You’re looking to learn a new language. You’ve got a big, fat wad of cash you want to dump on something you believe will help you to learn this new language. Where do you go from here?
Babbel vs Rosetta Stone is one of those ages old clashes of the Titans that really gets me kind of irritated. If you’ve followed this blog for a while you know that I dislike expensive products in general and have limited fondness for either program.
The first thing you need to know about making a language product purchase is that nothing is perfect. Most of it isn’t even good.
But you’re looking for a real answer, once and for all to this, the biggest question in language tool comparisons. What good would I be if I couldn’t deliver a somewhat satisfactory answer?
To be really straight forward about this; I generally dislike both Babbel and Rosetta Stone. I find them to be representative of everything an obnoxious, oversold, exploitative moneymaking machine should be.
But I’m not going to give you the holier-than-thou language blogger speech of “everything is bad, learn by yourself with books and travel!” You’ve probably heard it all already, and I know you probably already have your heart set on a big language purchase.
Hopefully I can help you to make the decision that works best for you. Let’s get into it.
Rosetta Stone vs Babbel, How do they work?
Rosetta Stone is the largest, most well known, household name language learning product on the planet – and for good reason.
For decades they’ve vomited millions into advertising campaigns the world over, developing for themselves a celebrity status among adult education products and wealthy business travelers everywhere.
Conversely, Rosetta Stone is also the punching bag of the language learning software world and seems almost universally despised by veteran language learners and language educators alike.
I think we all just love to hate Rosetta. I’d say that this is an unfair treatment of a product – many of us just hate it because it’s famous. However, I’ve used it myself, both as a learner and an educator, and I can straight up tell you that the most valuable thing I think you’ll get from your purchase is a really sturdy yellow box you can keep office supplies in.
Both Babbel and Rosetta Stone are what I would refer to as a “primary language resource”. This means that they cover 3 or 4 out of what I consider the primary language learning aspects to be; reading, writing, speaking and listening.
So, what are the pros and cons of Rosetta?
- Covers wide selection of learning needs. (Primary resource). Units on listening, reading, writing and speaking.
- Newer versions offer real online tutoring.
- Voice recognition AI is pretty advanced.
- It now comes with a mobile app to accompany subscriptions.
- Classroom modules are available that include networking software. This allows custom course creation and educator monitoring of individual user progress.
- Seriously, it’s a really nice box.
- 30 Languages offered, including some less common ones like Vietnamese and Pashto. Listed below.
- Ridiculously, prohibitively expensive for the average learner.
- The classroom module is ridiculously, prohibitively, exorbitantly, nauseatingly expensive.
- The free trial gives a horrible impression of the product. Then again, most do.
- Mobile app isn’t actually very good.
- Personal tutoring, while available, is limited in scope and frequency of availability.
- Picture/word matching is, in my opinion, one of the worst learning techniques available.
- Functions as a crutch for learners.
- The tech support isn’t the best.
- Older versions are extremely limited in their functionality.
- Relatively ineffective for the majority of users.
Rosetta offers a fairly diverse list of languages including a few that can be sort of difficult to find resources for. Dari, Pashto, Farsi, Latin, Urdu and Swahili all make the list. As much as I dislike Rosetta Stone, it’s kind of hard to argue with resources for those languages. They aren’t common and if you have lots of money burning a hole in your pocket, it’s not likely to make you worse.
RS is available in:
- Chinese (Mandarin)
- English (American)
- English (British)
- Filipino (Tagalog)
- Persian (Farsi)
- Portuguese (Brazil)
- Spanish (Latin America)
- Spanish (Spain)
Newer versions of Rosetta are available as downloads or as browser programs and apps. But with this version you won’t get the super-cool box.
It’s clear that I’m a bit biased here. I’ve used RS’s classroom function in the past – albeit with an older version – and you can read all about how much of a colossal waste of money that was. If you have experience with RS in the classroom with a newer version, please let me know how it worked in the comments!
When I say that Rosetta becomes a crutch, what I mean is that despite now having a decent voice system and the potential for tutoring sessions, most users won’t take advantage of these to the extent that they should. It has been my experience that the majority of users come in, avoid human interaction, use Rosetta like it’s a game. “Beat the game”. But are otherwise never capable of engaging in conversation.
