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?
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!”
With our Babbel birthday/ Christmas party last Friday, the weekend was slightly shorter for our 110 Babbel colleagues than usual. We had lots of fun celebrating Babbel’s six birthday and its numerous milestones achieved so far. In this video you can see what some colleagues of our team remember as a personal highlight of 2013 and they wish Babbel for the future!
by Markus Witte (Co-founder)
Hard to believe: the sixth year since we went online with Babbel is here. We are once again happy and proud to confirm that it was our most successful one yet. So much has happened in this last year: there was a financing round of over 10 million US Dollars, 45 great new people joined the Babbel team, including several experienced managers. In addition a new office, two new learning languages (Norwegian and Danish), new apps for two platforms (iOS and Android) – and a new logo! But above all millions of new users, for whom this is all happening.
What started with four founders in a small office in a cramped old apartment in Berlin-Kreuzberg, has grown into a buzzing hive of over 100 full-time employees. And there are also, believe it or not, more than 150 authors, pedagogues, editors, translators, narrators and supporters who work freelance while maintaining other professions such as teachers, musicians and actors. Added together that is a huge number of people, who are all creating Babbel together.
We feel that this is an excellent reason to celebrate. And since January is from the outset for us the liveliest month (through your and our many good intentions), we have even delayed Christmas somewhat. So, on Friday we will be rocking around the Christmas tree. And then it continues with the seventh year, for which we again have a lot planned. Some things shall be a surprise, and other things will go live before we discuss them. However the following are certain: there will be Russian, our first learning language that does not use the Latin alphabet. And we intend to whip the Review Manager into shape. And also learn a lot of new things ourselves. And continue to have lots of fun. And create.
As of today Babbel presents itself with a completely new look: new colors, new shapes – and a new logo. For months our team of designers, brand experts and representatives from design agencies toiled from dawn till dusk on logo ideas. Since Babbel’s beginnings we have continued to evolve and develop, and the new logo with the “human plus” reflects this development. We wanted to display the same recognisable Babbel design across all our platforms, from the website to the mobile apps.
Why? I hear you ask. Darjan Salimi and Ray Pham explain everything in an interview with Babbel copywriter Nina Pollex.
Babbel suddenly looks very different. What’s the reason for this so-called “redesign”?
Darjan: The time was just right. We started off really small in 2007 and are today one of the fastest growing startups in the world. A lot has changed. And also, since the introduction of the new mobile apps, we’ve been wanting to create a consistent design across all platforms. Babbel has grown up, it has become a brand. And we want to also show that visually.
The new colors catch your eye immediately. What else has changed?
Ray: The entire user interface is now much cleaner and clearer and therefore much easier to use. That was important for us. Users should be able to navigate quickly and intuitively on our page. The design is flatter, more modern and I think has also become more aesthetic. And of course there’s a whole new logo! But that is just the beginning. Design is always a fluid process, and we still have a long and exciting road ahead.
Why didn’t you simply stick with the old, familiar logo?
Ray: The old logo looked youthful and playful with the rounded letters and the quotation marks. We had the feeling that it no longer suits us. Learning should be fun, but it’s more than just a game. It is something that in the best case can have an everyday influence and impact on the user’s whole life. That’s what the plus in the logo stands for. It looks more professional and more serious. It is mature, just like Babbel. We don’t have to hide, and that’s what we’re showing with this logo.
Can you tell us a little more about the significance of the Plus in the logo?
Ray: I do believe speaking a new language is always a Plus. We want everyone to have the opportunity to expand his or her knowledge with Babbel. This is the positive impact that is depicted in the Plus. The Plus immediately reminds the onlooker of the human form, and symbolises the fact that we put the learners and their needs at the very heart of the product. The Plus is a “Human Plus”.
How long have you worked on the project and how did the idea come about?
Darjan: It was actually launched in the summer, while we were working on the development of our new apps for iOS. We had to change a lot, to optimize Babbel for small screens, also the design. But the interim results instantly felt so good that we quickly decided to bring the new design to all other platforms.
What was the biggest challenge?
Darjan: We were working simultaneously on three construction sites: the apps, the web page and the trainers within the courses. It wasn’t easy to coordinate everything in such a narrow time frame. Everybody helped. It was a team effort, and I’m really proud of what we’ve achieved.
