Which online language learning solution is right for you? Find out now!

Babbel, Italki, Busuu, Rosetta Stone, Sbique and many others…There is a vast landscape of online platforms designed to help you improve your language skills. You will find numerous blogs and articles (like this or this), listing all kinds of solutions and telling you why they’re great.

But, taking a step back, what are the categories or types of solutions that are out there? And which of these categories is the right one for you, depending on your goals, your personality, your time and budget constraints? We will show you the three main categories that are out there and try to help you answer this question.

Woman choosing between various options

Category 1: App- or web-based language courses

What it is & how it works

Mother and daughter looking at smartphone

Have you ever heard of Duolingo? Chances are you have as Duolingo is the most well-known language app out there. The idea behind it is simple: instead of giving you a textbook with grammar, stories, vocab and exercises, they put all of this into a gamified app. The exercises are usually a mix of translating words or sentences; gap-fill exercises; and saying words to the app, which gives you (often not very accurate) feedback on your pronunciation.

Often you have to finish a chapter or a set of exercises before you can get access to a new one. If you’re not a total beginner, these apps (or web tools) usually also offer the option of assessing your current level and giving you lessons accordingly.

Some of them also boast some extras – a very popular one is the community correction functionality of Busuu – here, you can write a line of text in any language and native speakers of that language from the Busuu community correct it for you (or let you know that it’s correct).

What it costs

Most of these services have a subscription that costs around USD10 per month (or more, if you don’t take the yearly subscription). Some of them (like Duolingo) do offer a free version which, however, does not include all content or shows you ads between or during lessons.

Pros and cons

+ They can provide an easy access to languages that are completely new to you
+ You can use them at any time, from anywhere and for any desired duration
+ If used regularly, they can be great to build vocabulary and become aware of false friends
+ They are usually quite cheap (or even free if you don’t mind some ads)

You build passive knowledge without necessarily being able to apply it (by themselves, these solutions can be quite ineffective)
You don’t learn how to have a conversation (only how to pronounce single words)
You are bound to your subscription, even when you stop using it
You only learn “standard” language, meaning you won’t be exposed to much colloquialism or modern language

Summary

Web- or app-based online courses can be a great gateway to a new language, providing cheap and convenient beginner level content and exercises. However, serious language learners who aim to really become fluent will most likely not find what they are looking for.


Category 2: Language exchange communities (tandems)

What it is & how it works

2 people riding a tandem bike

Ever had a pen pal? Or simply met up with that German/ Spanish/ Chinese kid so you could practice each other’s language together? That’s what solutions like Tandem are all about, just that they do it fully online (well, actually some of them also have a local option which works in-person).

The idea is simple: there’s so many people who want to learn (or improve) so many languages, that they can just teach each other. The platform only facilitates the exchange, what happens after (how and when you practice together) is completely up to you.

What it costs

Nothing! Some of them do have some add-ons that you pay for but mostly, tandem platforms are free.

Pros and cons

+ You focus on speaking in a real-life situation with a native speaker
+ It’s free
+ You can e-meet a lot of people and potentially even make new friends
+ It’s quite flexible as there’s almost always someone in the world online with whom who you can do a tandem

There is a big variety of people on tandem platforms – some are more serious than others and not all are necessarily good teachers (especially if you’re new to the language)
You may not feel comfortable teaching someone else
Only 50% of the time is dedicated to your learning
If you have a regular tandem partner, it can be quite difficult to find a time slot that works for you both

Summary

Tandems can be a great and cheap way to improve your oral skills with native speakers. If you’re an extrovert you may enjoy the community a lot and love to meet new people from all over the world. On the other hand, learning and teaching at the same time and with “random” people can be cumbersome and it can take a while until you have found someone with whom you have an effective language learning experience that works for both of you.


Category 3: Online tutoring

What it is & how it works

Woman doing online tutoring

Finally, you can simply go online and find a tutor who is dedicated to teaching you or making you practice. There is a large number of tutors on platforms like Italki – you can go and look at their profiles, check out their availability and book a lesson with them for an available time slot. At the specified time, you take a 1:1 lesson via video chat.

What it costs

There is quite some variation in pricing (depending on the tutor) but 95% of all tutors take something between 5-30USD per hour of teaching.

Pros and cons

+ You focus on speaking in a real-life situation with a native speaker
+ The lesson is professional, fully focused on your own learning and can be tailored to your needs
+ You don’t need any subscriptions but pay per lesson (though some platforms will try to sell you packages)
+ Since tutors price their lessons individually, you can find a lesson at a price that works for you

There’s little flexibility – you have to book lessons in advance and need to accommodate your tutor’s schedule
You pay for the full lesson even if you have to cut it short or cancel spontaneously
– Picking your own tutor can be cumbersome as you have to go through multiple profiles and decide based on gut-feeling who would be best for you
The user experience is not always great – not all platforms have mobile apps and many rely on Skype or other additional software for lessons

Summary

All things considered, 1:1 tutoring definitely offers the most effective learning experience: you learn with professional native speakers who are dedicated to advancing your language skills. However, you’re trading off the convenience that language apps like Duolingo offer for this effectiveness: you have to pick a fitting tutor, accommodate their schedule and will potentially find the whole experience a bit cumbersome.


Now you may wonder, where does Sbique fit into all of this? In our rough categorization, Sbique definitely belongs into category 3 of online tutoring platforms. As you have seen, these solutions are usually the most effective, which is one of the cornerstones of Sbique. But what sets Sbique apart is that all the usual cons are tackled head-on so that you not only enjoy the most effective but also the most convenient experience:

  • Flexibility: Sbique is fully on-demand, meaning that you book your language sessions exactly at the time you want them
  • Payment: Charging by-the-minute guarantees that you will never pay for anything you don’t use
  • Picking a tutor: The Sbique algorithm takes the onus away from you and finds the most suitable native speaker for you, based on ratings, conversation topics and other factors that facilitate a perfect match
  • Seamless experience: As a fully integrated mobile app, you can use Sbique at any time from anywhere – no additional software required

So where does that leave us? Well, there are a lot of different opportunities to do dust off or build your language skills – the right choice depends on your own priorities. If you just want to explore whether a language interests you and at the same time enjoy a little game, then language apps are a great option. If you’re more serious about it, you value your own time and you want to improve your conversation skills, then 1:1 tutoring is best suited for you. Now choosing the right platform within your preferred category is not trivial but if you go for 1:1 tutoring, there are 7 reasons why we’re sure that you’ll love Sbique.

By the way, it’s not always an either-or-decision. Some people like to use language apps to build up some vocabulary, have an old friend with whom they do a tandem and additionally use tutoring platforms to further step-up their game. And then they round it all off by watching their favorite TV shows in the original language. Whatever you do, make sure you continue learning!


Interested in trying out the most convenient and effective language learning plattform out there?