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American slang – it’s a piece of cake

Posted on July 22, 2014 by

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american slangBabbel’s new course, American Slang, teaches you the most useful American expressions and phrases. It got us wondering: why is something that’s easy ‘a piece of cake’?

Here are some of the (possible) origins of some classic American expressions. Take them with a grain of salt!

 

broke – to have no money, or to be bankrupt

Many banks in post-Renaissance Europe gave their customers small porcelain tiles, with the person’s name, credit limit, and the bank written on them. Think credit cards, only heavier. The customer brought the tile with him when he wanted to borrow money, and if he was past the limit, the teller ‘broke’ it.

(more…)

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Russian stereotypes quiz

Posted on July 16, 2014 by

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russian stereotypes

To celebrate the release of Babbel‘s new Russian course we’ve compiled a quiz to test your knowledge of Russian stereotypes. We looked at what the numbers said, and we asked Larisa Bulanova from our Didactics department to give us an insider perspective on what Russians think.

So: is it true that Russians drink vodka like it’s going out of fashion? Is it actually that cold?  And if you go to Russia, should you watch out for bears?

Remember, they’re called stereotypes for a reason! Please don’t take them too seriously.

Test your knowledge of Russian stereotypes… click to begin the quiz.

 

 

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Why are people really learning languages?

Posted on June 18, 2014 by

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If you’re learning a language at the moment, take a second to consider this question: why?

Recently, the question has been framed in economic terms. Freakonomics began it with a podcast that questioned the financial benefits of language learning. Over at the Economist’s Prospero blog, Robert Lane Greene argued that the numbers were higher than had been estimated and varied greatly depending on language.

It’s a debate worth having – albeit a bit sad that we reduce the beauty (and unquantifiable benefits) of learning a new language to an economic return on investment.

But how decisive is this factor? For which age groups and nationalities? What are the main reasons that make people want to learn a language?

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Quiz: Brazilian football sayings

Posted on June 6, 2014 by

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Brazilian football sayings

Are you a connoisseur of football formations? Can you differentiate between half-backs and wing-backs? Do you know how Hungary revolutionised tactics in the 1950s?

Us neither. 

Take our quiz to discover some colourful Brazilian football sayings – and dazzle your friends during the World Cup with your amazing street slang.

 

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How to memorise vocabulary: User tips

Posted on June 4, 2014 by

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How to memorise vocabulary

We asked you for your favourite ways to memorise vocabulary, and the tips were great. Some are old classics and some are slightly more off-the-wall. Which ones do you use, and what would you add? Tell us in the comments!

 

1. Exercise while saying the words – Joseph

This has been proven to be effective. A study in 2010 tested subjects who bicycled while learning vocabulary, and found “that simultaneous physical activity during vocabulary learning facilitates memorization of new items”.

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Why grammar (and broccoli) are good for you

Posted on May 27, 2014 by

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grammar

This month Babbel focuses on grammar, with a range of healthy new courses. There are also new pronunciation courses, in-depth Italian, and false friends.

 

Poor old broccoli, pariah of the vegetable world. Despite the fact that it’s extremely good for you and US President Obama has declared that it’s his favourite food, broccoli is still reviled by children all around the world – and a fair few adults.

A bit like grammar. Years of being forced to conjugate verbs or grapple with textbooks the size of telephone books have left many of us bruised, battered, and wondering if it’s all worth it.

But grammar doesn’t have to be intimidating. The trick is to prepare it properly.

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Roll on: the story of the Babbel bikes

Posted on May 14, 2014 by

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Babbel bikes

Gregory Simon in his natural habitat – Photo by James Lane for Babbel.com

One sunny Wednesday morning in March, Gregory Simon was getting ready for work. He showered, dressed, threw back a cup of coffee and left.

A couple of hours later he arrived in the office, looking rather frazzled.

“My bike just got nicked!”

(more…)

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Turkish delights

Posted on May 9, 2014 by

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Turkish Delights

Turkish delight’ by Dewet / CC 2.0

Babbel’s Turkish Delights course, full of useful phrases and everyday expressions, is out now.

You are in a shop in Istanbul. You thank the shopkeeper for giving you such a great discount on that rug you really can’t afford, and say goodbye.

“Laughing, laughing,” he replies.

Turkish is filled with these kind of small idiosyncrasies. If people want to thank you for your physical labour, they say ‘health to your hands’. The correct response to someone who sneezes is ‘live long,’ and the reply roughly translates as ‘you see it too’ (i.e. I hope that you live long enough to see my long life).

Babbel’s new course, Typical phrases and useful expressions, is available for both German and English users.

It’s perfect for those who already know a little Turkish, and want to learn the little phrases and expressions that are so helpful in everyday life – whether you’re in Istanbul or Berlin.

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Portuguese for everyday life

Posted on April 30, 2014 by

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Portuguese for Everyday Life

At some point in their life everyone experiences a moment of acute embarrassment, when they wish the ground would just open up and swallow them. But what about a faux-pas that you didn’t even know you were making?

Three simple fingers can cause a lot of chaos, as anyone who’s seen ‘Inglorious Basterds’ will know. If Lieutenant Hicox had held up the correct three fingers while ordering a beer, he would never have been revealed as an enemy spy.

Small cultural differences can have a big impact – especially in Brazil.