I’m sure that Rosetta has helped some people, and there are real studies that support this – which I go into in more detail here – but by and large I do not believe the returns to be worth the investment.
Babbel is a considerably newer, more web-based program that similarly offers a relatively wide spectrum of learning resources, with a few major differences. It still employs many of the same techniques, such as the picture/word matching that I so despise, but compensates for it with some pretty nifty features that are hard to argue with.
- Covers wide selection of learning needs. (Primary resource). Units on listening, reading, writing. Not so strong with speaking though.
- Much more community orientation. Unlike RS, Babbel helps you to connect with other learners or native speakers.
- Has a mobile app. Still not great but better than RS.
- Website and dashboard are easy to follow and use.
- Offers a simple selection of courses of varying difficulty.
- Appropriate for users with more prior experience.
- Much more affordable than Rosetta.
- Mixes exercises and doesn’t focus solely on picture/word matching
- No serious spoken component.
- It may be cheaper than RS, but it’s still not the most cost effective thing out there.
- The free trial is an absolute joke that offers too limited an idea of the program’s capabilities.
- Very limited language selection
- It still uses picture/word matching. Ugh.
- Offers only European languages and Indonesian.
Babbel is available in
So, let’s break it down
Let’s make the comparison a little bit more clear. According to a number of factors that I find valuable in assessing the cost effectiveness and worth of a language learning program, let’s see where the points go:
- Cost – Babbel
- Free trial – Tie
- Ease of setup and use – Babbel
- Classroom functionality – Rosetta Stone
- Language selection – Rosetta Stone
- Spoken component – Rosetta Stone
- Written component – Rosetta Stone
- Listening component – Tie
- Reading component – Tie
- Quality of mobile app – Tie
- Customer service and support – Babbel
- Company profile and reputation – Babbel
- Human interaction – Babbel
- Customization – Rosetta Stone
- Overall cost effectiveness – Babbel
Babbel’s cost is vastly lower than Rosetta’s. Babble costs $10/month billed monthly, $20 if billed every 3 months, $33.30 if billed every 6 months, and $60 if billed yearly. It’s actually a really good rate for a program and vastly defeats its competitor.
Rosetta Stone, on the other hand, starts at $124 per level of each language. There are 5 levels. If you want them all that’s a lot of money. RS also offers online subscriptions at 6 month, ($119), 12 month ($179) and 24 month ($250) rates. Classroom packages can run into the thousands.
Point to Babbel
Not everyone may agree with me, but I believe that a product’s free trial program should actually give potential buyers a good sense of the program. I personally prefer time-bound trials, such as a week or two weeks, etc, rather than a single lesson – which is what both of these offer.
Both programs’ trials leave users somewhat bewildered. If you want to hook me on a free trial try actually teaching me something, Give me something worth pursuing further. Don’t waste my time “teaching” me 8 excruciatingly basic words.
Ease of use
The Rosetta software used to be an absolute nightmare to set up and use. It came with poor instructions, had convoluted installation processes and absurd license code management. RS was not compatible with many older operating systems or computers, and just generally caused a lot of problems. It had poor tutorials and was rather difficult to figure out. Modern Rosetta editions are a little bit easier to work with, but still fall short of Babbel’s simplicity.
Babbel is much easier to use. Everything you need to do is right there on the dashboard. It offers a concise, simple tutorial with tool-tips that guide you through everything you need to know.
Point to Babbel.
This point goes to Rosetta Stone, hands down. Babbel doesn’t even come close to reaching the same number of languages. Rosetta includes some relatively rare languages such as Pashto, Dari and Swahili.
Babbel doesn’t include any Asian languages other than Indonesian, which uses Latin script. They do offer Russian, at least, but otherwise I have to assume this has something to do with the complexity of using other writing systems. Clearly other companies make it work. Sorry Babbel, you lose this one.
