The Babbel Blog

About online language learning

The A-B-C of language learning – or what does Babbel do better than other language learning software?

Posted on July 30, 2013 by

Read this post in German, French, Spanish, Italian

A1, A2, B1, B2, C1, C2. In Europe for several years now, these have been the names for foreign language levels. But what do they mean? The Common European Framework of Reference for Languages (CEFR) of the Council of Europe calls beginner levels A1/A2, intermediate B1/B2 and advanced C1/C2.

Before the introduction of the CEFR, language skills were primarily evaluated through grammar and vocabulary knowledge, i.e. could learners translate correctly, build grammatical forms and spell? Digital learning products in this tradition predominantly consist of fill-in-the-blank exercises – for all language levels. The higher the level, the more complex the words or grammar forms that must be filled in. But unfortunately a specialist in grammar with knowledge acquired from books cannot always get around in the real world; anyone who got good grades in a foreign language at school but can’t speak a word abroad knows this.

The CEFR has a different approach. Levels A1 to C2 show how well learners can cope with reading, speaking, writing and listening in various real-life communication situations. To cite a few examples of the skill “writing”: at level A1 you can fill in a form, at B1 you can write a simple private letter, at C1 you can already write an essay on complex topics.

The CEFR focuses on communication and action orientation – the level descriptions for A1-C2 do not correspond to specific grammar points or vocabulary! Especially self-learners at a beginner level however need to build up a basis of grammar and vocabulary first. They should understand how their new language works, and they need a few scraps of it to face their first real communication situations (even if with short, memorized phrases).

What has this got to do with Babbel? With our beginner courses 1-6, you reach level A2. This is the level at which most people find/found themselves at the end of a few years of school. This year we’re publishing (bit by bit for various languages) our in-depth courses, where you can learn B1 level skills step-by-step.

In the Babbel courses for beginners, the focus is on the most important grammar and vocabulary topics, but these are always oriented towards real-life situations. In the new in-depth courses, it’s the other way around: grammar and vocabulary are greatly reduced and the emphasis is put on action – that means learning how to listen, speak, read and write in specific everyday situations.

In every unit of the in-depth courses we tell a story in which these four skills are exercised. Part 1 is all about listening and speaking: After a short vocabulary introduction there is dictation, listening comprehension texts, pronunciation exercises with speech recognition – and at the end there is a role-play as a speaker in one of the dialogues. Part 2 continues with reading and writing – with translation exercises, reading comprehension texts and free writing tasks, always within the story. Grammar is implicitly introduced in the vocab of part 1 of every unit and explained in part 2, as well as exercised with the help of reading and writing tasks.

So while most language learning products at intermediate levels simply resort to more complex fill-in-the-blank vocabulary and grammar exercises, Babbel’s in-depth courses teach real communication skills. Babbel’s first in-depth course is for French and there are more to follow this year.

Try out our French in-depth course here!

About the author: Miriam has worked for several educational providers developing communicative language learning media, from print and CD learning materials for offline learning to online courses and apps. She has been with Babbel for four years and heads the editorial staff.

The joy of Polish pronunciation

Posted on July 24, 2013 by

Read this post in German (Deutsch)

About the author: Barbara Baisi started in content and support (at that time still as a student) around five years ago. As of this year, she’s an integral and essential part of our content team at Babbel.

My first encounter with the Polish language? It was those first days of my semester abroad in Finland. Anyone who’s done Erasmus knows that this phase is characterized by an endless loop of “What’s your name? Where are you from?” etc. etc. The going was pretty easy. Until one day I got an unbelievable consonant cluster as a response: “G sc ji a schek”… or something like that. I should mention that Italian is my native language, and we Italians have more problems with consonant clusters than the Germans. I’m afraid I couldn’t avoid an incredulous look and a “what????” The young man looked like he was used to it but, despite that—or maybe because of it?—also amused.

“Gscjiaschek”, “Gscjiaschek” – I tried to remember it. It was definitely a challenge. I had to remember this name.

A few days later… there he was again. And of course I had completely forgotten the name. But the guy was sympathetic and I really wanted to get it. Call me stubborn, but that’s just how I am.

Luckily Cyrillic came to the rescue. Russian was my second subject at the university and I realized that in Russian there was actually a letter for each of these sounds. I got out a pen and a piece of paper right there in the entrance hall to the university and started to transcribe: Гжешек. Easy as pie.

That was my first encounter with the Polish language. I still needed a few weeks before I learned that it was written “Grzesiek” and was actually a diminutive, or nickname, for “Grzegorz” (approximately “Gzhe-gosh”).

Now, I’m still good friends with Grzes (the even more diminutive form of Grzesiek), and he is one of many wonderful Poles that I’ve met in the meanwhile. Since then my interest in the Polish language has only become more present, and now, I’ve taken the possibility to produce the new Polish Beginner’s course as a great opportunity to introduce this language to others.

 P.S. However difficult these consonant clusters may be – like the motto “the more consonants the cooler“ – Polish pronunciation actually has rules, and there are practically no exceptions! Languages like French or English should be so lucky…