busuu.com: The State of Language Learning Pt. 2/2

In our previous post on busuu.com we took a preliminary walk through the platform in order to get better acquainted with the learner experience and how the platform presents learning opportunities to its members. In this post we want to to think about how busuu manages to leverage such effective appeal. How do you get to be so big?

Having set up an account and worked through my first few activities in Turkish, I returned to the site to pick up where I had left off. I was mildly excited to see that I had received a couple of notifications. These were from other learners in the busuu-niverse who had submitted writing activities as part of their journey through the site and had (or busuu itself had) chosen me to read and comment on their work.

Learners are being brought together to help and comment on each other’s work and (through doing so) are connecting and building social learning relationships.

I think I’m considerably closer to understanding the global appeal of busuu. Even though I had approached the platform as a learner (with prerequisite traces of suspicion and pessimism), I was now functioning in a completely different subject space. Busuu had, rather cunningly, pulled off some kind of Althusserian interpellative switch-a-roo through which, because I was being ‘treated’ as /given the opportunity to behave as an English tutor, I was assuming a different role in the whole learning exchange entirely. Clever and really rather successful. (TG: Having said that, interpellation is a device through which ideological apparatuses manage to manipulate subjects into ideological positions, so apply grains of salt liberally for that metaphor.)

Also, there are straightforward rewards to contributing your L1 skills. Each time you comment on another learner’s writing you are awarded a number of busuu berries. These berries can be used at the busuu shop to buy a discounted premium package or animated gifts for your busuu garden space, which conjures reminiscences of early facebook interactions (but that, again, proved a rather successful device). To be fair, if you comment on a hundred or so learner submissions, you’re in the running to save yourself a good few quid on the membership fee, whilst also helping out a lot of language learners out there.

There is a certain element of ‘paying it forward‘ involved in this learning process, as your own experience of the platform is dependant on other anonymous users taking the time and effort to cast an eye over your own attempts at using what you’ve learnt. As such, busuu leverages an innovative motivational technique; the good ol’ Golden Rule. Imagine if that approach was utilised more in ELT.


Bearing in mind that we haven’t even touched on the real-time learning interactions that busuu have available for it’s learners, it’s clear that the platform has been incredibly successful at pulling off the ultimate EdTech sleight of hand;  being an intuitive, immersive and plausible social experience. This isn’t something else that learners need to familiarise themselves in addition to their established online behaviour. Busuu offers and promotes a rich and collaborative learning experience in a platform that speaks to all facets of a social network; it puts the individual at the centre and allows them to make their own connections.

We’d love to see what busuu has up its sleeves and what it’s planning to do to grow its already staggering user numbers. How is it making use of the data that all those learning journeys are undoubtedly creating?

I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

2 thoughts on “busuu.com: The State of Language Learning Pt. 2/2”

  1. I think you are right that the social networking parts of the key – and those kinds of sites need to get lucky and get a critical amount of interest early on. As someone who generally dislikes social networking sites, I found the content uninspiring and the notifications a distraction, so I quickly quit and bought a Japanese learning CD ROM instead. However, I also quit Facebook and am presently only just tolerating LinkedIn, do I’m probably not their target market.

  2. Lovely article, thanks Tim. It looks like none of us are any the closer to fully getting to grips with the popularity of Busuu. From my experience and your research, it looks like they are following the LiveMocha model of using peers as teachers. LiveMocha then followed this up with an offer of lots of Premium Content, so as to monetize the social I imagine.
    In a previous eltjam comment, someone worried about Knewton attempting to replace the teacher. I would say this kind of thing would be more of a real threat to professionalism in EL teaching. If anyone can be a teacher as well as a learner then teachers might seem to be superfluous. When I remember my first class on my certificate course when I invented the rule to explain the difference between so and such, I would say that some level of training is a benefit when trying to help learners.
    On another note, Busuu do seem to have a bit of an obsession with carrots! I signed up a while ago and get endless emails asking me if I can remember what the Spanish for carrot is.


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