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Have the users think what you’re doing is great: Simon Murdoch on online services today

Posted on December 3, 2008 by

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Babbel.com, our humble sponsor, recently acquired and joined forces with the online social networking site Friendsabroad.com. We caught up with Friendsabroad founder Simon Murdoch to talk a bit about this phenomenon of online language learning and the internet biz in the wake of the crunch.

Babbel Blog: Please talk about Doyouspeak.com and Friendsabroad.com. What are they, how long have they been around and how did you come up with them?

Simon Murdoch: My personal background is in the internet business, and I’ve been a VC investor and and an angel investor in the internet businesses. Then around 2004 I decided I wanted to get involved in language and technology, so I actually set up Friendsabroad in 2004. The idea was for it to be a pure language exchange, and helping people to connect, to talk to each other with emails, and then text chats, and then we added a skype integration of sorts. Doyouspeak is a separate website that we launched in the beginning of this year, January 2008, which is more purely targeted at English, it’s an online English school. So a completely different model than the Friendsabroad system.
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Jason Lutes: “Making the leap from cold history to something that feels more alive”

Posted on November 30, 2008 by

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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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Using the globe as a learning tool

Posted on November 11, 2008 by

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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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¡Sube, sube! Or rather, baja!: Zune to become Univisión’s exclusive digital music provider

Posted on October 30, 2008 by

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Zune, microsoft’s candy-colored answer to the ipod and itunes, has recently put their cards on the US Latin music industry by signing a pact with Univisión to become their exclusive online music download provider. Univisión is a New York based Spanish-language TV station broadcasting in the US and Puerto Rico, with one of the more visited websites in Latin America.

But Zune is not the only one laying their naipes on the table, with Baja Zune Música en Univision.com, the Latin entertainment conglomerate is ostensibly hoping that the rate of music downloads in that market will go up instead of bajar (go down). According to Billboard this has been historically low, with digital music making up only 2.2 % of all Latin album sales.

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Voting from Spanish to Yup’ik: Rights for language minorities in the US presidential elections

Posted on October 27, 2008 by

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Bryan Sells, an attorney with the Voting Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) spoke to Babbel Blog about the legal provisions made to facilitate voting for non- or limited- English speakers in United States, especially in light of the upcoming US presidential election .

Click here to hear the interview with Bryan Sells. Right click to download mp3

Babbel Blog: Briefly, what does the Voting Rights Project do?

Bryan Sells: We protect voting rights on a non-partisan basis. Our mission as part of the ACLU is to fight for the principles embodied in our nation’s constitution and civil rights laws. A lot of what that means on the day to day, is protecting minority voting rights, working to improve the election system.

We have the election coming up on November 4th. A lot of registered voters in the United States do not speak English as a first language or not at all. Do you have a rough idea of how many voters we’re talking about, and what provisions are there in the law for non-English speakers?

I don’t have any good data on how many people use or need language assistance. But it is a federal law that applies everywhere in the country, that if you need language assistance, or assistance of any kind because you can’t read the ballot because of literacy issues or language issues, or if you’ve got a physical disability, you have the right to bring someone with you to interpret or translate, and help you in casting a vote. That applies everywhere.
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“The words should roll out of the mouth” – On the dubbing of “The Wire” in German

Posted on October 24, 2008 by

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For the original interview in German click here.

Frank Schröder is one of the two authors of the German dubbing of the acclaimed television series “the Wire”. In an interview with Babbel Blog, he speaks about the difficulties of translating the dialogue-rich series, which portrays the day to day goings-on of the police and drug dealing millieu in Baltimore. The series has been running for the past few weeks on German pay television. Schröder not only took care of direction for the dubbing of the first season, but he also dubbed the voice of the role of the policeman “Herc”.

Babbel-Blog: Even in the USA, some have to use subtitles to understand what’s happening in the show, because the slang can be almost incomprehensible to the untrained ear. As authors of the dubbing text, were you a bit stunned at first?

Frank Schröder: At first we were a bit stunned…when the raw translation of the first episodes were ready. I had a look at them together with “continuity,” that is, the English script and the German raw translation. That way I could understand a lot more than on the first look. My English isn’t that bad, but that way it was more understandable in some places.
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