March 29, 2024 • By Dennis Beaver

“I was asked to look into Spanish-language-learning programs for our insurance brokerage sales staff. Your past articles are highly critical of Babbel and Rosetta Stone. Their commercials claim to have a method of teaching languages with incredible speed.

“According to a Babbel radio spot, you can start speaking a new language in only three weeks by spending a few minutes a day studying. Are you still skeptical? What is your candid opinion of these language programs? Thanks, ‘Anthony.”

Since Anthony asked for my opinion, here it is: “If you don’t want your employees to be able to converse in Spanish, both of these programs are perfect.”

I am amazed that the Federal Trade Commission or some state’s attorney general consumer fraud section hasn’t sued them for false and misleading advertising

I have never met nor spoken with anyone — including the dozens of people who reached out to me after diligently using these programs during the COVID lockdown — who could talk their way out of a wet paper bag. They felt discouraged, ripped off, and then found my articles.

Read Better Business Bureau complaints

The Better Business Bureau gives Babbel an F rating. But it gives Rosetta Stone an A+. Yet subscribers’ complaints about both refer to “scams” and “frauds,” so why fail one and reward the other?

Melanie McGovern, PR director of the BBB, explained, “Babbel has an F rating because the company did not respond to 20 BBB complaints. Rosetta Stone has an A+ rating with the Better Business Bureau because the company answers or resolves its complaints.”

However, the BBB website states that the rating “is significantly influenced by complaints received from the public.”

This is one more example of the BBB rewarding disgusting business behavior.

Research this yourself for an eye-opener. By their standards, Lizzie Borden, who “took an ax and gave her mother forty whacks, and when she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one,” would get an A+ rating under Ax Murderers if she replied to a BBB inquiry.

Babbel refused to provide proof twice — for my 2019 article Learn a Language in Three Weeks? Really? And again recently for this story — I contacted Christian Hillemeyer, Babbel’s director of communications in Berlin, Germany.

I asked, “You claim to have millions of subscribers, so why not ask a few of them studying French or Swedish to contact me so that I can see how well they can speak these languages?”

He refused. Rosetta Stone did not even reply to my request.

Their silence is deafening. In law, we call that an adoptive admission. If Hillemeyer believed in his product, you would think that he would take me up on my offer. (Anyone wanting to test me is free to contact my office in Bakersfield).

Observations from an expert in second-language studies

I discussed Babbel’s claims of being able to “speak or have a conversation in three weeks” with Shawn Loewen, Ph.D. and professor in the Second Language Studies and MA TESOL programs at Michigan State University in Lansing.

“I am disappointed to see they are still making these claims,” Loewen said. “The average consumer thinks that ‘speak’ means the ability to carry on a conversation, but it seems clear what they mean is you can say your name, ask where the bathroom is — things at a very basic level.

“My research shows that, yes, you will learn some language, but not enough to carry on a conversation. Classroom instruction and interaction with L-1 language speakers are some of the best things you can do. If you are serious about learning a language, then a language app is not going to be sufficient.”

He added, “Before my Fulbright in Poland, I studied Polish for a year and a half. I used a lot of apps and other things for hundreds of hours. I did not take formal classes and was able to order in restaurants and ask directions, at a rudimentary, survival level. You will learn a few things with these apps, but the word ‘speak’ is slippery, and most people understand it to mean that you can hold a conversation.”

Some time ago, Babbel ran radio spots asking, “Why do Europeans speak so many languages? Perhaps it is because they use Babbel.”

Loewen’s response? “That’s ridiculous. They were speaking lots of languages long before language apps came out. Anyone who knows how languages are learned will not attribute the fluency of Europeans to using a language-learning app.”

App success depends on your expectations

Loewen concluded our interview with these recommendations: “If you expect to be able to hold a conversation with a native speaker after a few weeks, you will be disappointed. If all you want is to learn a few phrases and have some mental stimulation, it will work for that. The problem is in the claims and expectations that the advertising raises.”

As a “language person” myself, one three-letter word is the motivation you need — fun.

Several YouTube videos by Canadian Steve Kaufmann make that point and are well worth watching. He has a large online presence and is proof that age is not a barrier to learning to speak other languages fluently. It takes dedication, enjoying the journey and time.


Dennis Beaver Practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers,
which may be faxed to (661) 323-7993,
or e-mailed to Lagombeaver1 – at –