From Babbel to HiUtandem – Learn German with the help of your smartphone or computer.
Learning German outside the virtual classroom – Who has teachers, which one offers self-paced learning courses, and which one connects you to native speakers for an online German tandem language exchange course?
Although we ourselves already run German online language lessons via our own real-teacher based virtual classroom solution, we found that our learners should have access to information about our tests of additional self-paced learning (free or low-cost) apps they could easily access from their PCs or smartphone.
So, here comes our ultimate self-test result of online learning apps for students of German as a foreign language.
German online learning apps for computers and smartphones:
This is certainly the most famous self-paced learning software provider in the world. You can operate German courses both on a smartphone via their app as well as learning with it from any PC or tablet.
We like the interactive and really easy way of working the software, although the software does ask a good few questions from the beginning already, some of which are purely asked for statistical interest and have nothing to do with learning German online. Also, the repetitive vocabulary exercise structure is quite helpful, especially for complete beginners. In addition, we find the microphone access useful for all those that want to practice their own pronunciation.
The fact that it asks you to provide Babbel with your email address after about 10 minutes of free exercises is unfortunately normal in today’s times. And yes, if you don’t subscribe Babbel will still send you a ton of emails, even after weeks.
After registering with your data, you can get a ton of different theme-based or level-based exercises but a good few are only accessible through making payment again. Almost all exercises later will only allow you to run the first set and then it is all down to making payments.
Price-wise: Babbel is relatively inexpensive if compared to other providers, but still it will cost learners of German online between €6.67 (12 months) or €12.99 (1 month) for its subscription (compared in early 2018).
Conclusion: Not a bad way of starting to learn German online, but probably difficult to get beyond levels of A2 with this app. And yes, you will probably spend a few hundred euro until you reach any significant level of German with it. But as a vocabulary training after your initial lessons, this could be some nice help for you. And yes, if possible don’t give Babbel your most private email address. They will send loads of marketing mails afterwards.
Also, nice and free (at the beginning) and over 100m app downloads already. The app looks more like a personal trainer app for languages with its game-style makeover and it already tells its users from the start to select a daily training session length from which already says that 20 minutes of daily learning is insane (we would recommend around 30-45 minutes, which in Duolingo terms would probably bring us into a psychiatric hospital).
What makes it a bit different to other apps is that it uses a bit more visual learning options than Babbel and it runs its software slightly more in the style of playful quizzes.
However, the way it almost over-repeats vocabulary exercices, can make it appear quite boring for experienced German language-learners, especially if they are used to more interactive and faster learning curves.
The playful layout of the app does make it appear more like a fitness app than a normal language learning app but at the same time, some learners find the earning of credits quite motivating and fun.
The intermittent ads can sometimes be a drag but then, this is the only way to keep the software free.
What we also liked about it is that you can easily create language clubs or connect with like-minded learners. There is currently only around a dozen clubs for German, but their numbers may rise soon.
If you wish to subscribe to Duolingo Plus, you will pay around € 6.99/month for the annual subscription or € 9.49/month for the monthly version, however, as long as you keep using the app for learning German online at a basic level, we feel the software already does the job.
And on top, even if you don’t subscribe, Duolingo will not make your inbox overflow with their marketing.
This is another of the bigger international players in online self-learning software and self-proclaimed biggest learner community for foreign languages worldwide at around 80 million visiting learners and supporters. Busuu was originally founded as a self-supporting learner community and claims to give its clients access to other like-minded learners.
For German as a foreign language, you can download their general vocabulary and grammar app, but there also is a “learn German” app available.
What makes Busuu a bit more official in its usefulness for online German learners is that you can receive official certificates about your learning experience from McGraw-Hill Education after completing certain levels within the app.
The purchase advertising of the app is quite aggressive from the outset. Before allowing you to access any material, you are already being asked by the app to select a free version (very small at the bottom) or to buy a subscription for one year, six months or just one month. Prices then vary from around € 9.99 to €5.42 from one to twelve months, as such offering the lowest price so far. If you don’t buy immediately, the system will also give you hefty discounts after one day already, similar to Babbel which also offers itself for very low prices or free for a few months.
The app in its free version is then turned into a dashboard-like learning center in which you can chose to do your daily lessons, see your vocabulary learning curve, connect with other learners via text and audio messages and get the latest news from other learners who may ask for text corrections or something similar.
