I’ll admit that I have only heard of Busuu passively over the years but never given it a second thought. Until I realised they were tweeting my posts and interacting with me!
So I decided to try it out and see how their unique method to see if it contrasted with the way I learn languages.
Which Languages I Can Learn At Busuu?
At the moment, you can use Busuu to learn Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian), Russian, and Spanish. Which is a great variety if you ask me! But what about Catalan, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, etc? I would have said that you needed to use another site but, they have groups for the languages they don’t offer yet. So you could find some useful resources for those languages as well.
So which language did I test Busuu out with? Japanese.
One of the options I loved about Busuu was how well they categorised the vocabulary into sections like: “Positive feelings”, “Adventure sports”, “In the kitchen”, and “The Job Interview.” It made that much easier to find vocabulary and phrases that were relevant to what I needed to learn. It’s great that they’re not only able to incorporate it into dialogue but also giving you a chance to write about a particular subject using the vocabulary you learned. On top of that, you can chat directly with a native speaker, record your voice, review what you learned and even have printable content and podcasts as well.
It’s great to have your writing corrected and what’s great is that you can return the favour too. That way you can stay motivated learning their language and they can stay motivated learning your native language. You can select who corrects your work while making your entry available to other native speakers at the same time.
Chat With Native Speakers
There doesn’t seem to be too many programmes out there that allow you to interactive with native speakers. You can have a native speaker help you say what you want and potentially make a friend or out of it too. Chatting with native speakers will also improve your written capabilities as well as being able to learn authentic words and phrases you wouldn’t have otherwise learnt. I noticed that you can’t do voice conversation here. So if your language partner is comfortable with it, ask them if they would have a vocal conversation using something like Skype or Google + Hangouts.
If you’re familiar with the Common European Framework Reference than you know that a B2 level is only at an intermediate level. What that means is Busuu can only take you to an intermediate level at best. If you’re an advanced learner of the language (C1 or C2) than you’re going want more authentic content that would normally be aimed a native speaker in the language.
It’s great that this system makes easier for you to set goals according to where you want to get in the language. They have cool initiatives to keep you motivated. Such as berries for your garden (a similar concept to that of Memrise) and badges for completing certain areas. Staying motivated while learning languages is probably one of the most difficult things to do, especially when the language no longer appears to be easy (That’s right I’m talking to you Spanish learners!).
Need essential phrases for your holiday overseas? You can take their travel course and learn what you need for your trip so you don’t have any major misunderstandings along the way. I think those courses would benefit the ignorant traveller. Those who travel abroad and don’t even bother learning the language at all. Even learning how to say “Hello” is too much to ask for them apparently. But that’s beside the point. However, I am disappointed that they made the business course for English and Spanish learners only. I think it would be extremely beneficial for learners of any language to be able to do business in another language. Obviously, it would be for intermediate and advance learners, of course. Who knows, maybe they’re will be more business courses in the future.
There’s also a video course that’s only applicable to English learners. Like I said with the business course, it would be beneficial for those learning other languages too. So if you’re not learning English, and only need enough to “get by” while travelling then the travel course would be something to consider.
No Kanji And Too Much Romaji
You can skip this section if you’re not learning Japanese. Romaji has got to be the worst crutch anyone would use for learning Japanese. It will distract you from learning how to become literate in the language. I’m glad that they at least kept in the Hiragana and Katakana though. When you reach an intermediate to advanced level (B1-C2), Romaji should disappear completely. It shouldn’t even be in the beginner’s lessons as it’s creating a bad habit. You don’t learn Russian, Arabic, or Chinese with Latin scripts, so why do it with Japanese?
I would be a good idea to a lesson dedicated to learning how to read and write (or in this case type) in Hiragana and Katakana.
I haven’t tried this out before so I can’t say much on it other than you do have to be a premium member in order to use it. The fact that you can take your learning with you offline is always a good thing in my opinion. That way you don’t have to always be at a computer in order to learn your target language. Great for on the go learning!
This factor always tends to plague several language learning website, software, you name, it will have unnatural “correct” sentence patterns taken right out of a textbook. There are several reasons why this could be a bad thing. Let’s start with the most detrimental: online translators!
These not only translated sentences word-for-word but depending on the translator, could give you a completely wrong translation from what you wanted to say. A great example of this was the Altavista/Yahoo Babelfish translator spat out hilariously terrible translations of simple words. (ex: If you translate “God” into Korean and then translate it back you get “shoes” instead.)
