on February 16, 2023 [8 favorites]

I used these FSI Spanish audio files for several months when I had a long, rural commute (couldn’t do it in traffic). Just listening and repeating over and over got me to the point of speaking and listening proficiency that I was able to communicate with students and parents as an esol teacher. I’m not saying this is the only thing I used, but rather that speaking and listening were my biggest challenges and this course made a huge difference.
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:30 PM on February 16, 2023 [3 favorites]

Aaaaaaand in the time it took me to post that, snuffleupagus already done it :)
posted by toodleydoodley at 4:32 PM on February 16, 2023

I've been using babbel for the last few months to learn French.

I had a couple of years of French in high school which I'd mostly forgotten. When I started babbel it was pretty easy and I made great progress for a while. I found that high school French was still in my head somewhere and babbel helped recall it.

Learning French in high school was a very slow process, but I feel that what I did learn stuck with me more than what I'm learning in babbel.

Babbel on the other hand moves pretty fast. In around 10 minutes a day 5 days a week I've gotten to more advanced topics than I got in school (2 years and we barely started to cover past tense!).

So here's my pros and cons of babbel.

Pros: fast moving, learning reading/writing, pronunciation and listening to native speakers for all the lessons. Easy to learn the very basics quickly. It holds my attention well. My reading comprehension has improved dramatically. The format is pretty easy to use, and each lesson is short enough that you can do one whenever you have 10 minutes free.

Cons: I need a lot more of listening to native speakers to be able to understand them. French speakers talk too fast for me, and drop a lot of the sounds that I would expect from the written language. Similarly, I need more practice speaking the language with someone who can correct my pronunciation and usage.

Babbel's explanations often use technical terms (participles, future perfect, etc.) which I last encountered in high school. If their explanations don't make sense or if you just don't "get" a lesson, you're out of luck. You can easily repeat lessons, but of course any given lesson is exactly the same each time.

With a human teacher you can ask questions and work on a topic until you understand it. I've taken to watching youtube video on topics that I need more help with.

For some topics I just need more practice than the app provides, but there's no option for that afaict.

Babbel does offer interactive classes via zoom (for extra cost) which I'm going to take advantage of.

So in short I think babbel is valuable but I don't believe you can really get very far using it exclusively to learn a new language. I haven't tried Rosetta Stone or any of the others.

As a standalone tool, I think it works fairly well for quickly learning the bare minimum needed to get by in another country.

To get to the point of holding even a basic conversation however, I will need interactive help from actual humans who speak the language.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 10:23 PM on February 16, 2023 [1 favorite]

I use Rosetta Stone, along with Duolingo, and have used it to brush up on school-level French, add a bit of tourist level Spanish and am currently using it for starting Italian. Romance languages FTW.

I like Rosetta Stone, and enjoy it's more formal approach when compared to Duolingo, but it is never going to make me fluent and neither will any of the other apps.

Ultimately it depends on your goals. I like learning language basics and am happy just having some tourist level phrases to help ease holidays. No app is going to get you to conversation level, that kind of free flowing back and forth is just not possible.

If I decided in the future to go deeper, I would get in-person classes but at the moment the cost/benefit calculation doesn't work for me.

Another option is something on Zoom. A friend who is learning Russian has regular Zoom meeting with a tutor, which is priced quite reasonably. Personally, I spend enough time in online meetings at work, and have zero capacity for that in my personal life
posted by Faff at 11:31 PM on February 16, 2023

You mention that you are looking at "lifetime" packages - and that speaks of your willingness to devote quite a lot of long term effort to your language(s). With that in mind, the Duolingo blog post which talks about what people mean when they speak of "fluency" is quite important. Quoting from this:
When most people say they are "fluent" in a language, or that they want to be "fluent," they probably mean something more like "comfortable." But "fluent" gives the impression of being as proficient in the new language as you are in the language you grew up using, which is something many bilinguals achieve—but I would say it's not a helpful or even necessary goal for most learners. There are some myths around fluency and its importance. Have you ever heard these myths, or even thought them to yourself maybe? 😬

I need to be fluent in order to be understood.
I need to be fluent in order to feel comfortable speaking.
I need to be fluent in order to understand everything around me.

The reality is that there is no end point for learning a language—including your own language! – and you can probably reach many of your language goals (understanding, being understood, feeling comfortable) without having to study for years and years.
The corollary of this, is that learning any language can - and maybe should be - a lifelong process. Even a native one. I have been learning French gradually, as an adult for 15 years - including a few years of living in France and a combination of apps and class experience. I can watch simple TV without subtitles and make myself understood in most circumstances. Duolingo is currently taking me through an exercise in passive sentences and had just taught me the word for "bedside table". However it tells me that my level is "Intermediate French 1: form sentences about a wider variety of topics". That is fine with me: I can think of myself as fluent according to the first criteria mentioned - but I also know that just somewhere on a long learning pilgrimage - and I appreciate the Duolingo's structure acknowledges that. I would be suspicious of any language learning application which has an obvious end point.
posted by rongorongo at 5:03 AM on February 17, 2023 [1 favorite]

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