The self-learning part of the app is nicely divided into learning vocabulary, reading and listening to dialogues and all sorts of quizzes and it let’s you start a written or even oral conversation about the newly-learnt language lesson. The lesson material goes from A1 to B2 in the free version but again, our verdict is that it only works as additional help for learners who whish to either reach A2 by themselves or who want to use it for learning and reinforcing certain vocabulary in levels B1 or B2.
What makes Busuu stand out for any language learner and German online learners is the community of learners and how they can connect. Learners can ask for corrections to written and spoken sentences or simply request a comment from a fellow learner or a native speaker of the language they are learning. Even though the community is still only limited to small sentences and picture descriptions, it can already be quite interesting to make friends with other users and to get their support. On the other hand, it can also be quite time-consuming when more and more users request corrections from you. A tool be handled with a bit of care.
All in all, in its free version, Busuu still gets you quite a lot of language learning options in its simple but nicely-designed app. If you have a good bit of time at hand, use the speaker community too. The only caveat we would issue about the community is that you never 100% know if the corrections are valid or contain mistakes again. We found several that did contain mistakes even after “correcting”.
The surface of this relatively cheap app (the free version compares to € 9.99 for all languages or € 2.99 for just German) looks a lot less interactive than the other before-mentioned apps.
The overall design makes it look somewhat a boring app and the makeover of the different lesson types could look a bit more attractive, but the app does the job of easy-going German online language learning at first.
In general, we feel the app, which divides the learning options into a language guide (very similar to the vocabulary section), a vocabulary learning part, bilingual audio files, an alphabet repeat section, numbers until 100, a vocabulary section divided into different thematic fields, vocabulary learning games, multiple choice quizzes, crossword puzzles and much more, offer an almost too-wide variety of learning options and as such can be confusing for some first-time learners of German via the internet.
All in all, not a bad app for the money the developers are asking. At the same time, it looks as if they created an app with a simple design but somewhat overloaded it with learning functions and doubled-up features.
Our verdict, despite sounding relatively negative in the outset, is that it works as a nice add-on for beginning learners with a huge thirst for finding a million and one ways of learning new vocabulary and expanding on easy sentence-building. For more experienced users who are looking for a way of connecting with other learners, there are better (but slightly more expensive) mobile-learning apps available.
This app provider used to be one of the stalwarts in online learning of lesser-learnt languages, of which German would also be one by now. However, also from the reviews, you can also guess that the app has lost some of its appeal recently as more and more functions aren’t working 100% anymore.
The app is very quick to start but in its first impression not very different from other German online apps like Babbel or Duolingo. Since the German part is missing when you start from within Germany, we had to change our test to learning Russian, but it did the job for us.
The first couple of words are quickly explained and in a nice combination of words and pictures, although the Russian alphabet is missing at the beginning.
What’s a bit unpleasant is the constant popping-up of Memrise and other advertising, but the purchase prices are very similar to above-mentioned competitors and go from monthly € 7.11 to quarterly € 15 and annually € 23.50 (only as a discounted offer at the beginning, then it changes to around € 41 per year).
Unfortunately, the app only allows for a very limited number of features in its free version. In fact, you can only really learn around 5 new words per day and are limited to a 24-hours wait until you can learn new words for free.
The free features of other apps go much further than that, so this is a big downside to using Memrise over other apps.
It can be considered a nice, gamified app for all those who really only want to spend a bit of time every day increasing a very small amount of vocabulary but doing so on a continuous basis. If you can spare more than about 5-6 minutes of daily German online learning, you should invest your time and possibly money in a better app, though.
German online learning apps that connect you with a language exchange partner:
The idea behind these new developments in the language-learning-app sphere is to connect people with the same interests but different target languages to practice the language online (or even later off-line in some cases) and to benefit mutually from the native-speaking abilities of the other side. It basically is a further development over what Busuu offers in a limited way.
However, most of these apps still have huge difficulties in getting the technology to work properly all the time as the programming efforts for those apps to work 100% are still quite large and sometimes user numbers seem to have overwhelmed the actual size of those small companies. Also, most apps are still having issue with people abusing the software to just chat up strangers online.
We still would like you to have a quick overview of the most-downloaded (mainly free) apps for your possible German online learning experience.
