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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Don’t take this course if you’re hungry!!!!!
Or as a customer of babbel commented on completion of our recently released Spanish course:
“Congratulations!!!!! Your section on Food in Spain and Latin America is outstanding. Very well constructed, interesting and helpful in understanding food & culture. Only negative…as I study I become hungry.”
So before you set off on this culinary journey through Andalusia, Valencia or Mexico, it would be advisable to fill your refrigerator with a good selection of savoury and sweet dishes. With each new vocabulary question you will get cravings for a different culinary delight. Before you head off to Galicia, buy yourself some fish or sea food. Stock up on juicy steaks for the lesson on Argentina. Check your supplies of blackberries, custard apples, and papayas, to get a bit of a feel for how incredibly delicious Chile’s freshly squeezed juices are.
Scallops in a special white wine sauce: a Galician starter
Please note, you’d do best to get hold of a cookbook! This course contains no recipes, rather it is a culinary journey through some of the regions of Spain and Latin America. Among other things, you get an idea of what varieties of coffee there are and what dishes to cook for starter, main course or dessert. So along your journey you won’t just be learning gastronomic vocabulary, but you will gain a cultural insight into the diverse cuisine of the Spanish-speaking world.
Hot chocolate with fried pastries is a popular hangover-cure throughout Spain.
So, if you want to know how tortilla in Spain differs from tortilla in Mexico, or you want to get to know the shellfish a bit better, which in Chile is called jaiba but in Spain is known as cangrejo then eat your fill and click here: “Food in Spain and Latin America”
About the blogger: Frauke is, among other things, content project manager for Spanish and has tried the varied menus on her travels through the Spanish-speaking world. Her mouth always starts watering when she thinks back to the Chilean hot dogs, Andalusian tapas or Castilian chickpea stews.
Click here to go to the course
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Anyone who hears the name Poland and still thinks of socialist chic and endless Siberian iceage seasons has missed something. Certainly since its entry to the European Union in 2004, Poland has no longer been an insider tip as a holiday destination and tourists from all around the world have been thronging to the showcase metropolises of Krakow, Warsaw, Danzig and Breslau.
City breaks are actually some of the most popular types of vacation for tourists to Poland: The former Krakow residence of the Polish King Wawel, the new alte Starówka (old town) in Warsaw – which after its almost complete destruction in the Second World War has been rebuilt to original designs – and Breslau, the European City of Culture 2016, all invite you to stroll about, explore and discover. The weather too is actually nicer than its reputation, a trip to Poland can be very pleasant, even in its coldest months. Anyone who drives to Warsaw should definitely take a detour through Lublin, two hours to the south east: It is a particular cultural highlight in August! Traders from Western and Eastern Europe sell their ethnic wares at the historical Jagiellonian annual fair, while the Ukrainian cult band Dakha Brakha performs on the Plac Po Farze. Soon afterwards you will find high wires being stretched between the renaissance buildings in the historical old part of town at the Carnaval Sztukmistrzów (festival of street performers), and at night the town is lit up by fire jugglers while the Cirque Baroque performs at the Palace Square.
Poland also has much to offer nature lovers: Several mountain ranges (Tatry, Beskidy, Bieszczady), a national park with a wild Bison population (Żubry) – which incidentally gave its name to probably the most famous Polish Vodka Żubrówka – and even a small desert! The “Polish Sahara” (Pustynia Błędowska) extends a proud (?!) 33 km² to the north of Krakow – so nobody will die of thirst here. The Baltic Coast bike trail stretches over 500 km from Usedom to Kaliningrad, and the Masury Lake District (Mazuren) has meanwhile become the new sailing paradise for Warsaw high society. Warning – mosquito spray (spray na komary) is essential here!
Especially if you are travelling far from the larger cities you should also pack in your luggage, alongside Lonely Planet and your wash bag, a few basic Polish phrases. That’s why you will learn in the new course “Polish for holidays” how to order a cool beer and where you will find tasty Piroggen after a long day’s sightseeing. You can practice communicating with the natives and you will also be primed with helpful tips for a visit to the pharmacy in case of a small emergency. And if phrases like zwiedzić muzeum (visit a museum) make you dizzy: Take courage! Because anyone who dares to have a go at twisting their tongue around the eccentric consonant combinations of the Polish language will unlock a friendliness and enthusiasm in their Polish counterparts, since they know themselves that their language is not one of the easiest in the world – and they are even perhaps a little proud of this fact….
Click here to go to the course
About the blogger: Katharina grew up bilingual German-Polish and has been a Content trainee in the Babbel team since July.
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Today is the 12th European Day of Languages. The action goes back to an initiative of the Council of Europe and celebrates the 24 official languages and over 60 language communities existing in the European Union.
That English is the most widely spoken foreign language in the EU, is no longer a secret. What other mother tongues and foreign languages are predominantly spoken in the EU, and what benefits they entail, is shown here. Feel free to share the love, just link back to the original post!
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Start screen for German learners
Start screen for English learners
For months our developers, designers and language teachers have toiled, heatedly debated and worked long coffee and Club Mate-fuelled nights. And now the fruits of their labor are here to coincide with the release of iOS 7: the new Babbel apps!
The Babbel “D-Team”
For the first time the new apps offer all of the popular premium features of the web version on the iPhone and iPod Touch, such as interactive dialogs, grammar, vocabulary, listening and writing exercises as well as improved speech recognition. Furthermore, we have given the mobile user interface a complete makeover: it now has a clean and modern look, is easy to use and offers even more learning fun and motivation with short animations and sound effects.
How does cross-platform learning work?
All courses in your pocket!
