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Can I Really Learn a Second Language for Free?

By Edited Dec 30, 2015 0 0

The Internet Has Revolutionized The Way We Learn

Women Learning
It's 2015, and the internet and social media have revolutionized the way we live our daily lives. Sites like Facebook and Twitter make it easier than ever to connect with people, both locally and globally. But what about nurturing our minds, and learning new things? 

Over the past few years, several sites have popped up claiming that they will teach you a new language for free. Previously, the only option to learning a new language was so shell out several hundred, maybe even thousands of dollars to a university, teacher, or in a software program like Rosetta Stone. So how do these free companies compare to each other, and can they really teach you a new language for free? 

Before I give you a break down of the most common programs used, I'd like to point out that most of these sites have a few common features. Busuu and DuoLingo both allow you to set your own pace and schedule. You also get in-game rewards for completing lessons and achieving your goals. Facebook can be utilized with either site, so you can learn with your friends. 


Busuu is the first site I encountered that claimed to teach you a second language, and I'll admit, I felt dazzled. From their simple yet charming website layout, to the amount of vocabulary words they had, I was certainly impressed. It was love at first sight, and I wasn't going anywhere. I choose to learn French, since I can read and speak Spanish (as well as someone who doesn't regularly practice and learned almost ten years ago), and I literally spent hours on the site my first time around. 

However, upon completing the first few lessons, known as the basics, I soon discovered the hitch. I loved the practice tests that they offered and felt it really immersed me in the French language. They tested me on reading, writing, and even speaking and pronunciation (only if you have a microphone enabled on your computer), and even offered grammar lessons. 

So what then was the issue? Well, some of those things I loved so much, like the speaking portion, grammar lessons, practice tests, and mobile app only come with their upgraded membership. 


  • Their UI is easier to navigate and understand than some other sites. 
  • Have the ability to converse with native speakers of the language, who are usually really friendly and helpful at explaining things. 
  • You can even help teach others your native language by correcting their exercises and tests.
  • Busuu has a child-friendly app, although I haven't had my nephew try it out yet. 
  • Available in less common languages like Turkish, Polish, and Arabic.
  • Different types of lessons are available, specifically for traveler's that just want to learn the basics, but this feature only comes with upgraded membership.


  • The features that really make this site amazing all need the upgraded membership. 
  • The "Busuu Store" is very limited - you can only buy objects for your decorative garden, or purchase a discount on the premium membership. 
  • In order to learn an additional language, you also have to upgrade to premium.
  • Mobile app is only available on iPhone and Android. 

Their premium membership has several options ranging from monthly to yearly. The cheapest is yearly, which is about $140 USD, while the most expensive is monthly, and equates to around $20 USD (as of January 2015). 



DuoLingo was the second site I stumbled across that claimed to teach new languages. While it is similar to Busuu in both design and concept, there are several notable differences. I'll admit, after spending time with each website/app, DuoLingo has become my favorite, even though it is probably not the best option for everyone out there. The best thing about the site is it is completely free - no hidden upgrades or memberships required. The downside is that they are slightly more limited in the content that they offer. 


  • Again, all of its features are completely free, including their mobile app, which I love. 
  • Better In-app store and purchases, with things like timed tests, and doubling up your lesson plan for extra virtual currency. 
  • "Immersion" category gives you the opportunity to translate real world articles and websites in the language you are learning. 
  • Offers a comprehensive learning analysis of words and phrases you need improvement with, as well as areas of strength. 
  • You can learn all the languages they offer whenever you'd like. 
  • DuoLingo now has a new option for students, which is personally integrated with their classroom learning (I'm not positive on the specifics since Nolan is only 3, but it's worth checking out if you have a school-aged child). 
  • Personalized virtual flashcards. 
  • Practice tests that include not just vocabulary, but also grammar. 
  • They currently have the wider selection of languages available including, 1 in beta testing, and 4 in the works including Hungarian and Esperanto. 
  • App is available for iPhone, Android, and Windows phones (yay me!). 


  • The vocab isn't quite as extensive as Busuu, but is still great. 
  • The UI is slightly harder to learn and navigate. 
  • It may just be me, but I feel like it takes longer to "level-up," although the in-game prizes are better and cheaper, so it probably evens out. 
  • You don't interact as much with native speakers or your friends. 
  • It took me a while to find the grammar lessons, as they are kind of hidden and poorly explained at some points. Once you get the hang of this app, it isn't as much of an issue. 

Other Avenues
Benin Classroom

I thought I should mention other avenues here, as these two sites certainly aren't the only ones out there. I also use "Learn Spanish," (to brush up as I plan on traveling to the DR soon), and "Learn French," by Babbel for Windows phones. I found this before discovering the DuoLingo app, and it has been somewhat helpful, but it's another resource that makes you pay for its full advantages, and I try to only use it as a companion  or refresher. Although they do have Swedish, Indonesian, Danish, and Dutch, which I do not believe Busuu does.

In Conclusion

Political World Map in Official Language
As someone who took three and a half years of a language in high school (yes, and a half...it was senior year, I didn't have time for that!), I'll admit that I feel I gained more experience working with an actual teacher in a physical classroom, but that doesn't mean theseprograms can't work. They are slightly more limited, since you cannot work extensively one on one with a fluent speaker, but they have their advantages. I'd say Busuu, Babbel, or DuoLingo are perfect for someone who wants to learn the basics, enough to get by traveling to a certain country, or enhance/practice a language they already have an understanding of. If you are diligent, hard-working, can keep yourself on task, and are willing to do some self teaching and research, I think you can become fluent in a language with these tools as your major aid. I think it's a perfect alternative to paying for classes or Rosetta Stone, especially if you don't have a need to learn every single small aspect of the language you are trying to learn. 

If you're serious about learning and becoming fluent, I'd recommend both DuoLingo and Busuu (although if you have to pick one, I'd suggest Duo), in addition to practicing outside exercises with friends or other outside sources. Why not get started now, and pick a new language?

I'd love to hear about anyone else's experiences learning a new language, and opinions of any of these sites, so feel free to drop me a line! 



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