At over 5 million downloads already, this is probably the most successful language exchange app on the market. The overall review rating has also been largely positive and thus it is a relatively trustworthy companion for the modern language learner.
Similar to the below app from Speaky, the data collection of the app is not too intrusive, and it let’s you quickly connect to learners of a language you are interested in (and maybe even living in your country).
It also isn’t too overloaded with functions and features and thus makes it easy to navigate. The search for like-minded learners can also be nicely filtered and may even result in getting you a language learning partner near you. Again, the catch may be the occasional abuse of the app but we think that you just have to have common sense when using these apps.
The pricing of HelloTalk is also nearly unbeatable. The annual price just comes in at € 1.92 per month (€ 22.99 annually), the price for a monthly subscription comes in at only € 3.09 and there is even an unbelievable € 84.99 life-time price which we have never seen again in this industry. So prices of this app speak for themselves we have to admit.
So yes, this would be the app of our choice for German language learners who are looking for a good way of practicing their newly-learnt knowledge with other speakers.
The app looks very sleek and let’s you start very quickly with getting you in touch with speakers of German and either a native German background or also with foreigners who have lived for a good bit of time in Germany (the majority in the case of German). There is a premium version that cost between € 3.99 to 5.99 depending on either monthly, six-months or twelve-months payments and this will also let you define the target group a bit more in detail (age, interests, gender etc.).
There is an element of luck involved when you write to someone from the listing again as some of the users may have been inactive for a good bit of time and some may also be looking for something more than just improving their language skills from looking at their profile pictures.
Despite the rules laid out in the first few steps before you get your hands on the learner listing, there might still be a few chancers who will want to start something beyond language learning with you, but that’s a normal feature in today’s world.
Apart from that, the app is relatively user-friendly, and it doesn’t ask you for too many personal details (city, country, name, age and some interests).
The disadvantage of the app is that is used by almost too many users and you start getting requests for exchanges and exercise corrections quite quickly and from a good few people, especially if you offer English as a native speaker.
All in all, not a bad way of practicing when your German is already advanced at around levels A2.2 or higher.
Tandem Language Exchange:
Developed in Germany, this app is designed to match people according to several personal data characteristics and then lets them connect and use the app to chat (audio, text and video) about topics you are really interested in. For this to work, you will have to provide a good bit of personal data (name, age, interest fields) to Tandem before it let’s you access the pool of native speakers that it claims to have gathered.
However, the app also has a high-security feel about it as it puts a lot of people on waiting-lists (this particularly affects Germany, unfortunately) before it lets them use this language-learning community app. This security check can take up to seven days as per the info you get per email from the developer team. This is not customer-oriented in today’s fast world where people want to instantly use the service they are interested in.
There is also a feature of learning with Tandem-offered teachers, but we didn’t try that out.
What did get on our nerves right from the outset though is the constant popping-up of all sorts of non-matching advertising to an extent that in the end the app got nearly impossible to use. This is something the developers must get around with as otherwise users will feel really funny about the app usage.
This seems to be the least-working option of all the ones that have name-worthy download numbers (around 50,000+) from 2016 to around 2018. Unfortunately, most users’ reviews by now claim that the app has crashed and is no longer connecting people with each other. A nice feature of this app, despite its recent flaws is that it immediately lists the people in your close vicinity.
Originally developed by a southern Spanish developer team, the idea is to work as a connector of physically-close language learners from different nationalities. One of the money-making ideas however, seems to have been to give local language school an option to advertise their language-learning offers first over the listing of other like-minded users. This is a bit obvious.
Also, when trying to find out if someone is interested in meeting with you for language exchanges, this resembles more a shot of luck then any other valuable advance to learn a language. And of course, the app doesn’t rule out the typical dangers of any other type of dating app that connects you to complete strangers who may live very close to you.
It may well be that this company simply ran out of money, but the app still exists on many (above all European) smartphones. If you are looking for a more serious way of finding a language exchange partner, HelloTalk should probably be your first choice but you might consider this app for geographical closeness to other learners (just be aware of the dangerous online nature of these possible contacts).
What’s a pity is that none of the apps we found can really connect you with a real teacher (except for one, Tandem Language Exchange). Therefore, we find that our solution is something for learning German once you have reached a certain level and want to take part in online private lessons to enhance your current knowledge where free or cheap apps will simply stop being useful despite their usual good value for money for most beginning learners.