A good number of language learning apps were developed at first as websites, only to evolve to their mobile-first format after apps rose in popularity. Currently, mobile apps are one of the default formats that learners expect to have available when deciding to study a language online.
Language learning apps’ popularityIn 2020, the global mobile e-learning market was estimated to amount to approximately 1.84 billion U.S. dollars. During that year, the impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic contributed to driving the unprecedented growth in e-learning and language learning apps usage.
Between 2020 and 2021, the popularity of language learning apps increased due to users’ desire to engage in meaningful activities while sheltering at home during the pandemic. While back-to-school and pre-holiday months had usually registered higher peaks of users’ engagement, the pandemic presented a unique scenario that encompassed language learning apps’ seasonality. In 2021, with vaccination plans rolling out and a number of countries partially lifting travel restrictions, the summer holidays provided the opportunity for language learning apps to maintain their acquired popularity among users. In February 2022, the leading language learning mobile apps generated almost 27 million U.S. dollars in in-app purchase revenues from users worldwide, with market leader Duolingo accounting for half of the total, with 13.38 million U.S. dollars in revenues generated during the examined month.
Language learning apps on the public marketIn July 2021, Duolingo went public on Nasdaq with a valuation of nearly five billion U.S. dollars, becoming one of the few publicly traded digital language learning companies. In 2021, Duolingo reported revenues for more than 250.7 million U.S. dollars, up by 55 percent year-over-year. The company, which was founded in 2012 by Luis von Ahn and Severin Hacker, reported net losses for over 60 million U.S. dollars in 2021, an increase of roughly 280 percent from the previous year.
While the Berlin-based Babbel had previously announced the possibility of participating in the 2021’s IPO wave, the company has since discarded its plans to go public in the immediate future. Babbel, which first launched in 2008 as a website, generated approximately 147 million euros in revenues in 2020.
Positioning and monetization strategiesDespite the limited share of Duolingo users who choose to pay for advanced features on the app, 72 percent of the company’s 2021 revenues were generated by subscription plans. Duolingo makes use of a highly gamified environment in which language acquisition is presented as a progressive climb to a final prize. Duolingo adopts a freemium monetization strategy, leaving users with the possibility to interact with many basic functionalities on the app while also offering paid subscriptions and in-app purchases.
By comparison, Babbel positions itself as a more traditional digital language course, with conventional dialogues and exercises focused specifically on grammar. While the platform provides a free trial period, Babbel's monetization method focuses on selling long-term subscription plans to users, as well as limiting in-app advertising to maximize users' experience.