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Duolingo versus Babbel in the age of gems

I wrote this post two months ago, and I am today updating with my further experience with the new system. TLDR: the new system is actually quite good; stick with it and your learning gets better.

My app has just been added to the gems test and I feel compelled to add this comparative review in the hope that Duolingo developers will read this.

Update: Since writing this comment, I have now been two more months on the new system and feel I need to update my comments here, out of fairness to Duolingo.

I have just ended a 90-day streak on Duolingo and I am on a one-year Babbel subscription, both started on the same day, both for the Russian course. Here is a comparative experience from the perspective of an exclusively app-based learner. I am forced to use the systems on the iPad as I have no time to devote to this when at my desk.

Update: Some have suggested that if I didn't like gems, I could stay with lingots on the website; I have tried this but the app largely continues to dominate my use of Duolingo

I find myself using Duolingo much more than Babbel. The game feeling in Duolingo, the serendipity of random practice lessons, the perfect calibration of lingots to achievement, the encouragement of exploration, and the feeling of growth as one inches up (or down) the tree, all of these create a perfect blend of enjoyment and education. Gems have put a stop to that: they penalise you for "trying" when you are exploring a new skill, they block you for hours when you might be time-limited, and they are exorbitantly expensive providing too low a value for intense effort.

Update: It is true that gems and the need to maintain health have slowed me down and I am working more slowly through the Russian tree. Truth be told, I have completely acclimatised to the new system. I even appreciate that you can't race through learning a language, and that repetition, repetition, repetition is key. The new system enforces around three to four more times practice than new skill acquisition for me, and I have come to feel that is about right.

Now I start to look at Babbel even more. Their clearer integration of tips and bite-sized expositions, their more systematic introduction of topics which is well integrated into exercises, and their larger variety of exercises, including their reasonably effective oral features, their flash card based review system integrated into the app, rather than outsourced to the Separate and disconnected Tinycards app, draw me closer to Babbel app as the experience feels less arbitrary than battling the "heart failure" of the new gems system on Duolingo.

Update: Two months later, I have actually stopped using Babbel despite having paid a year's subscription. I am sure I will return to it after completing the Russian tree on Duolingo, for polishing up my learning, but the game elements in Duolingo have got me and keep me going.

Please, Duolingo, stop the gems and revert to lingots. If you must earn a living, and who doesn't, give me the option to just subscribe for a reasonable subscription and I will pay. I still like your app better, give me a reason to stay.


I actually did stay, and learned to love the gems. I know what a wrench it is when first encountering the new system, but my main message: it's worth persisting, getting the hangs of gems, health, and practice, developing your own rhythm, and keeping on learning.

May 30, 2017



Go to the istore and rate Duo low with a comment on your opinion of the health system. Use the mobile website instead of the app. Duo responds to numbers lower rating and usage mean more than feedback comments no matter how well stated


No, Luis only cares about his 'metrics'. Our community seems to mean nothing to him anymore.


I started on Duo instead of the other dozen German language apps because it was rated higher by users. Luis may not care but I would not have started using Duo if it wasn't the highest rated free app. When the rating falls he may not care but his investors will and when the check from paid advertising revenue drops they will care a lot


I completely agree with everything you said. My app switched over to the health/gems "upgrade" today, so I started checking out these discussions to see if others hate it as much as I do. I really hope Duolingo heeds the community response. It seems overwhelmingly negative. I don't think they can claim they make language learning free anymore. This is an obvious cash grab that discourages learning.

I'll probably start using other apps more often. Memrise is a great one I've been using. Thanks for the info on babbel. I'll have to check that out.


My app was switched today and I hate it. Memrise is fantastic. I am ok with ads and would buy something worth paying for (I pay for memrise) but gems and health I can not abide by. I deleted the app, rated it a 1 and now only use duolingo on the web and droid.


Even though I consider Duolingo in it's current to be oriented towards weaker / less serious students, in a way Babbel is worse. In the sense that Babbel lessons are extremely slow. New lessons take ages to complete and contain artificial breaks (pauzes between sentences / exercises). Babbel bores me very quickly. I can easily do Duolingo for a few hours while doing Babbel for 1 hour is a challenge (boredom because of it's snail's pace).

Edit: I'll also talk a bit about what's good on Babbel:

  • More content

  • Better audio (Duolingo's audio -generally- isn't bad, Babbel's simply is better).

  • Better reviewing options. Flashcards, an option to write (the writing includes an assisted option for those who prefer it - it shows the letters you need to construct the word / phrase) and even an option to review by microphone. Quite good. I don't think these were all available when I did Babbel last time (might be over a year ago, I last bought Babbel premium - with a discount - 6 months ago though). The typing option is slower than necessary, they can and should speed it up or give you an option to do so (it plays the audio after you type an answer and then a second after the audio stops it shows the next exercise). It shows you your errors in the end and gives you an option to redo them. I haven't paid attention to the underlying system of reviewing thus I don't know how good that part of it is.