Ray: For me, the biggest challenge was the new logo. We wanted to create the best Babbel logo of all time; one which gives a new face to babbel while remaining accessible for our regular customers. Despite all the changes, we haven’t forgotten who we are. Babbel’s heart is still the same.
What does Babbel mean for you personally?
Ray: It’s such a great feeling to learn something new that it can give you a huge amount of energy. Babbel gives you exactly this feeling and in the best possible way.
Darjan: For me, Babbel is a success story that shows that you can achieve a lot with a good idea and plenty of effort. And I’m glad to be a part of it.
The facts about the new look at a glance:
- New logo — more serious, can be used more flexibly, more recognisable
- New design of website and apps – more modern, clearer, easier to use
- Duration of the project: about half a year
The following were involved:
- Five Babbel designers from five different countries
- Nerd Communications
Read this post in German (Deutsch), French (Français), Italian (Italiano)
Enthusiasm is growing in educationnal apps and foreign languages. Since the launch of the first Babbel Apps, we are very proud to announce our apps have been downloaded over 10 million times across all platforms! A 10 Million thanks to our users!!
While the platform preferences vary from country to country, the Babbel apps were ranked first in different platforms across 35 countries! The most popular learning languages are English, Spanish and French, followed by Italian and German as shown in the infographic below.
Designed as a complement to the full web version for iOS, Android, Windows 8, Windows Phone 8 and Amazon, the free vocabulary trainers gain in growing popularity all over the world.
With audiovisual learning content and lots of varied reading, listening and writing exercises on themes such as “Culture,” “Digital World,” “Sports” or “Holidays,” users can study the 3000 most important words and phrases in Spanish, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Brazilian Portuguese, Dutch, Indonesian, Turkish, Polish and English. This kind of interactive study – added to the targeted combination of reading and listening as well as matching and writing – guarantees that the learning sticks and that we remain motivated and active.
But there is more to come. We will keep you updated with more updates on our apps in the next coming months!
Read this post in German (Deutsch)
We recentely announced a new round of funding: Reed Elsevier Ventures and Nokia Growth Partners join the company as new investors. The existing Investors IBB Beteiligungsgesellschaft and Kizoo Technology Capital also took part in this Series B. This is of course good news: new liquidity for the company and new opportunities to explore. We will use the new funds to expand internationally and bring easy language learning to as many countries as we can. We will also increase ouravailability on different mobile andonline platforms to make Babbel accessible wherever you are and on any device that can connect to the internet. And of course the very product itself will improve. We feel that this is only the beginning: Babbel is already a pretty good learning tool, but there are so many ideas how to make it even more engaging, sticky and fun that we can’t wait to try them all.
Both new investors belong to large corporates that operate in areas adjacent to ours. Does this mean that Babbel is now exclusively tied to Reed Elsevier and Nokia and will not work with other major players like Pearson, McGraw-Hill, Holtzbrinck on the one hand and Samsung, Apple, Sony on the other hand (to name only a few)?
Such a limitation is not in the interest of Babbel (and as a consequence its investors/stakeholders). Of course, we will make use of the links into Reed Elsevier and into Nokia andcooperated in any area where it makes sense. And there are a number of ways where this can substantially help us. But if Samsung, Sony or HTC want to pre-install Babbel on all of their Android devices or Apple wants to cooperate in some education initiative, we will definitely be there to talk.
So it seems that we got the best of all worlds and this is both exciting and a little scary. Of course, we have great respect of what lies ahead us, because it won’t be an easy ride. But it is great to work for Babbel and be part of this story. I am personally proud to be a member of this team and together with the others I’m ready for any challenge.
Babbel CEO and co-founder Markus Witte is giving some insights into the motivations in acquiring PlaySay. Founded by Ryan Meinzer in 2008 PlaySay is ‘a language learning experience’, offering a unique, visionary and fun way to learn Spanish and English. The 2011 TechCrunch Disrupt finalist PlaySay Inc., which has its headquarters in San Francisco, has seen its app ranked #1 in the education category of the iTunes store in ten countries, including the USA.
We already saw several great news in the first few months of 2013: Babbel apps for new platforms, coming along with important awards and even a presentation of our Polish vocabulary trainer to German chancellor Angela Merkel and Poland’s prime minister Donald Tusk.