Despite being ludicrously expensive, Rosetta Stone’s classroom functionality wins out here. Babbel doesn’t really have an option for this. RS allows for a lot more personalization. Teachers could recommend that students use Babbel, and perhaps pay for subscriptions, but ultimately the monitoring features and the course customization offered by Rosetta easily win this category.
Ding, ding, ding Rosetta!
Reading, writing, speaking and listening
Because it offers personalized tutoring and a very high quality AI with spectacular voice recognition, Rosetta Stone wins the majority of these categories. This is a big win for Rosetta as it sort of underscores the quality of the overall program.
The listening and reading components are about the same though.
Babbel keeps up admirably in this regard and despite losing to RS here, it still handles most of these (other than speaking, which it doesn’t do so well with) quite well.
Quality of mobile app
I’m really not a fan of either of these mobile apps. They’re clunky, slow, convoluted and of course totally useless without a subscription. Their functionality is highly reduced.
Some reduction in functionality is to be expected with any program’s mobile version. Unfortunately, if you’re expecting people to be shelling out real money for this stuff, in 2017, your product had better not only be mobile friendly, but mobile dominant.
I give them a tie.
Customer support and service
In 2012 I reached out a number of times to Rosetta Stone’s customer service for help diagnosing some issues, and the verification of some license codes that for some reason were missing from our delivered products. I spent months exchanging info, repeating questions, filling out forms and dealing with tech service guys who really had no idea what they were doing. I hope things have changed since then, but first impressions matter.
On the other hand, Babbel has reached out to me a couple of times and are always very fast to respond to questions or concerns. They seem genuinely interested in the success of their users. I’ve written some not-so-flattering things about Babbel in the past but still they maintain very professional and cordial relations.
Point to Babbel.
Company profile and reputation
Rosetta Stone is clearly the bigger, more well known of the two – though Babbel is no shrimp either. Babbel is endorsed by the European Union – which, while I may not have made the same decision here, is pretty impressive.
Rosetta has a reputation for being overly salesy, impersonal and rigid. Furthermore, if you went around to every major language blogger, I guarantee you that most of them would have negative words for Rosetta Stone. Like I said earlier, maybe it’s unfair, but we love to hate RS. Clearly they aren’t very good at PR.
Babbel is highly active on social media and is constantly offering high quality articles, entertaining memes and images and actually dialogues with its users. Rosetta Stone posts purely promotional garbage or patronizingly simple questions that are little more than not-so-cleverly-hidden sales plugs.
Furthermore, they actually reached out to me about doing a review of their product back in 2015. I actually declined at the time, and this particular review has nothing whatsoever to do with that interaction, but the fact that they recognized my existence meant something. They were super cool to chat with and that certainly reflected positively.
Maybe this is because Babbel is a younger, (slightly) lower profile product, but it seems to me that Rosetta Stone is comfortable not appealing to its users in a PR sense. It’s too big to fail and doesn’t really care what you think. And they will probably never read this review, or acknowledge that I exist.
….Not that my vanity is a determining factor in anything…
Point to Babbel.
RS does offer a vastly wider array of tools to allow you to customize your courses and focus. Furthermore, as it ads the potential for real tutoring, you are capable of working together with your teachers to focus on the things that matter. I suppose this must be part of the ridiculous price you pay.
Babbel still follows a very rigid series and doesn’t come with a lot of analytical tools for assessing progress or strengths and weaknesses.
The RS classroom module, despite its price tag, actually lets teachers pre-tailor courses for individual students based on their specific needs. It’s pretty powerful stuff and even lets you draw up official reports, which is great for language schools or teachers looking to dig into the analytics of their learners.
Point to Rosetta!
You can probably see that I’m not really a huge proponent of either of these products, and when asked which is better I would typically go on a rant about the dozens or even hundreds of other resources that are better.
Still, based on my experiences with both of these products I can tell you that it’s a pretty close competition, but that ultimately my vote goes to Babbel!
The biggest thing for me is the cost effectiveness. The overall quality of the two programs is more or less the same, but Babbel’s comes at a fraction of the price, and despite its weaknesses, that makes a big difference to the solo-learner.
What’s your opinion? What has your experience been with these two products? Leave a comment!