When not including price I'd say that Babbel takes the advantage over Duolingo. The main downside of Babbel being it's (seemingly non changeable) slow speed. The slow speed of Babbel bores me very quickly, but this might be different for other people. Thus the biggest improvement Babbel could implement (at least for me) is to offer a more speedy option.


1 month: 10€ or 13$

3 months: 20€ (6.65 / month); 27$ (9 / month)

6 months: 33.3€ (5.55 / month); 45$ (7.5 / month)

12 months: 60€ (5 / month); 83.4 (7 / month)

Thus expensive (just a single language) if you just want to try it or don't want to commit to longer periods. If you're willing to commit to longer periods it's possible to get discounts of up to -50% (largest I've seen) for 6 or 12 months. Thus you can potentially get it for a fair price (single language). If you're new to Babbel, create an account, try it, check out the prices and click through without completing, and you should receive a discount the next day or after a few days (redo an incomplete checkout if you haven't yet receive a discount after a while). That way the first time I bought Babbel it costed me 20€ (would be 27$) for 6 months (3 months + 3 for free).

There's also a hidden option to buy all languages for a year, this costs 96€ (8€ / month) or 126$ (10.5$ / month). I'll add the link for all languages for if anybody cares about it, as it's close to impossible to find. https://home.babbel.com/prices/babbel_complete (you need to be logged in to see it).

This is a bit of a quick & dirty (incomplete) overview, just to be clear.


A huge part of their mission is to be free so that anyone can afford it - But I'd be happy to "pay" by subjecting myself to banner ads.


Banner ads are already part of the new gems system. They are unintrusive and fine with me. I even have lowered my threshold of interest for tapping on ads in order to be supportive. Anyway, there are clearly two types of user and I would prefer to make a small payment to clear away barriers to exploration while I am learning. After all, Duolingo stops being free when you have to pay for enough "heart health" to move on to the next lesson.


I've also been tapping ads multiple times a day lately and will continue to do so until Duolingo gives me reason not to :P. I'd rather pay a monthly fee but the 11€ is simply more than I'm willing to pay compared to my perceived value of Duolingo.


Hey there! Very disappointed to have disappointed you, I still hope you stick around. :( Do you use the website here to learn too, or just the iOS app? Please remember that the health system only stops you from advancing through new lessons if you are making a number of mistakes, but you can still learn on Duolingo, and earn health by doing Global Practice. We have been trying to clarify many questions (and clear up some misunderstandings) in a mega-post: Gems and Health FAQ -- please join us there and check out if there are some answers there for you.


Thanks for replying. I will indeed stick around, I like DL too much, and in three months it has taught me more Russian than I dreamed possible. Do give some thought, though, to the contrasts I have pointed out between DL and competitors that I described above, and between the new DL and the lingots version as you think of going forward.

The "gems and lives" seem like someone's great idea at a company retreat where that person is just too influential to be contradicted so it gets reluctantly accepted by staff and consumers and someone naive has to come in and point out the shortcomings.

I will indeed continue, and will, after this comment, embark on achieving my next daily goal. :)


Please remove this, it's a really dumb feature and limits the 'Free' part of it, the Global Practice will just add more time to this, please just stop this. I know you are going to remove this comment, please don't, I really like Duolingo.


Agreed, health in its current form just seems stifling. Allegedly, it didn't hurt their usage metrics. That just seems implausible given that they've mentioned that something as trivial as taking away the capitalized first word from the word bubbles in the app reduced their metrics. I guess it reduces usage but by an amount they're willing to swallow in return for the increased revenue.

In this thread Luis says that a subscription option of some sort is coming to iOS (ctrl f "I am sorry" to find it; it's pretty far down). It sounds like it may just come with a monthly quota of gems rather than exemption from health, however.


I haven't use the app in years, could you please tell me how the gems work? How much do you pay for them?


I got gems/health about a month ago. At that time there seemed to be a bit of variation in prices.

Here's what I have now: 1000 gems for $4.99; 2500 gems for $9.99; 6000 gems for $19.99

A streak freeze costs 600 gems. A health re-up costs 350 gems if not in a lesson and 450 if you run out during a lesson (allowing you to keep the progress of your partially-completed lesson)

You get from 10-30 gems per day for meeting your daily goal if you do it on the app. Presumably they're awarded for other things, too, but I don't know any details on that.


Thanks for explain it to me. I do not like the app.


Also for lingot to gem conversion.

Round to the nearest 50 and add 500.


Personally I think that Duolingo is better than Babbel. Duolingo really has helped me with my Spanish, while Babbel is more complicated


You could always use the android app, or the desktop. You should use the desktop anyway, it's not crappy like the mobile app.


You sound like a syncophant, gaudeng. Maybe it's better for you because you have DL Plus. Nice, if you can afford it.

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