The Babbel Blog

Online Language Learning

Jason Lutes: “Making the leap from cold history to something that feels more alive”

Posted on November 30, 2008 by

The recently published “Berlin – City of Smoke”, playing in 1929/30, is the second book in an eventual graphic-novel triology. Its creator, Jason Lutes, talks about diving into German history without speaking German.

You hadn’t been to Berlin before you started the comic – How did you make a picture for yourself?

I did about two years of research before I started the project. My research consisted of just reading everything I could find about German history, Berlin, etc. All the texts I did consume were translated from German into English, so that limited the material that I had at my disposal. But I just got everything I could from books of art, to maps of the city, books of photographs, novels – anything I could get my hands on. It was until 4 years after I started the project that I actually visited Berlin for the first time – so from beginning researching the project to actually visiting was a period of about six years.

Did you recognize the city from your research?

I did, I was a little apprehensive, no, I was more than apprehensive, I was very anxious — almost terrified — to see the real place, because I was very worried that it would be so different from the story I was trying to tell that it would render what I’d done useless.
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Does code count as a language?

Posted on November 20, 2008 by

The following statement of Kristian over at web-translations made me wonder. He was writing about how much is too much in language learning, and ends with the following: “As for me, well, I speak 6 languages…English, French, small talk, MSN speak, some basic programming languages (do they count? They should as they have strict syntax like any other language) and, of course, the language of Luurve.”

Yes, what about “code”? Does it count? There are several dozens of important programming languages and many more derived dialects plus some pidgin codes. And one would think, well, you don’t speak them literally, you hack them into the keyboard. But there are stories about conferences with lots of tech geeks where insider jokes and whole presentations consists just of spoken code. Over here for example, some programmer wishes to speak code.
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Connectivism: Education as an act of liberty

Posted on November 18, 2008 by

How about a glimpse into the future of online education? Stephen Dowes’ article about “The Future of Online Learning: Ten Years On” is an informative read about recent trends in eLearning. It also gives quite plausible predictions for things to come. Besides statements about “informal learning” (have a look at our factsheet for all these terms) and technology trends – e.g. the One Laptop per Child (OLPC) project – the most interesting part for me was the one about “Connectivism”.

The concept of a “learning theory for the digital age“, introduced by George Siemens, is based on the assumption that the amount of accessible knowledge is growing at an exponential rate: “Connectivism is driven by the understanding that decisions are based on rapidly altering foundations. New information is continually being acquired. The ability to draw distinctions between important and unimportant information is vital. The ability to recognize when new information alters the landscape based on decisions made yesterday is also critical.”

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Language is a human right: A printable English primer for US Spanish-speakers

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In all the hullaballoo lately about the democratization of foreign language education through the internet, one issue that tends to get left by the wayside is: What happens if you want – or really need – to learn a language but don’t have access to a computer?

Under the banner of “Language is a Human Right”, the non-profit Fluenz.org, based in Hollywood, CA, has developed “El Book”, a free primer for US Spanish-speaking immigrants with absolutely no prior knowledge of the language on the bare rudiments of English. A friendly, straight-forwardly designed lesson in black-and-white printable PDF with an accompanying (though not essential) set of audio files – easily burned onto a CD – is aimed not directly at the presumed student, but rather at NGOs, churches, local and state governments who could do the duty of transferring the material to analogue and distributing it to those who would use it.

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Pirahã meet the crooked heads… and don’t care: Everett’s book challenges the Universal Grammar theory

Posted on November 16, 2008 by

Steven Pinker, the Harvard cognitive psychologist, referred to it as “a bomb thrown into the party”. The bomb? The discovery by Christian-missionary-cum-Linguistics-chair Daniel Everett of a group, the Pirahã, deep in the Amazon, whose language seems to eschew the grammatical use of “recursions”. What kind of party is that then, you ask? It’s a academio-linguistic one that’s been going on for about forty years now, celebrating the idea of Universal Grammar, which according to the Chomskyan theory, essentially allows language to occur.

