The Babbel Blog

All posts by James Lane

Why age is no barrier to learning a language

Posted on October 22, 2014 by

neuroplasticity

“To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”

– Bernard Baruch, American financier and philanthropist.

 

Dear reader, are you in the prime of your teenage years? Or are you twenty, fit and raring to go? Is your life laid out before you like a majestic Persian rug?

Good for you. Now shoo. That’s it, skedaddle. Vamoose. Go and read something else.

Ah, that’s better. Now they’ve all cleared out, we can talk about a somewhat delicate subject: whether it’s possible to learn a new language when you’re a bit older. Can you keep all that new vocabulary in your head? Can you learn new grammar structures? Is it too late to start? (more…)

How we learn languages: The Army Method

Posted on October 8, 2014 by

army method

My grandmother learned French at school in Australia in the late 1950s. For years she studied it dutifully, and the one phrase that she recalls vividly to this day is:

La plume de ma tante est dans le jardin avec le lion.

For those who never had the pleasure or pain of learning French, it translates as ‘My aunt’s pen is in the garden with the lion’. Difficult to slip into casual conversation, to say the least. (more…)

Zen and the art of language learning

Posted on September 17, 2014 by

happiness zen language learning

At the heart of Hanoi, Vietnam, there is a lake. Many roads converge to form a circuit around it. As evening falls and the city’s suffocating heat drops, people start cruising around the lake on scooters, driving around and around and around. They aren’t going anywhere. Sometimes I drive around the lake too, feeling the air on my face. (more…)

Not just back to school: the phenomenon of La rentrée

Posted on September 4, 2014 by

 

back to school

In France and Italy, the start of September is a time of furious activity: la rentrée, or il rientro, loosely translated as ‘the return’, or back to school.

Students all over the country go back to school. Businesses reopen. People go back to work. Stores hold massive sales. An enormous machinery cranks into gear as the country lets go of its holiday spirit and mentally shifts into a new year. (more…)

The birth of the Russian course

Posted on July 29, 2014 by

Russian course - Barbara Baisi

The challenge in bringing Babbel’s new Russian course to life was to find a way for users to type Cyrillic letters using a standard Latin keyboard. Content Project Manager Barbara Baisi from the Didactics department gives us the lowdown.

 

Can you please tell us a little about yourself?

I come from Italy and I’ve been working at Babbel since the very beginning in 2008. At that time it was a little smaller [laughs]. Now I coordinate Italian and Russian. I’ve been working on Russian since January. It was a big deal for all the departments in the company.

(more…)

The link between dreaming and language learning

Posted on July 9, 2014 by

dreaming and language learningEver wondered about the link between dreaming and language learning?

You’ve probably heard people talk about the moment when they started to dream in a foreign language. It’s often considered a sign of fluency. In the 1980s, Canadian psychologist Joseph De Koninck observed that students of French who spoke French in their dreams earlier made progress faster than other students.

But were they quicker because they dreamed, or did they dream because they were quicker?

(more…)

Brazilian football language: English roots, native flowers

Posted on July 4, 2014 by

Brazilian football language

With the World Cup in full swing, everybody is brushing up on their Brazilian football language and throwing around words like jogo bonito! and golaço!.

These words are part of every football fan’s vocabulary, testament to the vibrancy of Brazilian footballing culture and its impact on the world.

Yet we need only step back a century, to the birth of Brazilian football, and we have to acknowledge the influence of a small island nation that has only won one World Cup compared to Brazil’s five – England.

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7 Reasons Why We Love Listicles But They’re Killing Our Brains

Posted on May 22, 2014 by

Listicles

 

We like lists because we don’t want to die.

- Umberto Eco, The Infinity of Lists

 

What’s a listicle? It’s an article written in the form of a list. You know, the ones you see with titles like ‘11 Things to Never Say to a Man Whose Head Has Been Sheared Off by a Sheet of Glass’ or ‘25 Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber’ (wait! come back!).

Depending on your taste they can make you laugh or simply confirm that humanity is a lost cause. Websites like Buzzfeed and Listverse grew famous for them, newspapers embraced them, and people, inevitably, started to hate them.

They are the purest textual expression of a distracted, modern mind. So it’s probably worth asking: what are they doing to our brains?
(more…)

Why Italians talk with their hands (and Scandinavians don’t)

Posted on May 7, 2014 by

Why Italians talk with their hands

Photo by Haraldo Ferrary / CC 2.0

 

When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie

That’s amore…

 

Love. Fury. Passion. Italians are well known for expressing themselves through body language and hand gestures, as if the feelings bubbling up inside them can’t be expressed in mere words, but require an accusing finger, an appeal to the heavens, a shake of the fist.

Scandinavians, on the other hand, are not.

According to traditional stereotypes, our northern brethren are more reasoning and reserved. It’s not that they don’t feel extreme emotions – just that they are less inclined to express them physically.

Yes, these are cultural cliches, although few people would dispute that Italians talk with their hands to express themselves. But what if there is a biological imperative behind it? What if gestures actually help our brain develop? What if there is a link between how we use our hands and how we solve problems?

(more…)

Guarding the gates of English

Posted on April 24, 2014 by

Photo by Elias Gayles / CC 2.0

Students are anxious to learn it. Dictionaries try to define it. Media outlets develop extensive style guides for it. Governments try to control it.

What sounds like a new crack epidemic is, in fact, just a language: English.

We live in a world surrounded by many different types of English.  You can enjoy the weird and wonderful offerings of Urban Dictionary, smile when an Indian businessman asks you to prepone your meeting, or watch The Wire and realise you need subtitles.

But ‘proper English’ is still a desirable commodity – and big business. So who gets to decide what it is?

(more…)