Babbel's brilliant mobile permission priming

November 14, 2019
Mobile apps

Babbel is a subscription-based language learning app and platform built by language learning experts. They offer a web product, as well as apps for iOS and Android. Although the full service requires a monthly subscription, new users can access a limited selection of language lessons as part of Babbel’s freemium service.

We downloaded their iPhone app to see how Babbel onboards their new users and encourages free-to-paid conversion. The onboarding itself was great—it’s an excellent example of learn-by-doing—but what really stood out was Babbel’s excellent mobile permission priming.

Below, we’ll take a closer look at how Babbel primes new users to turn on notifications, create an account, set reminders, grant microphone access, and more.

Push notification permission priming

Babbel asks users to allow push notifications fairly early in the experience—it’s the first thing they ask for after which language a user would like to learn. From the company’s perspective this makes plenty of sense—push notifications can dramatically increase engagement and retention. 

For new users who haven’t yet seen value from the product, allowing push notifications can feel like a big ask. But this is offset by Babbel’s clear permission priming modal that ties the action back to a user’s language learning goals (staying on track) and gives users the option to delay the decision until a later time.

babbel app user onboarding
babbel app user onboarding 2
babbel app user onboarding mobile permission priming push notification
babbel app user onboarding mobile permission priming push notification example

Account creation prompt

Babbel then asks a few more onboarding questions: the user’s age, how they heard about the app, and why they’re looking to learn a new language. They also ask users to rate their current proficiency level as “beginner” or “advanced” to better tailor the app experience to their skills and needs.

babbel mobile app user onboarding language level


Users are then given a short lesson to complete based on their selection. This approach is similar to other language learning apps like Duolingo, in that it familiarizes users with the app’s UI while also letting them experience product in action. Completing a simple language lesson also gives users a sense of accomplishment—and builds motivation to continue the onboarding process.

babbel app user onboarding mobile sample language lesson
babbel app user onboarding mobile sample language lesson 2

It’s only after users have completed this first lesson (and received a friendly congratulations and score) that they’re asked to register for an account—which they are able to do using single sign-on with their Google or Facebook accounts.

babbel app user onboarding mobile sample language lesson score
babbel app user onboarding mobile account creation single sign on

Contextual microphone access request

After creating an account, new users are introduced to their dashboard, where they can find the full library of language lessons. At least one lesson is available at each course level (subsequent lessons are “locked” to freemium users).  

babbel app user onboarding mobile dashboard

We went ahead and chose the Beginner II level.

babbel app user onboarding beginner course


Babbel takes this moment of high user motivation as an opportunity to ask for microphone and speech recognition access. But instead of just hitting users with a popup, they again frame the request with a screen that asks: “Would you like to practice speaking?”

For most language learners, the answer is yes—choosing this option prompts a permission request popup. Because Babbel has given context for this request, granting it feels like a step toward improved language proficiency, versus an unnecessary grab for device access. 

babbel app user onboarding mobile microphone access request permission priming
babbel app user onboarding mobile microphone access request permission priming 2
babbel app user onboarding mobile microphone access request permission priming 3

Reviews and reminders

After granting microphone and speech recognition access (or not—users can opt out just as easily), users are able to complete another full language lesson. Since we chose to jump ahead, this one feels a little more complex. But Babbel’s UI is intuitive and includes clear instructions.

babbel app user onboarding language lesson fill in the blanks
babbel app user onboarding language lesson score 2

After completing their first lesson post signup, users are probably feeling pretty motivated. They’ve seen how the app works, and are actively receiving value from it.

Babbel uses this moment to make 2 requests. First, they ask for an App Store rating. Asking for a rating while motivation is high is still a solid strategy, but we feel like this ask may have been better reserved for returning users. Not everyone is prepared to make a public statement about a product after a single session.

babbel app user onboarding mobile app store star rating request popup

Immediately after comes a prompt to set reminders. The sequence was one of our favorite parts about the whole onboarding experience. As with other requests, Babbel contextualizes the ask by explaining the value of reminders (building a habit).

babbel app user onboarding mobile reminders setup

But they also go much further, by walking users through the reminder setup process. They start with a simple question that makes the process feel friendly, natural, and like it’s all part of adding value to the user’s life: “When would you like to learn?”

We chose dinnertime, which revealed a dropdown menu of relevant reminder times. And  we said we want reminders to learn 4 times per week.

babbel app user onboarding mobile reminders setup screen

Freemium upgrade prompt

At this stage, user motivation remains at a high—we’ve committed to nightly lessons!—and this is where Babbel gets ya, so to speak. To continue with the same course, users must pay to use the service. 

babbel app user freemium to paid conversion subscription screen

Like all paywalls, this one feels like a bit of a bummer. Many users are likely to be deterred and close the app altogether. But that’s precisely where all those permissions come in–Babbel will be able to re-engage users through push notifications and regular reminders. But because of the motivation built up over the course of this first session, we're willing to bet that Babbel sees quite a few signups at this step, too.

Why this is really good UX

Priming users to feel comfortable granting permissions can help reduce abandonment, build trust, and create a better experience. And getting permission priming right can have an enormous impact on your retention rates: Almost half of users will actually use an app 11 or more times if they've opt into push notifications. 

Babbel’s approach to permissions focuses on the added value that granting each request can provide. More mobile apps should take note!