Review by Patricia Monticello Kievlan, Common Sense Education | Updated June 2014
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Learn French, Spanish, Portuguese and other languages for free with busuu

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Language-learning network has good potential, but questionable content

Subjects & skills
  • English Language Arts
  • World Languages
  • English-Language Learning

Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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5 images

Pros: Provides opportunities for authentic conversation and useful on-the-go vocabulary.

Cons: Some images and content raise serious questions. Learning potential is superficial.

Bottom Line: Despite the useful focus on language in real-world situations, this app is not appropriate for kids or teens.

If you choose to use busuu with students, do so with caution. Be sure to review any assigned units for appropriate content. Encourage kids to visit the Help Others section to offer feedback on others’ submissions, and to consider their own possible mistakes in learning another language. Encourage kids to use the Travel Course as a reference tool and to construct dialogues and skits about visiting another country.

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busuu is a social network for learning 12 world languages. Users progress through vocabulary sections, quizzes, and writing exercises at four levels of fluency. Each language includes a specially designed Travel Course, with travel-ready vocabulary and phrases. Social networking features allow users to log in with Facebook or Google Plus and, at the end of each module, to share their progress on Facebook.

The Help Others section encourages users to correct other users’ exercises, so ELL students can use their native languages to help non-native speakers as well as receive feedback on their own submissions. The free app offers access to one language and some content. Additional in-app purchases offer access to more features (more quizzes and higher-level units); annual premium memberships offer further grammar exercises, goal-setting tools, and access to other languages.

Oddly, built-in quizzes seem to test cognates more often than novel vocabulary, making many multiple-choice questions missed opportunities for learning. Quizzes on dialogues are equally frustrating, often testing superficial details rather than deeper comprehension. Although it’s helpful that vocabulary usually includes a sentence and image, content can be inappropriate for kids and teens, featuring sex, alcohol, and smoking. Other content features racial and ethnic stereotypes and is inappropriate for any audience.

Getting feedback from native speakers is an exciting idea, but the range and quality of content is inconsistent. When users click Help Others, it’s easy to select a user’s entry and respond, but harder to know the question they responded to. Between the questionable content and limited depth, users should look elsewhere for a kid-friendly language-learning app.

Overall Rating

Engagement Would it motivate students and hold their interest? Is it visually appealing? Would it inspire teachers to try something new or change their instruction?

Features for social interaction and self direction are helpful, but content is presented with little variation and limited capacity for quick review. 

Pedagogy Does the tool help teachers promote a more student-centered experience? Will students gain conceptual understanding or think critically? Does it deepen teachers’ pedagogical thinking?

Quizzes offer a nice mix of skills, but few assessments test for deep learning or adjust based on users' responses. Some racy content also includes racial and gender stereotypes.

Support Can students and teachers get assistance when they need it? Is it created with people of different abilities and backgrounds in mind? Is learning reinforced and extended beyond the digital experience?

Users can easily track the number of "busuu-berries" they've earned and see how far they're progressed through each lesson, but the focus is on quantity, not quality.

Common Sense Reviewer
Patricia Monticello Kievlan Foundation/nonprofit member

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