But according to the Guardian, “it only takes one black swan to falsify the proposition that swans are by definition white.” That is, the fact that the Pirahã exist basically turns upside the idea that the grammar is actually universal. (more…)

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Using the globe as a learning tool

Posted on November 11, 2008 by

Did you know that there are about 30 endagered languages on the westcoast of the US alone? Take Hupa or Hoopa, which nowadays is spoken by less than 10 people, according to the Rosetta Stone Project. It provides several layers for the online-globe Google Earth: Besides an archive of endangered languages you can find, for example, a selection of more than 1,300 recordings from between 1912 and 1941 documenting the languages, myths, legends, stories and songs of thirty-five Native American tribes.

Another educational use of Google Earth is shown in the video below (after the break). It’s simultaneously less than an archive but more than a learning tool. In it, students use the language they are learning to describe things on the basis of map-data directions, buildings etc. At the end of the video, they suggest using the cops and robbers boardgame “Scotland Yard” to stimulate language learning – have a look. (more…)

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Opening up your ears and letting it make sense: Interview with Berlin novelist Anna Winger

Posted on November 9, 2008 by

Anna Winger, novelist, photographer, mother and all-around Berlin renaissance woman, talked to Babbel Blog about her recent novel “This Must be the Place”, writing between languages, multi-lingual motherhood, and her new US National Public Radio series “Berlin Stories”. She will be doing a live reading at 9:30 pm on November 26th at Kaffee Burger in Berlin.

Click here to hear the interview with Anna Winger – (Right click to download mp3).

Babbel Blog: You wrote a novel called “This Must be the Place” which came out in August of 2008. The book takes place in Berlin, and has two main characters: Hope, an American, and Walter, a German. Could you briefly describe their relationship with each other and what part the German and English languages played?

Hope and Walter are neighbors in the same building in Charlottenburg, they have no prior knowledge of each other before they meet in the elevator of their building. I guess I chose specifically these two characters, one who is a German, who kind of lives a fantasy of the United States in his mind, so he has this idea of America, he fantasizes about going back to live in America –he lived there once when he was young and actually had an American mother who died – so he has this fantasy idea of America in his imagination, and then an American character who has never really been outside of the United States so she has never seen the US from the outside before. She doesn’t speak any other language and it’s really her first time being alone in a foreign country, so the German language is very opaque for her, it sort of increases her sense of isolation that she can’t understand even basic information. (more…)

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When words go fractalicious: An interactive dictionary that branches out

Posted on November 7, 2008 by

There you go, web magic at its best: Visuwords gives you an interactive dictionary, letting you dynamically examine the connections and relationships betweens words – it’s a blast, and a bit mind-bending, to toy around with. Just have a look at the short video above to get an idea. The flash-based service incorporates WordNet, a lexical database of English edited at Princeton University.

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We found new friends abroad

Posted on November 6, 2008 by

Big things are afoot at the Babbel language platform these days: Besides reaching the 100,000 user mark, Babbel announced today acquiring the British language community FriendsAbroad.com. This makes Babbel one of the largest players in the online language learning market. To incorporate the huge community of language learners from FriendsAbroad.com, Babbel is integrating new features, like “Writing topics” to write short texts and have them corrected by native speakers from the Babbel community. Meanwhile, the new “Friends” option makes it easier for learning partners and “Tandems” to find one another and stay in touch. For details head over to TechCrunch.

Don’t worry: Our blog isn’t “corporate”, and most of the time we will leave you alone with news about our great language learning platform. If you’re interested, just check the Babbel press section. It’s not that we’re ashamed, but we want to hang on to praise like you see here: “Also, the fine folks at Babbel also contribute to The Babbel Blog, which contrary to almost all other online service blogs: it actually has useful information beyond self-promotion and being an overglorified FAQ website.”

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The machines are taking over… YouTube incorporates subtitle translations

Posted on November 4, 2008 by

YouTube just recently added automatic subtitle translations, though like most everything out of the Google universe, it’s still in “beta”.  Subtitles and annotations were added as recently as the end of August to the videosharing service. The interpreter robot seems to work pretty well, at least in the example video where I tried Italian to English and Italian to German – I understood what the guy was saying (though it wasn’t all that encouraging – scary Italian politics). Anyway, you can use the translation service for any video that already has subtitles – just click on the arrow in the lower right hand corner.

The machine translation system for search results and websites of the do-no-harm Internet giant goes back to 2006, but it doesn’t rely only on computers (yet): A “Google Translation Center” is in the works, thought as a translation service for documents.: You can request a (human) translation or translate yourself and review a translation; though of course the professionals are going to get paid.

(via mashable)

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