The sentences provided on the Japanese Busuu are just like that. They are either incorrect, too unnatural or too correct (meaning that you would only use in writing, not while speaking.).
I want to be able to communicate with locals with “outing” myself as a foreigner from the moment I start speaking. Obviously, there are other determining factors too. But language wise, I don’t want to necessarily stand out as having a strange way of speaking.
How Authentic Is Busuu’s Content?
The only authentic content I could find on Busuu was clips from various news channels that have been posted on to YouTube. Otherwise, it’s a bunch of unnatural Google translated or content taken directly from textbooks. Which is a little disappointing to be honest. I think one of the best ways to improve Busuu is to have native speakers provide content that other users can relate to using the language naturally.
Busuu has some grammar guides you can reference so you use express yourself in a specific way. Just be careful NOT to study it but use the examples to help you structure your sentences more correctly. Free members don’t have access to this section so if you want to use them, you will need to become a premium member.
Are Language Proficient Certificates Really Worth Having?
One of the benefits Busuu offers to their premium members is their official certificate. I didn’t know what this was until I read their blog post about it. What originally popped into my head was one of those certificates to determine your level in the language. But these certificates are just ways of saying you completed a good chunk of lessons.
I don’t know about you but I’m not learning languages just so I can have something to show on my CV (Curriculum Vitae) or Résumé to prove my fluency in the languages I’m learning. Many people I spoken to on various language forums seem to be obsessed with having a certificate that states that they’ve passed the “C1 or C2” levels in the language so that they can get a job overseas.
I’m sure it looks nice but why should you have to take an exam in foreign language to prove your skills? Would a native English speaker take the TOEIC exam? No! So why should you take a test that doesn’t accurately portray your language capabilities? It’s just an exam that even a native speaker could fail if they didn’t properly study for it.
The Pros and Cons Of Busuu
- Thematic vocabulary: This makes location certain topics you want to learn in the target language that much easier to find.
- Goal setting: I don’t think I’ve ever come across too many language learning programmes that allow you to set goals for your learning needs.
- Corrections from native speakers: Just having this option alone offers so many benefits. You can perfect your written capabilities while learning how to form correct sentences. I noticed that you can get your writing corrected that much faster, especially if the user is online already.
- Chatting with native speakers: This is also a major benefit of Busuu because you can get the practice you need by chatting with native speakers.
- Reinforce what you learn: I love that you can made use of the vocabulary you learn through their written practice and exams with questions relevant to the dialogues.
- Recording your own voice: Being able to improve your spoken accent is important (especially if you’re learning a language like Danish) and hearing how you sound and comparing it to a native speaker is a great way to help you improve your accent so that they (native speakers) can understand your more clearly.
- Forums: Any language learning system that has an accompanying forum is a great feature to have. Not only can you ask for help but you can also have fellow members help motivate you to stick with the language(s) you’re learning.
- You’re very limited on what you can do as free member: Most of the beneficial materials are apart of the premium package. So you’re out of luck if you’re a member.
- No Kanji whatsoever for Japanese learners: Kanji is such a vital part of learning Japanese that without it, you are literally at a major disadvantage. This is especially crucial if you want to become literate in Japanese.
- Too much Romaji for the Japanese learners: Romanised Japanese is possibly the most detrimental crutch you can give a Japanese learner. Once you’ve learned Hiragana, Katakana and at least a few Kanji, you know that you cannot learn new vocabulary that’s written in Romaji.
- No enough retention: While I did mention that you can reinforce what you learn with exams, there’s not enough opportunities to retain what you learn from each lesson to prepare you for the audio and written exercises.
- Limited to Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin), English, French, German, Italian (Brazilian)Portuguese, Polish, Russian, Spanish and Turkish: If you’re learning any of these languages that’s great. However, what if you want to learn Iberian Portuguese (Portugual) instead of Brazilian Portuguese? If you’re learning Bosnian, Breton, Catalan, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Estonian, Finnish, Frisian, Galician, Gaelic (Irish or Scottish), Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, Luxemburgish, Norwegian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Swedish, or Welsh than you would be out of luck.
Granted, they do have a “groups” section with more languages than what they offer, but how many of those will actually become a new language offered by the website itself?
Would I recommend you using Busuu to help you learn languages?
Yes, it’s definitely worth using Busuu to supplement learning languages but, I wouldn’t use as a stand alone method though. This applies specifically to those of you wanting to learn Japanese. It’s certainly a great site use to add to your language learning needs.