The mobile apps offer almost everything that the online program does (brand new courses, business
English and the intermediate-level B1 course are currently exclusively available on babbel.com) and are included with the regular subscription as standard. That means users can log in to all of the platforms using one login and learn with no extra costs. The new app is valid for all mobile devices. Once loaded and installed, a user’s learning progress is automatically synchronized between their iPhone, iPod Touch and the web.
Babbel is moving language learning out of the living room and out into the street, the park, the train, the cafe, when and wherever it suits. Users can study what they want and for as long as they wish. A few new pieces of vocabulary while waiting in line for the supermarket checkout or a grammar lesson when commuting to work. “Many people want to learn a new language but don’t have the time or the motivation,” says our CEO, Markus Witte. “The new app can help with that because it is always available and can be accessed anywhere. I am extremely proud of my team and the result of all the hard work!”
Check out the Spanish App!
Check out the French App!
New apps – soon for Android too
The apps for our three most popular languages, English, Spanish and French, are already available for free download. More languages will follow soon. As always with Babbel, the first lesson of each course is free to try. A subscription includes complete access to all of the content. Subscriptions are no longer set up via babbel.com but directly through the app. A one-month subscription can be purchased for 9.99 euro, a three-month subscription for 19.99 euro and a 6-month subscription for 33.99 euro. The free vocabulary trainer apps for the iPhone will continue to be provided as an extra until further notice.
And for all Android users: soon there will be apps for you too!
click here to go to the App Store
.. More next tuesday. Stay tuned..
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If you ask what the Germans are famous for when you are in another country then the chances are that lederhosen, dirndls, beer and the humble Bretzel, or ‘pretzel’ as they are known in the English-speaking world, will be pretty high up the list. The Oktoberfest itself has also made a name for itself as the largest folk festival in the world and is a magnet for visitors from all over. There are enough reasons, then, to make the trip there yourself and to form your own opinions about the colourful happenings ‘on the Wiesn’.
Oktoberfest has a lot more to offer than just beer tents and prezel-chewing visitors in dirndls and lederhosen. Did you know, for example, that there are historical wooden fairground rides dating from the 19th century that are accompanied by their own live brass bands? In the 1930s the Krinoline carrousel was still hand-driven by four powerful men because that was the only way the particular rotary motion could be generated at the time.
In fact, some of the time-honoured traditions turn out to be much younger upon closer inspection. At the start of the 19th century traditional Bavarian costume was not worn at the Oktoberfest at all, rather French fashion…
There is so much to discover. With our Oktoberfest course, beginners can prepare themselves linguistically and of course arm themselves to order beer from a true Bavarian waitress. The short dialogues and information cards are also peppered with cultural and historical facts. In the last of six lessons, courageous learners can try their hand at the Bavarian dialect because this is what every new arrival will encounter sooner or later at the Oktoberfest. So then. O’zapft is! Des wird a Mordsgaudi!
Frauke and Maren are project managers at Babbel and have designed and written numerous German courses together. For the Oktoberfest course they went on a journey of research into the linguistic, historical and gastronomic depths of the so-called Wiesn.
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Tarte, tartiflette, and tapenade are typical French dishes—but what are they really? With the courses on French cuisine it’s not only Babbel users beginning a Tour de France throughout the country’s various regions; even the translation and editing make for a diverse and exciting journey. What are the corresponding dishes in other languages and cultures? Where do particular names like pôchouse, pulenda, quenelle, cassoulet, nonnette, tartiflette and tapenade come from? Can they even be translated?
For the benefit of your learning, we decided to try and translate—where possible—the names of the French specialties. So entering the word cassoulet in the blank is not enough—you should also discover what this regional dish from Midi-Pyrenées contains, and eventually be able to understand a French menu. But you might have an idea of what cassoulet is even before reading a detailed recipe and list of ingredients: a white bean stew. Then, to prevent you from later accidentally entering cassoulet in the Review Manager as a combination of potée (stew) and haricots blancs (white beans), there is the opportunity to fill in the “proper name.” And to make the concept even easier to remember, you learn that cassoulet comes from the Occitan name for pot, la cassole, in which the stew is traditionally made.
With other specialties, such as the Savoyard potato bake, la tartiflette, we as translators need to do a little homework… The name of this dish has its origins in the word “tartiflâ” from dialect and got the diminutive ending “-ette”. That’s why the additional information for this dish with potatoes and Reblochon cheese was “little potatoes”. Also requiring insight and cultural transfer, are the quenelles from Lyon, as the shapes themselves are a bit too long to match the corresponding foods in other languages—dumplings in English, gnocchi in Italian and croquetas in Spanish. Moreover, their main ingredient, wheat semolina, doesn’t quite match up to these potential translations. But this has been resolved and explained in detail in the course. You learn that quenelle comes from the German word for dumpling, Knödel, which can also be made using wheat semolina.
Two things that simply could not be translated were some types of cheese from Champagne: le langres (a soft cheese from Langres) and le rocroi (a cheese from Rocroi). Here, it simply isn’t possible to find a translation not using the place of origin, as the cheese itself is named after the place it comes from.
Whereas the Babbel Beginner’s course presents a challenge to the translator in terms of translating grammatical explanations, the French Cuisine course was challenging in terms of researching and using precise terminology. Yet the fact that some of the terms for the French specialties come from local dialects, and indeed even from other languages such as Polish, Italian and German, make it extra interesting and informative.
Eventually even our French protagonist loses track, and declares, “Le kouglof ??? Encore un mot incompréhensible!” (Kouglof! Yet another incomprehensible word!). Someone should have recommended the Babbel French Cuisine course to him before he started his culinary tour!
About the author:
Katja is the Senior Content Manager at Babbel and loves to cook for her friends and colleagues from a French cookbook that she got herself as a goodbye present after a two-year stay in Paris. But in her job as editor of French courses at Babbel she doesn’t take the list of ingredients quite as seriously as the rules of French grammar.
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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.
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…