Now we’re taking a step to increase our presence in the United States by acquiring the the language learning firm PlaySay. A very unusual step — most San Francisco start-ups are not bought by a German start-up.
In our case, we feel that combining PlaySay and Babbel makes a lot of sense. We’ve watched the success of PlaySay since we saw their pitch at TechCrunch Disrupt in San Francisco back in 2011. Since then, PlaySay was mentioned by some major newspapers such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and others and had its app as a #1 in the education category of the US App store and 10 other countries.
The current PlaySay app will be continued for the time being. All users are invited to join Babbel as well to combine both learning experiences. The product teams are in discussions of providing an integrated product.
The acquisition of PlaySay is opening a number of opportunities in the US market, especially since we have Ryan Meinzer, the PlaySay CEO, by our side as an advisor and supporter. Babbel’s CTO Thomas Holl and I will be in San Francisco with Ryan in early April to lay the foundations of our presence in California.
This post in German
Having developed numerous courses for the Polish language, we know that it isn’t an easy language to learn. Angela Merkel appeared to concur as she tried out the Polish Babbel App, with the word “cześć” (hello) proving a particular stumbling block for her.
Despite the odd tongue twister, Merkel and her language exchange partner, the Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, appeared to enjoy their Babbel experience, as you can see in the accompanying picture. Every year a different country partners the CeBIT, and this year it was Poland’s turn. For this reason we bestowed our Polish app the honour of being used by such luminaries.
The latest technological trends are presented once a year at the largest IT fair in the world. The prize ceremony for the ‘Innovation 4 Society Award’, in which the Microsoft initiative Chancenrepublik Deutschland (Opportunity Republic Germany) recognises outstanding, socially beneficial work from both young and established IT companies. took place shortly after the opening of the CeBIT.
And the winner in the category ‘Established Company’ is… Babbel.com, with its Windows 8 App sitting pretty as the most successful educational app in the Windows Store! The jury substantiated their choice by drawing attention to the ‘exemplary coupling of intelligent learning content and digital technology’, as well as the same ‘innovative learning methods’ which had previously convinced the jury of Digita. The Babbel delegation celebrated as Markus, one of the Babbel founders, presented the Babbel App to Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Tusk. Frau Merkel appeared to be quite intrigued by the App as she brushed up on her knowledge of Polish in front of the audience.
Gregory, one of our dearest colleagues and favourite Frenchmen, is from Annecy, a picturesque town in the French Alps. He is the face of French support. When he isn’t supporting, he can be found playing with mobile devices and spreading good vibes.
What are you doing at Babbel?
I started in May 2011 as a freelancer in support, and since March 2012 I have been working here full-time. I get to do more and more technical support, including testing and experimenting with new products, like new apps for iPhone, iPad, Android devices and also Windows 8 Tablets. Last but not least, I also translate into French, and do some recordings for YouTube videos.
Which languages do you use on a daily basis?
At Babbel I mainly use English and German since those are our working languages. Sometimes also French. And German I’m trying to push more and more. I feel most comfortable, of course, in my mother tongue. It’s just comforting to be able to say what you mean. La langue suit la pensée – only then the language follows your thoughts.
Can you tell us a little about your experience of learning German in Berlin?
When I first got here I could only speak a few words of German, could barely understand what was being said, and had problems explaining myself. Sure enough, I mostly got to know other French people, and in my work life as well. But the bosses were German and Swiss, and they forced – or let’s say encouraged – us to speak German. And ever since I’ve been with Babbel my German has improved considerably.
In the first few months I tried out language tandems a lot, which means I met German people who wanted to learn French. From what I experienced the results weren’t very successful, however, since many people had problems imagining how a foreign person learns German. Vice versa, a Frenchman is likely to have a hard time explaining exceptions in French grammar.
What advice can you give to language learners?
Surround yourself with people. I find it very helpful if others correct me. Also, I like watching German TV or films in German.
Is there a first German word or expression that particularly stuck to your mind?
It’s sort of strange, but yes. I was 14, 15 years old, and we read a German text at school. One sentence went like “Ich mache Yoga” (I do yoga), and the whole class was on the floor laughing. Nothing special about this sentence, but the pronunciation just cracked us up!
Which (other) languages would you like to know?
Russian, Spanish and Brasilian Portuguese.