Imagine you’re in Rio or Sao Paolo and you want to signal to someone on the other side of the street that ‘everything is okay’. Which of the above gestures should you use?

If you picked the middle one then you might want to reconsider. In some cultures this can signal that everything’s fine or that the meal was particularly good, but in Brazil this gesture often refers to the other end of the digestive tract. Yes, that’s right. No wonder the person on the other side of the street is beaming.

Babbel’s new course, Portuguese for everyday life, can help you avoid some of the major pitfalls. It’s filled with language and customs you might encounter on the street. You’ll learn colourful vocabulary for parties and practical phrases for everyday interactions, and discover how Brazilians celebrate.

If you’re a little more confident, you can test your listening comprehension. There are various conversations about travel, shopping, and of course football.

Time to brush up – the World Cup is right around the corner.

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The Learning Revolution: It’s Not About Education

Posted on January 8, 2014 by

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This article by Babbel CEO and co-founder Markus Witte, about the the revolution taking place in private learning, was originally published in Wired.

The education system is changing. Established teaching methodologies are reaching their limits in most developed countries. New requirements are needed. In the search for solutions, technology is playing an increasingly prominent role — allowing for new approaches such as the “inverted classroom,” Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCS) and “mobile learning”. We keep hearing of an “education revolution” — one in which technology will bring upon a radical transformation in schools and universities.

There are certainly great hopes for a change to the better but recent news are somewhat discouraging. Some even spoke of a “backlash” after Udacity, one of the most ambitious projects to revolutionize higher education, changed course towards corporate customers. Other, less well-known initiatives are also struggling: I recently spoke on a panel about “the future of education” together with a manager from a large publishing house that develops new digital products for schools and a CEO of a startup that built an adaptive software tool for maths education. Both discussed ways to persuade governments, ministries and committees to use their newest tools. But even to run a test involves a sales cycle of way more than a year — not exactly the pace of a revolution.

 

Education Will Change With the Way We Learn

Real changes and disruptions usually come “from below”: through the individual decisions of the many rather than through sweeping decrees from the government. From the car to the internet to the tablet to the iPhone — that is, in all the great upheavals that new technologies have created in our lifestyle, culture, and working environment — it has been the many individuals that have decided to adopt changes, not the politicians.

The good news is that there is indeed a revolution going on. But it is not about education systems. It is about learning. It is people taking learning into their own hands. A new trend is initiated by a whole new breed of learning technology start-ups that set out to make learning easier for everybody. Their goal is not to alter elementary education or university teaching. They do not deal with governments; their customers are not countries and states. They are focused solely on their users — people who want to learn something. And this is a powerful force to harness.

Learning tools like Babbel are directly tailored to the user; there are no institutions in between. People decide for themselves whether or not the product helps them toward their goals and is worth their money. It’s a much smaller-scale enterprise than a nationwide introduction of new software for schools or the building of an online university.

These upheavals are also taking place in the learning sphere but outside of the established educational systems. Students are currently not the most active in this change process. As a rule, they study for their degrees and final exams with a goal clearly in mind. Formal education is more about passing a French exam than about being able to actually talk to a French person. This is because a degree or certificate is often equally valuable as the actual knowledge or skills.

 

The Learning Revolution is Taking Place at Home

More and more people are using new technologies for self teaching. Let’s look at language learning for example. Over 100 million people all over the world are learning languages online today (1) — and only a fraction of them would ever have considered using traditional learning materials or courses to do so. As a part of my research, I have personally talked to some of them: It would never have occurred to the nurse in Louisville to buy a textbook or an expensive CD to learn a language — but now, she’s studying German on her tablet after her shift. The same holds true for the retiree in southern France who started to learn English on his laptop at the age of 70, or for the London banker riding home on the tube practicing Spanish on the latest iPhone. This group of people has decided to self teach because they came across learning tools of a new generation.

Technology is not really generating new demand but makes more things possible. E-mail, cameras in smartphones and Wikipedia are just a few examples of how this works. All these examples “replace” older technologies — and yet they open up completely new spaces.

The choices are manifold and changing at a breathtaking pace. In language learning alone, virtual classrooms, tutoring via video chat, learning communities with user-generated content, crowd-sourced translation services, and interactive services for self-learning offer a dizzying array of choices. Established standards and clear user expectations are nonexistent. Only one thing is for sure — the interest is enormous and the popularity of the internet and smartphone apps for learning is growing by leaps and bounds.

Language learning is only a part of a trend toward self-learning. Other offerings, from computer programming to brain training are popping up like daisies. No matter what the latitude or longitude, private individuals are deciding to learn on their own accord.

This revolution is taking place in living rooms and cafés, on public transport and in offices. It is carried out by people who decide to take their learning into their own hands — and they are finding ever more and better technology-based products to help them.

In the end, the education revolution might be a real, old-fashioned revolution: one that comes from below, takes unforeseen routes and hits the centers late in the process. It might already be in full swing and it might be way more powerful than it seems when we only look at the established education systems.

 

(1) a guess based on the compound user numbers of Babbel, Busuu, LiveMocha, duolingo = 140M alone. 40% of them probably use more than one platform (= 84M unique users) at least 20M more unique users will use smaller platforms

Read more about Markus Witte and the founding team here.

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