I have completed the trial of Babbel.com French course in about 10 days. I and my wife did the lessons jointly and it turned out to be very helpful.
Babbel.com has many courses for French. Depending on your level and interest, you can pick different courses. The course overview is very well-structured and gave me a very good idea of what is covered in each course – I have not seen such clear roadmaps in Livemocha.com or in Busuu.com. Babbel.com had a year-long course divided into 4 stages, with each stage corresponding to a level in the European Common Framework for languages. Stage 1 corresponded to A1. We have completed Stage 1 in 10 days. I have decided to discontinue Babbel.com in favour of Assimil French as explained in my last post.
Here is my impression on Babbel.com based on the 10 days trial:
What I liked
- Babbel.com is the best site among the 3 that I looked at (other 2 are Livemocha.com & Busuu.com) The interface is very well-designed – the UI looks very pleasing and it was very responsive.
- There is an overall road map available for the entire course. I was very happy to see that Babbel.com’s 4 stages in its year-long course correspond to A1 to B2 level of the European Language Framework. Every lesson starts with a clearly defined set of objectives and you are shown where you are in the overall course you have selected. Every lesson is divided into 2 parts plus a review session.
- You are introduced to the material using photo + audio as in other sites. Review is done by multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank type questions. You are also asked to build complete phrases with individual elements given. After the words/phrases are introduced, you are asked to use the words you learnt using scenarios. These scenario-based exercise are very impressive and UI is very well-done. I never got bored during these exercises.
- There are dedicated lessons to teach pronunciations, apart from grammar and vocabulary lessons.
- Review Manager is based on SRS (Spaced Repetition System). This means that it will test you on the right words at the right time. The word that you have difficulty will be tested more often.
- There is a free iPhone App available which has 3000 words. Review Manager is also available on iPhone.
- The content is presented at a pace that it is not overwhelming. There are no reviews/exercises where you are asked to suddenly take a leap like writing 1 or 2 paragraphs after you have learnt a few words.
- Feedback is very nicely integrated into your lessons. You can click on the Feedback link on the top and you are asked about your mood. The response is very quick from the support team, although it was not always helpful.
What can be improved
- The UI is not consistent. In some places, clicking on the picture repeats the audio. However, there are many places, especially the scenario-based exercises, there is no way to repeat the audio. This was very frustrating; as soon as we typed the correct answer, the audio starts and ends in a flash and we have not understood a single word and 2 more sentences are introduced and the UI has scrolled. I want the ability to say continue in every screen and to be able to go back and repeat a sentence multiple times during the review.
- I was not able to control what words/phrases got into the Review Manager. Many words were introduced in the lesson but they were not added to the Review Manager. In fact, the Review Manager had kept throwing tests on words that I really mastered. The problem here might be typing – I might know a word really well, but might make 1 or 2 mistakes in getting the spelling correctly and Review Manager probably uses this statistic to determine what should be reviewed.
- As part of the review, you are asked to type the word. This was a feature I really liked in the initial days, but after a few days, I grew tired of getting the spelling correct. I have to focus on 3 things at the same time – training my ears to get the word correctly, learning the meaning of the written word and learning the spelling of the word – Picking up the spoken word and the meaning itself were challenging enough. I would like to have the ability to turn off typing.
- Keyboard shortcuts are not available except in few places. Whenever there was a ‘Continue’ button, pressing Enter worked, but not always.
- Though I have completed the stage 1 course which corresponds to A1 level, I still do not have much confidence that I have actually retained the key concepts I have learnt. There should be some additional files which contain the key concepts which can be printed and reviewed offline. Also, there should be options to download the audio so that I can listen to it offline to practice even more.
- It would be helpful to have a page which shows all the mistakes I have made and it would be great if I can repeat the lessons based on how well I have learnt them (not just individual words/phrases as in Review Manager)
- First time, when I typed something wrong, the letter became red and I was not able to do anything. I did not remember the correct word and I did not know how to proceed. It took me a while to figure out that I have to click on ‘Help’ to get the hint. This should have been ‘Hint’ at least. I prefer to see a button ‘I don’t know’.
Overall, I am very positive about my experience at Babbel.com. If not for Assimil, I would have probably bought a subscription and continued with Babbel.com – even now, I plan to come back after I complete Assimil course.